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Camino and Safari Compared

by Giles Turnbull
03/25/2003

We all know how exciting it was when Apple announced Safari, but before you grant it star status on your Dock and as the default browser, let's devote a little time to thinking about its predecessor as everyone's favorite browser, Chimera, sorry, Camino.

Yes, the name change is important. Late in 2002, just as development of Chimera (as it was called then) was grinding on at a furious pace and the application was widely considered to be the best general-purpose Mac browser around, things suddenly stopped dead.

With the release of version 0.6, a hush came over the Chimera announcements page until, much later, the truth emerged: a legal wrangle was holding things up. And not just any legal wrangle either. It was the name that was causing all the trouble, so no further versions would be released until a new name was chosen (and given the legal green light).

Now that time has come: Camino is the new name, and version 0.7 was released recently to an expectant audience, effectively taking the place of Chimera 0.7.

So what's new? And how does Camino compare with the usurper from Apple? Let's take a look.

The Need for Speed

Safari is fast. Everybody says so, and there's no point being coy about it. The speed at which it renders pages is one of its most appealing features, and here even the new Camino, like every other browser for Mac OS X, is left trembling in its wake. That said, Camino works somewhat faster than Chimera 0.6, and the performance boost in that regard is a useful one.

Camino's design fits nicely with the rest of the Aqua user interface (Figure 1). Likewise, installation is a painless drag-n-drop-n-double-click. It's a responsive application too, starting up quickly when needed. Safari, meanwhile, is also Aquatastic, but by default adopts the brushed-metal skin (painlessly removed, if you like) originally intended by Apple for use on apps that directly link to an external consumer device, such as an MP3 player or video camera. Safari's overall feel is somewhat sleeker, and it's quicker to start than Camino.

Screen shot.
Figure 1. Camino doing its stuff.

Safari scores extra points for offering SnapBack, a navigation feature that lets you quickly go back to the home page of any site you're browsing. Alternatively, you can set your own SnapBack pages to snap back to. It's a nice additional touch, and it does indeed work very snappily, adding to Safari's feeling of swift efficiency.

This speediness is mainly because Safari's development team decided to use the KHTML rendering engine as the basis for its new application. Gecko, the rendering software built into Chimera, and a dozen other Mozilla offshoots, is very good at rendering pages. KHTML is much faster, and significantly reduces the size of the completed application's code. Apple's decision to use KHTML surprised a lot of people, but has since been vindicated thanks to Safari's speedy performance.

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Camino's New Features

Camino does more than just tabs (of which more later). There's a neat "Send Link" menu item that opens a new message in your default mail application, with the URL of the current page already pasted in (Figure 1a).

Screen shot.
Figure 1a. "Send Link" menu option in Camino.

Downloading files has been improved with the addition of a new Download Manager, which can be set (via the Preferences) to automatically hand over downloaded files to their respective helper application (such as StuffIt).

Images can now be dragged to the desktop, or copied to the clipboard, thanks to new additions to the Option-click contextual menu.

Text encoding for a particular window can be adjusted on the fly with a submenu option (Figure 1b).

Screen shot.
Figure 1b. "Text Encoding" menu option in Camino.

There's been a lot of work done on getting plug-ins to work correctly in Camino. Context menus are displayed properly and support has been improved for Shockwave Director, QuickTime, and RealPlayer content.

In Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) and above, you can assign a single group folder of bookmarks to be accessible with a Command-click from Camino's Dock icon. You can also assign a group of tabs to a folder and have them all open at once with a single command (what's known as a "tab group"). Using this facility is a bit tricky (Figure 1c)--you need to create your folder of bookmarks first, then hit Command-I for an Info panel, then tick a checkbox to enable the Tab group--but it is a great timesaver when browsing sites you like to visit often. Safari has nothing even close to this functionality.

Screen shot.
Figure 1c. Creating a tab group in Camino.

Camino includes various bug-fixes, too. Requested pop-up windows no longer start off big, then resize to their correct dimensions. A persistent problem in Chimera 0.6, where the browser could gobble up CPU cycles if left running while the computer was in Sleep mode, has been fixed as well. And now, if you start typing in the address bar before Camino has finished downloading a page, your text will no longer be replaced with the page URL when the download is completed.

