I want to tell you about Camino.

Camino (originally Chimera) is a browser for Mac OSX that’s been in development since 2002 by the Mozilla team, the same team that develops Firefox. When I first started using a Mac full-time my original browser of choice was Chimera. A few weeks later Apple released Safari, and I’ve been a loyal Safari user ever since.

Until now.

Mac users as a whole tend to get lumped into the Mac Zealot group. I admit that Mac users generally are more passionate about their systems then Windows users (maybe not Linux users, but I wouldn’t know) and there are even Mac users that follow the Apple brand into hell and back. These include the people who continue to use awful Apple software like Appleworks and will buy overpriced merchandise like the new Apple iPod leather cases.

But I think that in the same rabid Mac fan pool exists a different kind of user who doesn’t care if there’s an Apple logo on the product or not. These users love OSX and the Apple design philosophy, but won’t blindly use everything Apple; just the best software for the job.

Safari is a very good browser, I just believe that as of right now Camino is better.

Why Use Camino Instead of Safari?

1. Looks Can Kill

Sorry, I’m just not a big fan of brushed metal. In fact, I don’t even know if Apple really is anymore.

The look and design of OSX has had multiple personalities throughout the years. First there was Aqua with a white pinstripe GUI decorated with cool, inviting blue. Compared to the boring, dull grey of other operating systems, Aqua was a welcome change and it was actually a selling point for OSX. Then suddenly, I believe in OSX Panther, windows were no longer cool and inviting, but serious business as they were made of brushed metal. Nowadays in Tiger, we have the Unified look, which is more like a compromise between the cool white of the early days and the brushed metal of panther, but brushed metal still exists in the Finder and iLife apps, except iTunes 6, which I don’t even know what it’s called as it’s not quite brushed metal and not quite unified.

This inconsistency may exist for a reason (even the top bar of Apple’s site uses the pinstripe look, something I haven’t seen for years). Maybe it’s a good thing, as I can see the potential usefulness of organizing apps based upon their interfaces. Apparently Apple has set guidelines for developers regarding when these interfaces should be used; specifically brushed metal should be used for mimicking common devices. What common device can browse the web (cell phones don’t count)?

I just don’t find brushed metal very inviting. We put all our photos, our movies, our music onto our Macs and then it’s like we putting them in a stainless steel case. Who really does that? Metal is cold, it’s unattractive, and it’s not how I want to browse the web.

Camino uses the Unified interface, which in my opinion is the best yet.

The pinstripes were alright, but the lines get in the way of any flow of text, thus making menus harder to read. Unified is cleaner and I hope we see more of it soon. I wouldn’t doubt if it makes it’s first major billing in OSX Leopard.

2. Window maximizing

I got spoiled by apps on Windows (ballpark guess…99.9% of all apps on Windows) that would actually take up the whole screen. Apple’s argument for not allowing their apps to do this has always been that if the data in the application doesn’t need to take up the whole screen, it shouldn’t.

My argument against that is that I’m the user and therefore I should be the one who determines how the app behaves, and it shouldn’t be a pain in the ass to stretch out a window to do so, like it is in Safari. I don’t want to click and drag a corner to maximize a window – I want it done in one click.

What Apple also forgets is that if I’m web browsing and doing nothing else there is not much benefit to being able to see my desktop (we have Exposé for that). In fact, I really want to concentrate on the one task that I’m doing (spreadsheet, web, music composition, etc) and in order to focus on that one task then the application SHOULD take up the whole screen, regardless of it it really uses it or not. I just want nothing else there.

Camino gives users true one-click window maximization.

3. Speed and Rendering

I don’t know if Camino is exactly 50ms faster or slower than Safari. What I do know is that it seems a bit snappier when using the back and forward buttons.

Camino also uses the Gecko rendering engine, an open-source layout engine popularized by Netscape and Firefox. Safari uses Webkit, Apple’s implementation of KHTML, which kinda sorta makes Safari open source, but not really. The base may be open source, but the program is not. It’s like buying a box of Duncan Hines brownie mix but doing something different to the recipe and not telling anyone about it.

