Shiira v0.9.5, by HMDT
Posted: 9-May-2005

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: HMDT Type: FREEWARE

Reviewer: Jamie Kahn Genet Class: INTERNET
     
    Download

Overview
Shiira is a free web browser developed primarily in Japan by
Makoto Kinoshita at Hetima Computer, with the assistance of several other talented designers and programmers. The goal is to make a better browser than Safari. To quote the developer: "Shiira is the Japanese word for dolphin fish (not the mammal 'dolphin'!) or dorado, also known as 'mahi mahi' in Hawaiian. We hope Shiira can become a strong swimmer in the depths of the World Wide Web." Shiira's source code is released under the revised BSD license.

Features

  • Tab Exposé
  • Bookmarklet
  • PDF without pagination
  • HTML source coloring
  • Sidebar preferences
  • Image auto-resizing
  • IDN and its spoofing security issue
  • cURL
  • New toolbar icon suites
  • Growl
  • Resizable search field


Requirements

The latest version of Shiira (0.9.5PR) requires MacOS 10.3.9 as Apple updated the Web Kit in that release. Builds are available for older versions of 10.3, however.

Shiira was tested on an old Rev c iMac running 10.3.8 (partly why I was as impressed with Shiira's speed and minimal CPU requirements as I was) with 256MB RAM and a newer G4 iMac with stock configuration, both connected to the internet via 2MBit ADSL.

Installation
Shiira is only a 1044 Kb download as a disk image. It's a simple drag and drop installation into your Applications folder. No restart necessary. It was simple to learn the differences between Shiira and Safari. To get started, all it took was a quick browse of Shiira's preferences (which are fairly self explanatory) and setting appropriate options to suit my working style. Five minutes later I was up and running surfing the wider world web.

In Use
Any Mac user familiar with Safari will readily adapt to Shiira. Shiira, however, is a pleasing evolution of Safari's design.

Bookmark integration
Strong integration with Safari's bookmarks made what is often the biggest hurdle to changing web browsers a breeze - transferring bookmarks between the old and new browser. If you want, you can just have Safari's bookmarks included in the Bookmark menu, but you will not be able to directly edit these bookmarks. If you are switching browsers, you would be better off importing Safari's bookmarks into Shiira so that you can edit them. You can do this by simply copying Safari's bookmarks displayed within Shiira's sidebar. Alternately, you can have both browser's set of bookmarks available. In my case, I soon left Safari in favor of Shiira, and now only maintain Shiira's set of bookmarks.

If you are using both Safari and Shiira, and you want only one set of bookmarks, you have a couple of options. If you want the bookmarks to be editable at any time, regardless of which browser is in use, I suggest a utility like URL Manager Pro. If you only need to edit within Safari, then Shiira's display of Safari's bookmarks will tide you over till you're ready to commit to Shiira.

Editing Shiira's bookmarks to keep them organised and their names readable is done by opening the sidebar, selecting the Bookmarks tab, selecting an individual bookmark and then editing the name and address in the info panel at the bottom of the sidebar. The bookmarks favicon (or generic icon if the web site doesn't have one) can be dragged to the Finder to create a Web Internet Location file. Selected bookmarks can be dragged to new locations, and new folders created, just as in the Finders List view.

Viewing and editing bookmarks (or history and downloads) in a sidebar also has the advantage of not replacing the current open page, as happens in Safari. All bookmarks contained in a folder can all be opened in new individual tabs, by control clicking on a folder in the sidebar and selecting Open in Tabs, or using the same command located at the bottom of the Bookmark menu and each sub-menu therein (representing every folder created in the sidebar).

Better tabbed browsing
Shiira will display each web page tab as the length of their title, and will put any tabs that don't fit within the width of the open window in a pull down menu to the right hand side. No more ugly squashed tabs with unreadable titles, and no more streams ellipsis characters!


Shiira Web Browser with tabs

You can also set Shiira to open links from other applications in either new tabs, or windows. Plus (unlike many other popular browsers), Shiira can open links from a web page that normally results in a new window, as tabs instead. With Safari, you can accomplish this by using a control-click or right click on a link, but Shiira provides the option to have this the default behavior with a single click. It can be very frustrating to have new windows appearing all over the place, especially when you're trying to keep everything within one clean unified window of tabbed web pages. Shiira's options satisfy this need.

Customizable search engines
Like most browsers these days, Shiira includes a great time saver - a search field in the main toolbar, set to
Google.com by default. But unlike many other browsers, you can customise the search engines in the list by entering URL templates. This is very handy for people who use speciality or localized search engines (e.g., http://www.google.co.nz).


Shiira's Search Engines List

A URL template is a search engines URL with certain added words and/or characters that are understood by the search engine in question. They may direct a search result to contain only ten results per page, and only results written in a particular language(s) - Japanese and English, for example. To get an idea of what I mean, just take a look at the results page of your next Advanced Google search. You'll see your settings for the search in the result pages URL. If you're lucky the search engineís developers have published the format of their search URLs, or other clever people have previously worked it out. Otherwise it can be a bit of trial and error to figure out.

Strangely though, to select a different default search engine from the drop down menu, I had to hold down the option key. I only found this out by experimentation after many minutes of frustration. If you don't hold down the option key, any text typed in the search field will be sent to the search engine clicked on, but the default choice is unchanged. Obviously a feature, not a bug, but some documentation would have helped.

