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Hot on the Web

Still more browsers

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on January 9, 2004
(Issue 2202, Step Away From the Computer!)

Just a few weeks ago, we looked at the Beonex browser for Windows, Linux and Mac OSX – a free alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and like Netscape, a browser based on the Mozilla open-source rendering engine.

There are now two more Mozilla-based browsers available for download and use – both of them from the Mozilla team. (Since Mozilla is an open-source project, anyone is free to take the Mozilla engine and build a new browser around it.)


With the first version of Mozilla now out in official release (actually, up to version 1.5), the Mozilla team of volunteer programmers has already turned to the next iteration and released a beta version of its next-generation browser, Firebird for Windows, Linux and Mac OSX.

A few weeks' worth of testing shows Firebird to be a solid, slick and very fast browser. I tested it on a Windows 2K machine, an older dual-processor Pentium Pro system. And while Mozilla 1.5 on that PC runs considerably slower than the same build of Mozilla on a PIII, Firebird on the old PC actually renders pages more quickly than Mozilla on the PIII.

Visually, it has a clean, modern layout and look – not terribly different from Mozilla 1.5 or Netscape 7. And like those two browsers, there are themes – skins, really – available for Firebird to change the look around if you like.

As far as features, Firebird represents a bit of a change – or maybe a throwback. For Firebird is a browser. Period. No e-mail client, no news reader, no HTML editor.

Those tools are still going to be available from Mozilla, but as separate stand-alone packages. Now, it's possible that this decision will be re-thought, and that Firebird will eventually be issued as a suite, just as most browsers today ship with an e-mail client, news reader and HTML editor.

But for now, if you want the e-mail/newsreader client that complements Firebird, you'll have to download the Thunderbird program separately.

Other than the separate browser/e-mail, though, Firebird's features hew closely to those of Mozilla 1.5: tabs for multiple browser sessions in one window, pop-up blocking, solid plug-in support. There's one new, obvious feature, too – a built-in Google search window in the toolbar (which the Opera browser also has). Behind the scenes, there are all kinds of new improvements being touted – better XML support, for instance, and other stuff which goes over my head but sounds very impressive.

Most importantly, Firebird is free and will still be free when released in an official distribution.

Can't beat that.


The second new browser from Mozilla is available only for Mac OSX; it's being designed to compete directly with Apple's OSX browser, Safari. Actually, it's been around for awhile – but under the name Chimera. The browser has recently been renamed Camino, and is in pre-release version 0.7.

Camino is available as a free download.

Visually, Camino is closer to Mozilla or Netscape in its appearance than it is Safari. It's not as full-featured a browser as Firebird, but takes up less memory and disk space, too. (Not that those are the considerations they once were.)

It's been running stable for a week on my iMac. It has good plug-in support, seems to follow HTML guidelines well, and I've yet to run into any major problems with it.

I can't see where it's any better or worse than Safari, but it is another free, open-source alternative for users of Mac computers.


Finally, the free Amaya browser from the Worldwide Web Consortium, the body charged with creating specifications for HTML, XML and other standards related to the Web, is now in version 8.2.

Amaya is not designed as a general-use browser, though, and it shows. This is a development environment, designed for folks working on HTML specs.

The rendering engine, in particular, is problematic. While the Amaya docs claim that it is built to exactly render correct HTML tags, pages I've built that are solid and that display just fine in Netscape, Mozilla, IE, Opera and Firebird get all blown up in Amaya.

It's an interesting browser to look at, but you'd hate to depend on it for navigating the Web.