The Gecko engine may not be as efficient as Webkit, but it doesn’t seem to have as many compatibility issues as Safari. Some sites today still have issues with Safari. The reason for this is not that Safari is buggy, but rather that these sites really aren’t quite written correctly. Gecko will compensate for mistakes in HTML/XHTML code better than Safari. So if a site is advertised as not being compatible with Safari it really means that it hasn’t been W3C validated, although doing so would benefit everybody with faster rendering.

4. Web ads

Safari can block pop-ups and so can Camino. But Camino also takes things a step further by blocking web advertising.

As a computer user I think this is awesome. As someone who would rely on ads for selling my product or for income, I’d be terrified.

5. Bookmark Bar Icons

Apple made GUI computing popular…why isn’t it doing the same thing with Safari? Just a little icon for each bookmark in the bookmark bar would go a long way. Look how great it looks in Camino!

I know exactly which icon to click to something.

Also, note how if you have a lot of bookmarks in your bookmark bar that Safari will want to go off the window for you to select them. Camino simply creates another row.

Those are the major things, but there’s also CamiTools, a really cool add-in for Camino which takes Camino customization to a new level (like making or Wikipedia your default search utility instead of Google). Safari has Saft, but i’d have to try that out before commenting more on it.

Why Camino instead of Firefox?

On Windows, Firefox is a great piece of software compared to IE.

On the Mac, it’s crap compared to other browsers.

Firefox is more of a port than anything. It doesn’t fit in with the Mac motif that all the other software attempts to adhere to. It doesn’t run as fast as Safari or Camino, doesn’t want to use the Address Book to fill in forms, the tabs are HUGE, and on top of that it’s a hog for resources.

Yet, it also is developed by Mozilla, also uses Gecko…why does it suck so much on the Mac?

It’s not so much that Firefox sucks on the Mac, it just isn’t as optimized for it as the other browsers. It’s like Firefox is that girl who was the best singer in her small town, then she moved to Hollywood to attempt getting a career in acting. Nowadays, she’s waiting tables.

Why Use Firefox or Safari instead of Camino?

I suppose the big reason to stick with the other two browsers is for RSS support. Camino doesn’t yet support RSS feeds, nor does it support auto-discovery of RSS feeds, meaning that if RSS is a big part of your browsing experience you’ll be searching for those RSS/ATOM icons a whole lot.

On the other hand, if you’re one of the relatively few people who uses RSS right now, you’ll probably be better off getting a dedicated newsreader anyway.

Camino also has issues with spell checking, but this is supposed to be fixed in a future update.

Safari has Private Browsing (although how private is it? Does it still collect cookies and add files to the cache?). Camino has no private browsing. Again, to be added in a future version.

Firefox has ton of extensions out to customize your browser. Camino doesn’t support extensions at all.

And again, there’s the Apple allegiance/zealot factor. Part of me really wants to use Safari simply because it’s Apple developed and Webkit is integrated into Mac OSX and most other web apps developed for OSX (Adium for example), although I think both Gecko and Webkit look great…Gecko makes italicized and oblique text look too slanted to my eye.

Part of me thinks that more development is going to occur in Safari over the years than Camino. Apple depends on Safari for the Mac experience. Really the only reason that Apple developed Safari is because web browsing on the Mac used to be terrible. Apple took the same approach to web browsers as it took to it’s retail business; if you want it done right you have to do it yourself.

Mozilla seems to be concentrating more on Firefox than anything else. And while I believe that a community of developers overlooking open source code is ultimately good for software development, I also believe that these developers want to have some financial gain. I’m not sure that that’s provided by Google referrals from Mozilla.

In fact, if Apple rectified my big problems above (mainly brushed metal, bookmark bar icons, and window maximizing) I’d probably switch back to Safari in a split second.

Until then, I think Camino is where it’s at.