by Claire J Rottenberg (Dec, 2008)
If you are like me, you probably have a favorite web browser that you use all or most of the time, but there are many good web browsers for Mac OS X that are worth trying. In preparation for this article, I rediscovered two browsers (Flock and Opera) that are now part of my collection of startup applications. They haven’t completely replaced my favorite, Safari, but they offer alternatives for special functions. In this article, I describe some of the unique features of four web browsers for Mac OS X - Safari, Flock, Opera, and SeaMonkey. I’m not including Firefox because the latest version is in beta (version 3.1b1) and some of Firefox’s past benefits are lacking in the beta version. Also, unlike the other web browsers included in this article, Firefox does not have any special features that are not available in any of the other browsers.
One of my favorite features of Safari is the integration with Apple’s Mail program. With Safari, you can email links to web pages, as you can with other browsers, but Safari goes beyond the other browsers to also let you email entire web pages using Mail. This is an easy and useful way to save web pages with information you may want or need in the future. It also gives you a good option for sharing complete web pages, and not just links, with friends.
Another special feature of Safari is the way it handles RSS feeds. Of all the browsers I’ve used, Safari has the most options for viewing and organizing RSS feeds. You can limit the feeds you view, highlight only unread feeds and organize feeds in a variety of ways. Searching feeds is quick and easy since Safari uses Spotlight searching. Another nice feature is that Safari can indicate how many unread feeds you have in any bookmark or bookmarks folder. For example, I keep a folder of RSS feeds on my Bookmarks Bar and I can always tell when I have new, unread feeds in the folder.
In addition to good integration with Mail and excellent RSS feed features, Safari has several other strengths. Of all the browsers, it is probably the easiest to use because of its limited preferences (also its greatest weakness), its speed (it launches quicker than other browsers) and its familiar Mac OS X interface. For easy and fast everyday browsing, Safari is a great choice of a web browser. And, if you love RSS feeds and you want the convenience of good control over feeds from within a browser, Safari is the answer to your needs.
Flock is advertised as a “Social Networking Browser” and this is, indeed, its strength. If you use social networking sites, such as Facebook, media sites, such as YouTube, or blogging sites, such as Blogger, Flock is a browser worth trying.
Flock makes logging into your accounts easy and once your accounts are set up in Flock, you can easily access them from Flock’s sidebar. Some of the networking sites supported by Flock are Facebook, MySpace, Digg, and Twitter. Easy login is also available for online email accounts from Yahoo, GMail and AOL mail.
Flock’s sidebar is an important special feature of the browser. With the sidebar, you are always just one click away from your online friends, RSS feeds, bookmarks, email, blogging sites, and a web clipboard.
Flock’s web clipboard lets you store favorite text, links and images that you might want to share with others. If you have a blog, you can upload any items stored on the clipboard to your blog post, again with just the click of one button. Flock supports a large number of blogging sites and platforms, including Blogger, Wordpress and Typepad.
If you’re an online social addict and you want fast and easy access to your friends, networking sites and online blog, Flock can make online living easier for you.
In preparation for this article, I tried Opera, a browser I hadn’t used in years, and I was very surprised and pleased with the latest version. Opera has expanded to now include several features not available to the same extent in other browsers. In this section, I briefly touch on some of these unique features.
Opera comes with a full-featured, easy-to-use email program that lets you organize your email in folders or in special filters that function in a manner similar to Smart mailboxes in Mail. If you use the Mac OS X Address Book program for your contacts, Opera can import the contacts into the browser’s database and you can address email messages using them.
Like Flock, Opera has an extensive sidebar feature that lets you have constant access to your email, contacts, web pages, and more. You can easily toggle the sidebar on and off so that it is visible only when you need it. Opera also has a full-screen option that makes viewing web pages and your email much easier on a small screen.
Opera has a good collection of toolbars, each of which can be customized separately. I particularly like the “Personal Bar” (similar to Safari’s bookmarks bar) because you can reposition it to the bottom of the screen for quick one-click access to your favorite websites.
Other unique features of Opera include a notes option that lets you add sticky-type notes to websites, extensive bookmark organization options and many other customization options. Try Opera and you’ll probably find even more special features. One cautionary note, however, with Opera is that it can take some time to configure Opera’s preferences and learn how to use its special features, so it is not the browser to start using when you just need to do some quick browsing.
SeaMonkey is the revised Mozilla/Netscape browser that many of you may remember from the early days of the Mac. Although SeaMonkey isn’t as modern-looking or functioning as some of today’s other browsers, it has one slightly hidden feature that is not available in the other main browsers. SeaMonkey has a built-in web design program that lets you easily create web pages. Although it cannot compete with applications like DreamWeaver or even iWeb, it is quite good and it is free.
When you choose the Composer option from Window menu, a web design window will open and you can create a web page by typing text and inserting images into the first pane or, if you know HTML, you can switch to the Source pane and design your page from there.
The latest version of SeaMonkey provides all the options you need to develop a decent web page. You can set text and background styles and colors and insert links, tables or lists. You even have a spell checker and a preview option so you can edit your work as you design the page. Once your page is complete, you can publish it to your server directly from SeaMonkey. An extra feature, not even available in some web design programs, is an option to validate your code so you can ensure that your web page meets industry standards for HTML coding.
If you’ve been looking for a quick and easy way to design web pages, try SeaMonkey’s Composer option.
As you can see, you have many good options for web browsers with Mac OS X. For fast browsing and extended RSS features, try Safari. Social networking addicts will probably want to use Flock and beginning web designers can give SeaMonkey a chance. And, if you want a full-blown browsing and email experience, all in one place, go for Opera.