Switching to Mac has had some challenges. Most of them are fairly minor.

For example, what web browser is the best one? That’s a question that can spark some heated debate depending on what circles you ask it. Wanna have fun at a tech-geek gathering? Ask it to a group of Mac users and then sit back and watch the fireworks.

It’s sorta like pulling the pin from a hand grenade, and tossing it into the middle of the room to see what will happen.

Anyway this whole thing started because FireFox was beginning to give me problems. Over time it seemed to be hanging up longer and more often. With my current severe scheduling challenges, sitting waiting while a web browser checks out for sometimes several minutes at a crack was getting frustrating to say the least.

I’ve been a FireFox fan for quite a while so when it started giving me fits I felt a little like I was starting over. Everyone’s got their own opinion. Every browser seems to claim they are the fastest. What follows is far from scientific. I’m not a full blown tech-head. So take it for whatever it’s worth.

FireFox

FireFox LogoLike I said I’ve long been a FireFox fan. It is extremely customizable. There are probably thousands of extensions to add all kinds of useful tools at your fingertips. Many are great for social networking sites and the like. Some of my personal favorites include StumbleUpon, Del.icio.us, and LinkedIn.

There are also a couple other FireFox extensions I find useful. One is SearchStauts to get a quick snapshot of the specs on a site.

Another Mac only product that I’m wondering how I got along without is 1Password for managing all the logins and passwords for all the different sites I go to. This one works across most of the browsers, which was a huge time saver for me.

I wouldn’t have even considered looking at other browsers because of the beauty of having all my favorite tools in one spot until I started having problems with it hanging up. Poking around some forums it seems that FireFox behaves perfectly well for some folks using Macs and is problematic for others. I couldn’t find any common denominator that might be the source of the problems.

Safari

Safari LogoThe next logical for a Mac has to be Apple’s own browser Safari. They’ve got Safari 3 in public beta and they claim to be the fastest thing out there. I did notice a difference when I downloaded it to replace the version that came with my Mac Mini this summer.

Once I got over the emotional pain of not having my StumbleUpon bar and my Del.icio.us buttons handy I found that I rather like it over all. Safari does a great job displaying text. (The tech-heads call it rendering text. Whatever. The letters are noticeably clearer than with FireFox.)

Another thing that Safari does is that it allows you to re-size text fields. This is hugely handy when entering information in web pages like I’m doing right now as I type this post. I can just grab the bottom right corner of the text entry field with my mouse and drag it to most any size I want. Very useful.

One down side to using Safari is that it doesn’t play nice with Gmail, which I use extensively. Gmail utilizes Ajax for several features, Google Talk integration, and some of the message menu buttons, for example. My understanding is that since Ajax is a mashup of several different kinds of code, some of which aren’t web standardized, Safari won’t handle it as intended. Safari does best with standard compliant sites.

It’s inconvenient. One would hope that Google and Apple would come to some sort of understanding on this one. But I’m not going to hold my breath.

Camino

Camino LogoMozilla, the same people who produce FireFox also have Camino. Camino was designed from the ground up to integrate well with Mac OSX.

One thing it does that FireFox doesn’t is tie directly into the Mac Keychain, which stores passwords and the like. That makes managing passwords a little easier. Well, if you don’t have 1Password, that is.

Other than that I really couldn’t see the point of Camino. I thought it would be a decent substitute for FireFox if FF was having problems. But without the number of available plugins, Camino seems very much like a second tier browser to me.

Opera

Opera LogoThen there’s Opera. There are folks out there who are passionately in favor of this one. I’d never paid it any attention until a friend of mine convinced me I had to try it. Here’s what their website says about the browser:

The award-winning Opera Web browser The coolest, fastest, and most secure free Web browser available. Try it now to see just how great your Internet experience can be.

Seems to me like so much blah, blah, blah. But hey, I was willing to give it a try.

First things I noticed. Opera does things differently. They don’t have a bookmark bar like the other three above. Instead they have what they call a “Speed Dial” page. When you open a new tab the browser shows a page with thumbnails of your speed dial linked pages.

It gives you a whopping 9 places to put your commonly used sites. I currently have 34 sites linked in the bookmark bars of the other browsers. A limit of 9 doesn’t do it for me.

Opera is the only browser that doesn’t play well with 1Password. With all the passwords I’ve got to keep track of, that’s a show stopper for me. Then there’s the speed issue.

Browser Speed Comparison

In the midst of my browser challenges I was also having a compounding connectivity issue. We use AT&T (formerly BellSouth) DSL so I called their tech support and they claimed it was my Linksys router’s fault.

I didn’t believe them so I got my dad on the phone. He’s a programmer from all the way back to the punch card days. When I run into a stumper I call, “Daaaaddy!” He gets me straightened out.

We spent a couple hours on the phone going through my modem and router settings and what-da-ya know? The AT&T boys were right. Sorta.

In the process of checking things out, he showed me a site that tests connectivity speed – the Speakeasy Speedtest. And looking at that test got me thinking about upgrading my DSL speed, which I ended up doing through AT&T.

I thought perhaps I could run each of the browser through that test and see if there really is a difference in speed. Here’s what I expected going into my totally unscientific and probably mostly bogus little test: Safari 3 feels the fastest of the 4 by quite a bit. FireFox and Camino are about the same and about the middle of the pack. Opera feels incredibly slow to me.

But is any of that perception real? Let’s check.

Since I’m here in Savannah, I clicked on Atlanta in each of the browsers. And because I’m interested in speeds in my normal usage conditions I have iTunes running in the background, A Twitter client and an IM client running. Oh,and iMail’s running too. I’ve got a bunch of tabs open in Safari, but with the others there is only the one window open with no other tabs.

Here’s what I found:

Camino: Download: 6330; Upload: 429

FireFox: Download: 6332; Upload: 424

Opera: Download: 6324; Upload: 427

Safari: Download 6324; Upload: 425

(All numbers are kbps)

Yep. They all receive data at about the same speed. Go figure. Now I know that says absolutely nothing about how fast the different browsers render web pages. But it was a fun little test for me just the same.

What I decided

I still love all the features I can get in FireFox and it isn’t seizing up nearly as much with the faster DSL connection. But it still does bog down sometimes for no apparent reason.

Safari still seems faster. And since most of the sites I’m going to are text based the fact that text is clearer in Safari has helped make that my primary browser for now.

So what I end up doing it bouncing back and forth between these two. I use Safari for most stuff. But when I want to Stumble something, or to use a feature that I don’t have on Safari, I’ll open that site in FireFox.

Not an optimum solution, but it seems to be the best compromise so far.

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