Web-browsers 2003 Pro and Con

By Xah Lee. Date:

I have 7 web browsers installed on my Mac: Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), iCab, Apple's Safari, Netscape, Camino, Omniweb, Opera. IE has always been my main browser since its inception on the Mac. In general, it is the most robust, speedy, and feature rich. But as of now, Microsoft has announced its cessation, and Apple foresaw this with its newfangled Safari browser. IE hasn't had a major update since about 1 year and is showing its age, i'm looking for its successor as my main browser. Here's the main pro and con of the browsers with respect to my usage and opinion.

The Internet Explorer by Microsoft: the most important feature for me is its ability to save whole websites to n links deep. I archive important news articles and this feature is particular useful for saving sites with lots of photos, such as porn sites. I also use the unix utilities to save whole sites such as “curl” and “wget”, but such a feature in browser is convenient. No other browser on the Mac i know of has this feature. One problem with IE of this feature is that it saves in proprietary binary format. I use iCab WAC program to convert it to zip format. Other browsers such as iCab and Camino provides lesser ability to save a entire web page including its graphics. The worse in this aspect is Apple Safari, which can only save as html text.

Apple's Safari: excellent browser. Though, one serious flaw is its cookie saving choices. It doesn't allow on-the-spot decision on sites. I only allow certain sites to save cookies, such as those banks or onlines merchants i do business with. The best cookie feature is to allow me to set in the preference the domains that accept cookie, and not accept cookies from all others. Second best is to have pop-up dialogue per site or per cookie that can be dismissed by pressing y or n. Because of Safari's lack of cookie acceptance feature, i use it my main browser but had to switch to others when buying things or sites i do business with.

iCab from Germany: one thing i just love iCab is the feature that checks the validity of HTML. (iCab has a little smily to indicate valid HTML.) For this reason along, i use iCab for my web development. I code in xemacs, then preview in iCab. (there are HTML validators or checkers in emacs and other unix tools of course, but in browser is convenient.) I love to have my HTML code correct. However, iCab hasn't been my main browser because it has problems rendering many sites that has a side bar or columnized. For example, wikipedia.org. Possibly this is due to rampant incorrect HTML that looks ok under Microsoft's browser on Windows, which is used on 90% of people.

The other browsers i don't use often. Netscape and Camino are basically the same thing with Netscape also including mail, news, HTML editor, chat features, for which i use other application. Recently i've been using Camino a lot. The number one problem is that every time it prompts for a cookie dialogue, one cannot dismiss it with keyboard. One needs to use mouse to click the yes or no button. For this reason, Camino has problems becoming my main browser. Camino is also a memory hog in comparison to IE or Safari. Camino also has a bug that makes it a CPU hog.

Omniweb and Opera i've used sparingly. Both are slow and a bit weird, both nags about purchasing them. Opera cannot dismiss cookie or dialogue prompts by keyboard. Opera does not honor the system-wide window-switching short-cut cmd-~ and is in general weirder.

dealing with utf8 (Chinese) HTML files

browser       , displays Chinese/utf8 in title, in url, in source code
IE 5.2.3      ,  no, no , no
Safari 1.1.1  , yes, yes, yes
iCab 2.9.6    ,  no, no , no
Camino 0.7    , yes, no , yes
Netscape 7.1  , yes, no , yes
OmniWeb 4.5   , yes, no , no
Opera 6.0.3   , cannot open local files that has Chinese name!!!, otherwise, yes, n/a, yes
browsers and their major advantage or problem

IE      : best overall. (speed, memory consumption, feature rich, stability),
          best feature: saving entire websites to n links deep.
          serious problem: * aging and no longer developed.

Safari  : best overall.
          Serious problems:
          * cookie acceptability feature too simple minded
          * cannot even save a complete web PAGE with graphics. Only just HTML.

iCab    : best overall too.
          * excellent features, save entire web page, and HTML validation,
          Serious problem: does not display many columnized websites well

Camino  : good, but memory hog and has a bug that hogs cpu
          can save entire page.

Netscape: slow, huge memory hog with its slue of application suite
          otherwise same as Camino.

OmniWeb : slow, weird, purchase nag, many of little problems
Opera   : slow, weird, ads nag, many little problems, crashes now and then.

I also use Lynx and w3 in xemacs in special circumstances, but these are in general way inferior. Under Windows XP as of 2003, Internet Explorer is the best, while Netscape and Opera are ok.

