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A good alternative browser to Safari on Mac OS X Leopard is Camino. Camino is based on Mozilla’s Gecko engine, so it operates much like Firefox on Mac, but a hell of a lot quicker.

Camino just released version 1.6.1 (May 20, 2008), which fixed stability and security issues from their last major release, 1.6, which was made available a month before that, so the latest release should be pretty solid.

Having offered Camino as an alternative to Safari, I actually not only still use Safari, but I also use Firefox, basically the three major browsers on Mac. Why the heck would I do this? Each browser has its benefits.

Camino

Best mix of speed, features, and compatibility. I still find certain javascript/ajax issues such as with Google Documents drop down menus, but not much beyond that. Did I mention blocking of all Flash Ads and Pop-ups, with exceptions or white-lists available for both? Hot.

Firefox

Best overall website compatibility. Lets face it, Apple still has a ways to go before Mac penetration gets beyond even 15% of the user base that Windows has. As such, most websites are optimized or tested for “Internet Explorer” and none other. This can lead to rendering issues on Mac browsers such as Safari and Camino. Firefox is the least susceptible to these compatibility issues, which are generally due to Internet Explorer not being standards compliant. But, that’s another story for another time, by another blogger.

Safari

Fastest browser. Faster than both Camino and Firefox. Safari is what I think of as a “light browser”: a lean, mean, browsing machine. This was the first browser for Mac and it’s the most “integrated” with the operating system. But, it lacks some “power-user” features that I can’t live without on a day to day basis. For example: text or link searching using “forward slash” or “single quote”. In Camino simply hit the “forward slash” key, start typing, and Camino will move to the next word containing the string of characters you are typing. Hitting Ctrl + G will move to the next match. The same works with “single quote” link searching. Once the link you’re searching for is found and highlighted, simply press Enter/Return and the link is opened. This is seriously efficient and fast browsing, much much faster than messing around with a mouse or trackpad and hovering the mouse pointer over the correct few centimeters of display in order to open links. Try this inline search feature on Camino and I bet you will love it.

Safari has its own search/find feature that’s pretty tight as well, highlighting the word you’re searching for and darkening the rest of the page. This is great for serious text reading on big documents, but for navigating and general surfing, I’d much rather have Camino’s inline search with keyboard navigation.

Blocked Flash AdBlocking Flash in Camino has been an On/Off affair until recently. Camino browser had implemented the FlashBlock software directly into its browser, but unfortunately, it didn’t have a whitelist where you can specify sites to allow Flash to run. So you either blocked Flash from all sites or no sites.

Although this is still the case, there is a hack that allows you to create a whitelist of sites where Flash should still be enabled. The hack is reproduced here:

Create a userContent.css file within the Camino Application Support “chrome” directory. Open up a Terminal window (found under Applications/Utilities) and enter:

cd ~/Library/Application Support/Camino/chrome
touch userContent.css

If you’ve got Textmate

mate userContent.css

If not, go into Finder, find the above “chrome” directory underneath your “Home” directory (usually your login name) and open the userContent.css file by Cmd-Clicking or two finger tap “right clicking”, Open With > Other > TextEdit.

Paste in the following code:

@-moz-document domain(youtube.com), domain(google.com)
{
object[classid*=":D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000"],
object[codebase*="swflash.cab"],
object[data*=".swf"],
embed[type="application/x-shockwave-flash"],
embed[src*=".swf"],
object[type="application/x-shockwave-flash"],
object[src*=".swf"]
{ -moz-binding: none !important; }
}

Notice the YouTube.com and Google.com domains within “domain()”. Add more of those with the domain of sites you want to allow Flash to run. This is your whitelist of sites where Flash is permitted to run.

After this, save the userContent.css file and shut down Camino completely (Cmd-Q) and restart it. Then go into Camino Preferences > Web Features > Block Flash animations, check this tick box.

Now try opening up YouTube.com and you should see the page working as normal. All Flash based videos should still work. Now try out a site with an obscene amount of Flash Advertisements like http://bloomberg.com. Where the Flash ads would be normally you should see the Adobe “f” instead.

If this doesn’t work for you, make sure you named the file correctly “userContent.css”, put it in the right directory “~/Library/Application Support/Camino/chrome”, and have completely shut down Camino (not just its windows, but truly Quit the program), and restarted, and that you’ve turned on the Block Flash animations option under Web Features in Preferences.

The above hack was kindly provided by Camino at http://caminobrowser.org/documentation/annoyances/

If Camino 1.x isn’t importing your Google Bookmarks (http://www.google.com/bookmarks) properly (it can hang during the import process) an easy fix or solution is to import your Google bookmarks into Safari first (File menu > Import Bookmarks).

Then from Safari, export the bookmarks to an HTML file.

Then return to Camino and import the bookmarks from an HTML file (File menu > Import Bookmarks > Select a File [from the drop down box] and select the Safari bookmarks.html file that you just created).

Hate animated Flash ads while browsing? Get Camino. Go to Preferences, Web Features, Block Flash Animations and voilĂ , no more Flash based animated ads.

Stop Video Ads from playing while Browsing

Without Flash Ads

No Annoying Flash Ads

With Flash Ads

With Annoying Flash Ads

I’m not sure about you, but I like my Jolie with as little extraneous distractions as possible.