Handy optional sidebar
The panel which pops out of the side of the window (with Shiira neatly moving the window if space is limited, and putting it back afterwards), lists either bookmarks (to edit or open them by either single click or double click), downloads, or browsing history. If you have the screen real estate, it's extremely useful to keep this open all the time, especially if you access many bookmarked sites one after the other, are skipping back and forth through previously opened pages, or downloading many files. For aesthetic reasons, it's more satisfying to see the downloads progress bars march along, and more practically, it's handy to quickly spot and restart stalled downloads (all too common when on dialup internet access).

An additional nicety is that you can set the sidebar to automatically pop open to show a download's progress, instead of the download manager opening in a new window, if you so choose.

Speed
While Safari often slows to a crawl after a long time running with many open windows, I've experienced no such dramatic slow downs with Shiira. After two hours browsing multiple sites, Safari begins to take several seconds to load pages and switch windows. Recent upgrades to Safari have lessened this gradual slowdown, but it still remains a major annoyance when running Safari for extended periods. On the same Mac, Shiira experienced no noticeable slowdown after over two days use, while Safari had to be restarted after only two hours to maintain a usable speed. As for HTML rendering speed, Shiira and Safari are about the same.

Shiira also does not unnecessarily hog CPU cycles. Using the UNIX command line program "top" to monitor processes, Shiira at rest is reported as using 0.0% of my iMac's CPU (it was so far down the list, I had to increase the terminal window in order to to view it). Safari also uses 0.0% CPU time, iCab 3.0.0 uses 3% to 5%, and Opera 8P1 bottoms the list hogging up 10% to 20% of CPU while at rest.

Minor stability issues, the odd bug and unfinished feature
Shiira is nearing it's 1.0 release, and I recommend downloading the latest nightly build to take advantage of the most recent bugfixes. Shiira crashes at least once a day in my experience, sometimes more often, but not seriously (quickly relaunched with no adverse effects). I've experienced far worse from other mainstream browsers way past their initial version 1.0 release - including Safari and Mozilla.

A few pages will not open correctly or work at all. However, my tests have shown me that most pages that will not work under Shiira also fail under Safari (not surprising given the Web Kit foundations of both). I've encountered extremely few Shiira specific problems in this area. The only major limitation (insofar as web sites incompatible with Shiira) is Shiira's (and Safari's) refusal to work with the domain editing pages of my ISP,
Orcon. I consistently receive the error message, "No instance available", with no idea what it means. Only Opera 8P1 seems to work correctly on this site. On the other hand, my online banking site, National Bank of New Zealand, works perfectly under Shiira.

User forums for bug reports and discussion are provided
on the web. You can also file bug reports from within Shiira, which uses your email client to send them.

No autofill for forms
This is the only real annoyance of using Shiira so far. Autofill is promised in a later release, thankfully. In the meantime I get by using TypeIt4Me instead. If you rely heavily on autofill for forms, username fields and passwords, then you may want to wait before giving Shiira a try. I'd keep an eye on the upcoming 1.0 release.

A few other miscellaneous features
A nice touch in Shiira is that you can choose between an Aqua or brushed metal interface. You can also create your own toolbar icons (backward, forward, reload, open sidebar, etc) or download icon sets created by other users from
the web. My preference is the Black Shiira icon set.


Black Shiira icon set


Tab Exposé (F8 by default) quickly shows all tabbed pages within the front most window, acting just like the MacOS window Exposé feature. MacOS Exposé can only show an Applications individual windows, not every open tab. This is a severe drawback to Safari's tabbed bowsing for Exposé aficionados. Not so using Shiira.

Lastly, Shiira has a handy HTML source display with syntax colouring, and a useful sub-menu to quickly open a web page in another browser. If I encounter a poorly written site that will refuse to run on anything but Netscape or MSIE, I can quickly and easily ask Shiira to open that page with a different browser.

Some of the other features listed for Shiira, such as PDF without pagination, Growl, and cURL, were features that I either did not find interesting, or have not yet matured into useable features.


Summary
Shiira has quickly grown to be a very capable Macintosh web browser (certainly the best of the open source bunch). It makes browsing the web a more pleasant and attractive experience. The better implementation of tabbed browsing alone, makes Shiira a worthwhile choice for me. I'd also be hard pressed to now live without the quick access to my own favourite search engines, and Shiira's speed on slower Macs. I do miss Autofill, but for now TypeIt4Me helps fill the void. If you find Safari a tad too limiting and are an intermediate or higher level computer user, I heartily recommend taking a look at
Shiira. Without decent documentation and button tool tips, Shiira may not be for everyone. Nonetheless, I feel Shiira is definitely ready for default browser status on all of my Mac OS X systems.

Pros

  • Strong integration with Safari's bookmarks
  • Better customisable tabbed interface, with expanding tabs that display complete titles.
  • User customisable search engines accessible from toolbar.
  • Speedy on even the very oldest Macs supported under Mac OS 10.3.x.


Cons

  • Autofill not yet implemented
  • Some pages still do not display properly, or at all.
  • Shiira still crashes too often.
  • Generally poor to non-existent documentation, available online only at Shiira's home page. No Help Viewer documentation. No explanatory Read Me.



Overall Rating

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice