Earlier this month, version 1.5 of the OSX Camino browser was released. Camino is based on the same Mozilla rendering engine as Firefox, but unlike Firefox, Camino behaves much more like a native OSX application, without a lot of the overhead (such as the XUL user interface) that Firefox brings with it.

Ever since I started using the Mac, I’ve never been a big fan of Safari. I have used Firefox up till now, but I’ve been getting less and less excited about it. It simply seems to be getting a bit bloated and unresponsive, and I’ve gotten quite sick of continuously seeing the “spinning wheel of death”. I have even used the Intel Mac optimized Bon Echo build for a while, but this didn’t seem to improve things that greatly either.

I tried an earlier version of Camino before and wasn’t that impressed with it, because it was sorely lacking in features at the time. However, a lot of these were added in Camino 1.5, so I decided to give it another try. I have been using it for a good week now, and so far I am very pleasantly surprised. It feels extremely fast and responsive, at least as fast as Safari and significantly faster than Firefox. Camino now supports “search as you type”, one of the features that I have always missed in non-Firefox browsers. It also saves your sessions and restores these after a restart, including all open tabs (a Firefox 2.0 feature that I would not be able to do without any more).

It does have a few shortcomings, though:

  1. Tabs cannot be reordered (although it has been rumored that this feature will be added in the 1.6 version).
  2. "Find as you type" is initiated by pressing "/" instead of Command-F (the latter brings up the regular Find dialog). I much prefer the Firefox implementation of this feature.
  3. You cannot use Command-1 through Command-9 (or any other shortcut) to jump to the 1st through 9th tab respectively. I have gotten very used to this feature in Firefox, epecially since I always keep certain tabs open in a particular order (such as Gmail, Calendar, Google Reader, etc.). Now I have to use Command-Option-Left/Right to scroll through the tabs (or use the mouse) instead, which is less convenient.
  4. In general the tab handling could use an overhaul. It resembles older versions of Firefox. Only as many tabs as fit the width of the window are displayed at once. When this number is exceeded, a button appears on the right that displays a popup window to select the remaining tabs, which seems clunky. In Firefox, I often position the mouse on the tab bar and use the scroll wheel to scroll the tabs left or right. Update (7/14/07): Today I downloaded the latest nightly Camino build (these have generally been very stable in my experience). While tabs still cannot be reorderd, they otherwise behave like in Firefox now. You get arrow buttons that allow you to scroll the tabs left / right, or you can scroll them via the mouse wheel. Nice!
  5. The search bar does not display Google Suggest results as you type.
  6. Firefox allows me to subscribe to RSS feeds using Google Reader. Camino has a similar feature, but it only appears to support local feed reader applications and I have not been able to figure out how to make this work with Google Reader instead.

So while there are still several mildly annoying shortcomings (mostly around tab handling), I am excited about Camino’s sheer speed and responsiveness, as well as stability (no crashes so far, knock on wood…). And of course, you still get the same great HTML rendering compatibility as Firefox.

I think I’ll try to stick with Camino for now. I might end up going back to Firefox for certain tasks due to the awesome plugin support (particularly for web development), but I don’t have much of a reason to use Safari any more.

I should also mention that while Camino isn’t nearly as extensible as Firefox, many useful extensions can be found at Pimp My Camino.