I am something of a whore for web browsers. If there is a build of it on Mac OS X, I have used it. Here is the million dollar question, though: What do I want out of a browser? I have stewed on this for quite some time, and I have accumulated a list of features that my dream browser would have. It doesn’t exist yet, but Safari comes the closest. So without further ado, here is my list:
- Rearrangable Tabs
- Small Visual Footprint
- Customizable Search Bar
- Adheres to the Latest Web Standards
- Basic Add-on Capability
- Bookmark, History, and Cookie Syncing
- Private Browsing Mode
- Each Tab Spins off its own Process
- Plug-ins are Sandboxed
- Full-Page Zoom
- Keychain Integration
Those are really the features that matter the most to me. Safari, Firefox, and Chrome all meet different criteria on that list, but none of them meet all of the criteria. Some day my prince will come…
For a long while, I didn’t even realize how important this feature is to me. I always have a handful of tabs open, and I’m usually doing some sort of research. As soon as I have more than three or four tabs open, it starts getting hard to manage what information is in what tab. Being able to pick them up and move them is invaluable. It makes organizing your data an order of magnitude simpler.
Not only is it important to be able to reorder the tabs in one browser window, but it is also very important to be able to drag a tab to another window. Keeping multiple tabs open in different windows is a very easy way to categorize what information goes where. If you do any sort of multitasking, this feature is a must have.
Small Visual Footprint
For nerdy folks like myself, there is an impulse to have every button, slider, and doodad displayed at all times. Who knows when you might want to fiddle with something? That might sound good at first, but you’ll quickly realize that too many clickable items makes it hard to function. You’ll end up spending a lot of time trying to manipulate simple things that shouldn’t require a second thought. Also, it is important to be able to see as much of a web page at a time as is possible on your monitor. When you start dealing with multimedia sites, scrolling around to see the rest of an image or movie becomes ridiculous. I truly believe that everyone can agree that minimizing scrolling is beneficial to both content creators and consumers.
Customizable Search Bar
At first, you might think “Why would I need a search engine other than Google in my toolbar?” Mostly, I agree with you. I am fine with only having Google for 90% of my searching needs. However, I need to search specific websites a couple of times a week. Having the ability to add Wikipedia or Flickr search to my search bar would be a big help. For now, I use a bit of a work around with Safari Stand, but this is clearly something that would make my life considerably simpler if it was included with Safari. Do you hear me, Apple? Anyone? No?
Adheres to the Latest Web Standards
This is extremely important to me, but it doesn’t necessarily have any practical or noticeable impact on the end user. Even if your rendering engine doesn’t pass the latest acid test, it probably displays almost everything correctly on the web (Thanks to the hard work of web developers). That said, if every browser was standards compliant, we could be browsing much cooler websites. The developers could be spending their time innovating instead of tweaking. Also, there is something to be said for supporting the best of the best. If a browser is consistently pushing the envelope in implementing standards, that is something I want to get behind. In some ways, it is more of a cosmic reasoning than a practical reasoning.
Basic Add-on Capability
The number one reason, in my experience, why people refuse to switch away from Firefox is the add-ons. However, add-ons might also be the downfall of Firefox as well. I hear constant chatter about memory leaks caused by rogue extensions. I don’t necessarily think that the Firefox model of add-ons is perfect, but I certainly would appriciate having a way to tweak Safari that was less hack-y than SIMBL. Some features like keyword search and flash video capture are important to me, and they can easily be handled by third-party add-ons.
Bookmark, History, and Cookie Syncing
I use two Macs every single day. Regardless of which computer I am using at the time, I want my browsing experience to be seamless. I don’t want to spend five minutes hunting for a bookmark that I saved on my other computer. I don’t want to waste time logging in to the same websites every time I switch computers. If my browsers synced all of the important data with each other, my life would be immensely easier.
In Safari 4 in Snow Leopard, Apple implemented plug-in sandboxing. If you’re running flash, it is its own process instead of being included under Safari’s process. If flash crashes, it won’t take down the browser. This feature is brilliant in its simplicity. I wouldn’t want to use a browser that didn’t implement this in one way or another.
Separate Processes for each Tab
This was first popularly implemented in Google’s Chrome browser, and then copied by the fledgling Stainless browser. This feature, similar to the sandboxed plug-ins, keeps one out of control tab from knocking out the rest of the browser. That is extremely useful, and I would be surprised if every browser didn’t move towards this in the near future.
Private Browsing Mode
Yes, this is probably best known as “Porn Mode,” but it is extremely useful. Whenever you want to avoid leaving a cache, history, or cookies from a web site, you can just turn on Private Browsing Mode. With this feature, there is no need to go through, and wipe out the files later on. Also, this keeps awkward situations from happening. I highly suggest using this if you share your computer with anyone.
The way zooming used to work in Safari, only the text would be enlarged. Now, when you zoom in or out inside the browser, it dynamically scale all of the content on the page. Vector-based items (Text, SVGs) will remain crisp, but raster-based items (JPEGs, PNGs, GIFs) will degrade in quality when they enlarge. When you have full-page zoom, the layout of the page doesn’t break. It will remain consistent, and that is what I want more than any else: consistency.
So, we’ve been through every feature I wanted in the web browser of my dream except for one. This feature, I feel, is the unsung hero of Mac OS X. Keychain Integration! This is a simple, central way of keeping all of your important passwords at the tip of your fingers, but completely secure. The fact that some browsers on Mac OS X don’t have Keychain integration yet is appalling to me. Okay, maybe not quite “Appalling,” but very disappointing to me. This is a fantastically useful feature for everyone from Granny with her first iMac to Joe iPhone-Developer with his dual-quad Mac Pro. Everyone uses passwords, so everyone needs as simple way to manage them. There is no good reason not to use it!
Photo Credit: hamilton.lima