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Camino and Safari Compared

by Giles Turnbull

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.

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