Sat Jan 17 15:46:08 PST 2004, Addendum

On the Mac, it is quite annoying that local files have different URL spec in different browsers:

Safari, Netscape/Camino, OmniWeb




Mac Chat programs pro and con

I have several chat programs installed on my Mac. Apple's iChat (v.2), AOL's Instant Messenger (v 4.6), Yahoo Messenger (v.2.5.2), MSN Messenger (v.3.5). I also have chat program as part of Netscape 7.1. Mostly i chat using AIM protocol, but one or two friends is on Yahoo, and my Taiwan friends use MSN. These protocol's ability and their clients are pretty much similar. I use chat to chat, and chat is the best way to send files to friends. (much efficient than email, which has to transfer the file to 7-bits ascii encoding with “MIME” protocol…) The most important features for me is: ① whether the chat saves in a format that can be read years later. ② whether the chat can use Chinese. ③ if there is a automatic save feature. Here's some comments:

MSN Messenger

• chat file storage location:
 /Users/xah/Documents/Microsoft User Data/MSN Messenger History/

• file name sample:

  File names contain odd chars including '@' and ':' or '/', and with no file type suffix.

  These uncommon chars cause file transfer problems from Mac OS X to Windows XP.

  These uncommon characters in file name causes Samba to
  abort during file sharing from Mac OS X to Windows XP.
  so, this disables one to move data freely from OS. (though this problem is not critical)
  The lack of file type suffix makes it unusable in Windows.

• file encoding and format: main chat content in ascii.
  Chats containing Chinese will be saved in utf16 automatically.
  fonts etc info in binary gibberish at the bottom.

AOL Instant Messenger

• chat file storage location

• file name sample
 node60091\342\200\231s\ Logs/IM “AOLSystemMsg”-2003.12.html
The file path also contain non-ASCII chars,
including the registered trademark, and the non-ASCII apostrophe,
and non-ASCII double quotes (smart quotes).

• saves in HTML and utf8. Older version saves in proprietary binary (.aim) (main text in ascii) by default.

Apple's iChat

• chat file storage location

• file name sample:
 node60091 on 2003-12-12 at 01.11.chat

• proprietary format. Unreadable without iChat.

All the above supports autosave, and can transmit and receive Chinese. iChat is the most spiffy among them, but due to it saving in a format unreadable without iChat, so i cannot use it. One feature in iChat i love is that it can read out who just came online. So, i have iChat running in the background to announce to me who came online, and use other programs to actually chat. MSN Messenger has the problem of chats's file names having odd characters. This make it problematic to transfer files to Windows or Linux. I want and keep all my data in such a way that i can switch to Windows or Mac or Linux anytime. MSN also have a problem because its network often force people to logout. The best among the above is probably AIM. It saves in utf8, and HTML, so that fonts and colors are preserved. It has the feature of stamping time in chats. Though, it still have the problem with non-ASCII chars in file names.

On the Mac, Yahoo chat doesn't not have automatic archive feature (v 2.5.3; 2003).

Why must these chat programs save in either proprietary format or with odd file names. A simple requirement of permanent archive of chats between OSes are thwarted by all.

2004-07: Now i use Adium for all chat protocols. Adium stores all chat in a simple plain utf8 format, and without weird characters in file names. Get it at: adiumx.com .

Chat programs on Windows

On the Windows platform, the problem seems worse.

On Windows XP, 2003 AOL Instant Messanger (version 5.5.3595) doesn't have automatic archive feature.

On Windows XP, 2003 Yahoo messenger ( with MyYahoo module auto archive in a completely binary ".dat" format at: C:\Program Files\Yahoo!\Messenger\Profiles\p0lyglut\Archive\Messages

On Windows XP, 2003 MSN (version 4.7.2009, ~2002) does not seems to have auto-archive feature.

Mac OS X TextEdit utf8 problem

i think it was between last mac os x upgrade, TextEdit obtained a very annoying problem.

i often save my files in UTF8. I have set TextEdit to always save files in UTF8, so many of my files are in that char set.

The problem now is that if you open a file by double clicking or dragging it to TextEdit icon, it will be opened as normal file without utf8 interpretation, so that Chinese in parts of the file are shown as gibberish. This is assuming your pref is set to open files with Automatic.

Now if you set your pref to always open with utf8, then TextEdit will complain:

 TextEdit Open Failed
 Couldn't open file xxx

when it runs into some “Western” encoded files.

so it's like:

but if i set my pref to open with Automatic char encoding choice, then i have to follow the above procedure to open a files containing Chinese that i work daily.

TextEdit is a pain.

Another major pain for me is that whenever editing and saving a old file in OS 9 era (SimpleText), it had to bother you about how it cannot save it that format, and how rtf format is needed, and how the new file will need a different name and so please your highness give it at this point. It cannot simply deal with these itself, and i have to clean up its act of deleting the original file. Isn't Apple's products supposed to be “it just works”?

Some Windows problems

My main machine is a Mac throughout 1990s. In 2003 i bought a PC notebook, with Windows XP (Home). I believe that Macs are far superior in the early 1990s (an consequently far more expensive), and today possibly inferior to Windows. One thing i love about Windows is the keyboarding shortcuts, making it so convenient and efficient for touch-typists. Here's some quick notes about some problems of Windows.

Windows problems 101