I’ve mentioned the block flash ads feature with Camino in another post, but I think this feature is important enough that it warrants its own post. There’s nothing more annoying than loud, animated, dancing ads that loop continuously as you try to read (or stare at) content. I realize that a good portion of the web operates on advertising revenues and I’m not opposed to online advertisements, but Macromedia is overbearing. Their Flash software for browsers prevents you from stopping animated ads and you can’t even prevent an ad from looping forever, with poorly designed ads cranking the CPU up to 70C to blare the same annoying message over and over.

The ability to block ads is not unique to Camino. With Firefox Add-Ons such as Adblock Plus you can get roughly the same results as Camino’s Block Flash Ads feature, but when I say “rough”, I really mean “rough”. I discovered that the way Adblock Plus works with respect to Flash ads is that it changes the permissions that Flash has for writing cache files before displaying an animation. Basically Flash no longer has the ability to write cache files, thus it cannot display the animation properly. I found this out when moving from Mac OS X Tiger to Leopard.

Before the install I was attempting to repartition my hard disk, starting off with a “Verify Permissions” check before diving in. Strangely there were errors in permissions related to Flash/ShockWave. The permissions verification was telling me that these directories should have had Read Write access, but they had only Read access. This turned on a light bulb in my head as I had recently tried out Adblock Plus in Firefox. That’s a pretty dirty hack to use in order to block Flash animated ads.

In my experience the ads were still visible for a split second, then removed and replaced with a blank spot where the ad previously was located. Hovering over the area or moving the page through scrolling at times would reveal the ad again, which was probably due to the CSS hijinks going on as well. Overall, Camino’s way to block ads is very slick and doesn’t have the feel of something hacked together to work most of the time, like other ad blocking solutions.

With Camino, the power to stop intrusive, obnoxious web ads is returned to the user. This is a killer feature that was created due to popular demand and will make Camino a true contender in the browser lineup.

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Camino Fastest Browser on MacOk, it’s a bit early for me to be describing Camino as the Fastest and Best Browser on Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, but at the same time I can’t help but be overjoyed at the prospect of having full keyboard navigation functionality (i.e. searching, finding, clicking/navigating/opening a link purely through the keyboard) with the blazing speed of a true Mac based browser.

It’s been only three days since I started using Safari 3.04 on my Macbook Pro, due to Firefox’s painfully slow performance (about 3-5 times as slow as Safari or Camino). That switch from Mozilla Firefox to Webkit Safari was not all cookies and cake though. Along with that change I lost the ability to navigate links with search / Enter key combinations, i.e. find links through the search function, which automatically highlights the link and then open them by hitting Escape then Enter. When you’re constantly using web pages with hundreds of links like many programming language documentation sites have, full keyboard navigation of pages and links is pretty powerful.

Here are some more reasons why Camino is the fastest and best browser for Mac OS X Leopard:

  1. Fastest Browser web page rendering

    Rendering is the fancy term of reading HTML page code (<tags>, javascript, stylesheets, etc.) and producing the beautiful, formatted text, layout and pictures in the browser window. One would think that the time it takes to read and display the same web page code on different browsers would be identical between all browsers. Interestingly… it is not. Safari 3.04 and Camino 1.53, the fast web browsers, are up to 6x faster in rendering the same web page when compard to Firefox or Internet Explorer. The best example that I have is within http://www.salesforce.com. I have no idea why these pages load so slow in Firefox, but they do. Sign up for a 30 day trial account (or a limitless developer account) and click through the various tabs on the account home (after logging in). Do this both in Firefox and within Camino, performing the exact same actions. In Firefox, at least for me, it renders the exact same pages but 3-4x slower. When you’re repeating the same actions over and over again (as is common in SalesForce.com) waiting 6-8 seconds for the same page to render is painful.

  2. Block Ads

    You heard me right: the ability to prevent/block/stop hyper annoying flash video ads from auto-playing and looping forever, which takes up tons of CPU processing power and can make your computer run like a slug… just to show a bloody ad. Stop Video Ads from playing while BrowsingThe worst part about flash advertisements is that you have zero control over it. At least on a television you can mute the volume (or speed/skip through it if you’re on Tivo or ReplayTV), but on a web page you’re forced to let it loop through it’s content for as long as you’re on the page. To set this up goto the top menu bar, select Camino, Preferences, Web Features, then check Block Flash Animations. After this, load up a page you know has flash ads such as CityVox.fr and reload it a few times until you see a blank white box with a stylized “F” representing the now muted Flash ad. Camino… je t’aime. This doesn’t mean that sites that normally have videos are now useless as you can still watch the videos by simply clicking on the box containing the Flash symbols to start playing the video. But, it’s an incredible relief to have the power and ability to control my own browsing experience.

  3. Keyboard navigation

    Find links on web pages using inline search (find as you type) and open/navigate them by hitting the Enter button. This is more of a power-user feature, but it’s quite a big feature for those who know about it. Within Camino, when viewing a web page, if you see a link you want to click on (or you happen know the name of the link, often the case when reading documentation), hit the “single quote” key (‘) or “forward slash” (/), which turns on “find as you type” search and start typing the word that you are looking for. Using “single quote” will find links only, whereas “forward slash” will search all text. Camino will move the cursor to the word that matches the letters that you are typing and at any time you can hit Enter to navigate/open that link. Need to move to the next matching link? Hit Command + g (the normal “Find Next” hotkey for Mac). Previous match? Hit Shift + Command + g. This is much much faster than scrolling down a web page and moving your mouse pointer to hover over the link then clicking it. Try it and you’ll understand why I think this is such a big feature. Although, if you’re not exactly Speedy Gonzales on the keyboard, this may not be a big draw. For those who are wise in the ways of Keyboard-Fu… rejoice.

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