Tabs, Baby

No sooner had Safari made it out into the wild, than many users were clamoring for tabbed browsing. Long available in Mozilla, Opera, and other browsers, the use of tabs to bring together a screenload of web browser windows into a smaller, single-window package has become a very popular feature (although there are some who consider tabs alien to the Mac way of doing things).

If you're one of those people who thinks tabs are essential to modern web browsing, Camino has it all wrapped up. Compare viewing four different web pages at once in Camino (Figure 2) and Safari (Figure 3). Tabs make a real difference to people with limited screen space. Camino offers a simple Command-{ keyboard shortcut for switching from one tab to the next, but in both browsers you can use the little-documented Command-` shortcut for navigating a stack of windows. Many people (myself included) find the tabbed format a useful way of browsing many pages in a short time. Others find them handy for grouping together similar pages, such as a series of weblogs, for reading in one go.

Screen shot.
Figure 2. Comparing multiple-page displays: Camino.


Screen shot.
Figure 3. Comparing multiple-page displays: Safari.

Comparing Features and Tools

Bookmark management is handled in different ways, too. Camino spits out a sidebar, inside which you can edit and manipulate your bookmarks (Figure 4). Safari's bookmark manager is much like Apple's other iApps (such as iTunes and iPhoto), but when in use covers up the browser window you were using (Figure 5).

Screen shot.
Figure 4. Managing bookmarks in Camino.


Screen shot.
Figure 5. Managing bookmarks in Safari.

Safari's history is accessed directly from a menu item, with most recent items clearly shown first and older items ordered by date (Figure 6). It's a neat, attractive solution and somewhat faster and simpler to use than Camino's sidebar, which is now home to a new global history menu.

Screen shot.
Figure 6. Safari's history menu.

Browsers are increasingly designed to reflect things that web users really want. Hence, both Camino and Safari offer simple-to-use pop-up window blocking systems, freeing your screen from unwanted, intrusive advertising forever, if you so choose. (I've used pop-up blocking for so long now, that last time I had to use Internet Explorer for something I was astonished by a pop-up--I even took a few seconds to read it.)

Another popular innovation in browser design is the ability to start a search within the browser itself, rather than having to wait a few seconds to download a search site first. Safari's built-in search box has proved itself a useful addition, but it's a pity that it can only be used to search Google. While Google is everyone's favorite search site, it would be nice to be able to change this behavior and select from a list of search options. Perhaps this is something that will appear when Safari gets out of beta ... or not!

Camino does not have a similar built-in search module, although hacks exist that enable searching from inside the address bar; still, it's a pity something like this is not available out of the box.

You Takes Your Pick, You Makes Your Choice

So, which is the better browser? Sheesh, don't ask me. I'm as indecisive as the next person, and in the last month my default browser setting has fluttered between Chimera, Safari, and Mozilla. Each has features I like, each has niggles I dislike, and none has all of the lovely features and none of the niggles.

At the time of writing this article, the default browser on my iBook is Safari--mainly because I still use a modem to get on the Internet (don't get me started on broadband access in rural England), and consequently, speed counts. I decided that for the vast majority of my web browsing, getting there fast was the most important thing. Hence, Safari.

But prior to Safari's appearance, my favorite browser was Chimera, and no competitors even had a look-in. It had much of the good stuff from Mozilla (the rendering, the standards support) but without the bloat, and it was much, much faster than its parent.

Personally, I like using tabs and that's something I miss whenever I fire up Safari. It's possible that they'll be added to Safari in the future, and this might make me less likely to turn to Camino when I have lots of browsing to do, but not much real estate. And every now and then, Safari trips up on something or other (usually a layout glitch), and my cursor flicks over to the Camino icon in the Dock. Mozilla, Camino, and Safari all have a place there, sitting happily side-by-side.

Perhaps it's too easy to get over-excited about something as basic as a web browser. In these connected times, lots of us spend a lot of time in our browsers, so we tend to get attached to certain features. Even when another browser comes along without those features, that's no reason for getting upset about it.

What we should also remember is that browsers are almost always free, and the developers of all of them--Camino, Safari, and the rest of the gang--deserve the Internet community's thanks for the time and effort they put into their work.

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at http://gilest.org.


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