Seven Days with OmniWeb

by Antoine Quint

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Out of curiosity a week ago, I decided to download OmniWeb and try it out. I got there because after reading a little bit about my latest favorite application, Delicious Library, I realized that the two founders of that new company used to work on user interfaces development at Omni, the software house that makes OmniWeb. My interest was also piqued by the idea that a non-free (the license is $29.95) browser could actually survive past one release cycle. Last but not least, I had also heard that these guys had dumped their previous HTML rendering engine and started using Apple WebKit, thus focusing mostly on bringing some innovative user interface features to the mix. I had to try that, and after a week of use I'm not disappointed. Here are a few of my favorite bits about OmniWeb.

Form Inputs.
This one is my single favorite feature. Since I've created, an SVG community website, I spend a lot of time typing into text areas. Up until now for me, that meant poor editing capabilities and mistakes posting or erasing things I had just spent quite a lot of time typing. Dang! In OmniWeb, all form text areas have a little + button in their top-right corner. Pressing that little button slides a new window out of the text area and allows you to type freely, with any text you type in sync with the one in the text area. When you're done writing, just close the window and you're done. That new text input window also allows for importing text from some file on your hard drive too. Oh, also OmniWeb has the Mac OS X spell checker working in text areas and editing windows, so now you can make sure you typed something correct. I just used these features to write this blog entry, it's really great.

Source View.
I love that one too. When you view the source of a document in OmniWeb, you get a nice new window with the source content with syntax highlighting, buttons to minimize or expand the tree structure and also a way to edit the source and reload the page with the modifications you just made. I use this feature sometimes when some websites have truly offending HTML that WebCore can't handle too well. For instance, my TV program website outputs really dodgy HTML for its ads, and sometimes with Flash ads the pages don't get displayed completely, and I can't see the content I was looking for. With the source editor of OmniWeb, I simply do View Source, then ask for a nicely formatted source view and get rid of all the offending <embed> elements and nasty scripts. Once I'm done, I just press the reformat button and I'm all done. That saved my butt quite a few times already.

I won't expend too much on this one because I think the way OmniWeb does tabs is more subject to personal appreciations than any other features I highlight here. OmniWeb doesn't do tabs like most browsers (Safari, Firefox, Camino) do. Instead of having a bar with page titles on top of your page view, you get a Mac OS X drawer added to your browser window with snapshots of what each page looks like, and a status of whether the bar is fully loaded yet. The snapshots really help in finding your page quickly. There are other nice features, such as tabs snapshots reordering, so you can put two pages side to side to navigate faster using the tab-switching keyboard shortcut. You can also drop any document that OmniWeb can display in the tab drawer in order to have it opened in a new tab. And if you're not too fond of snapshots, you can simply choose to have a list view. Cool.

I have been doing quite a lot of work on HTML documents lately editing specs. When I do that, I tend to work on several web pages at the same time, as specs have several chapters, or I have different archived emails showing in tabs to keep track of things I need to do. OmniWeb allows me to save the state of my browsers as an environment, so I can easily have all my tabs re-opened when I need. Now I have 5 different environments, one for each of the 5 different projects I'm working with at the moment. This really is a time-saver.

Per-site preferences.
Like most browsers, OmniWeb allows me to setup a few global rules for viewing web pages, such as appearance, ad-blocking, security settings, etc. On top of these default rules, for each website I'm visiting, OmniWeb lets me easily customize these same settings by the click of one button that I placed next to the address bar. I use that a lot because some sites have tiny fonts that I want bigger, or when I want to actually see ads from a website I enjoy and want to support, or most often when a website sends the wrong content encoding and using the basic settings makes the page unreadable.

I'm sure there are other features that I haven't explored yet that makes the purchase of OmniWeb worthwhile, for instance I haven't tried using OmniWeb as an RSS reader yet, nor did I try to customize search shortcuts. But these features alone are sufficient to convince me I can hardly go back to my previous browser (Safari in my case) and shell out the $29.95. Do try this at home!

Are you using OmniWeb? Have you tried it? What's your preferred browser on Mac OS X?