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Issue № 130

Mac Browser Roundup (with Håkon Lie and Tantek Çelik)

by Published in Browsers

T’was the week before Christmas, and Mac users received an early present: upgraded versions of Opera Software’s Opera browser and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. We test drove and reviewed both, then asked browser makers Håkon Lie and Tantek Çelik to respond to our comments.

Opera: the mini–review

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The Opera Browser for Macintosh now comes in two flavors: Beta 5 for systems 7.5.3–9.2, and Beta 3 for OS X. Opera Mac beta supports CSS1, HTML, XHTML, and much of ECMAScript 1.1 (the web–standard version of JavaScript).

Fast and light

Beta 5 is incredibly fast at rendering web pages. They seem to spring onto your screen in the blink of an eye. The browser is a mere 2 MB, and uses very little system memory to do its work.

The newly released version of Beta 5 is also ad–free for thirty days. (After that, you either purchase Opera or tolerate the small ad banners that show up inside its browser chrome.)

Compatibility issues

Opera does not support commonly used JavaScript preload methods optimized for Netscape and IE, so the first time you roll over a multi–state image, you may see the ALT text instead of the image’s onmouseover state. Netscape 6.x often behaves the same way, and for the same reason.

Beta 5 supports Flash, Shockwave, and Quicktime, but seems to have problems with RealPlayer.

Size matters

More significantly, Opera/Mac beta still renders type below spec: 11px text shows up as 10px, and so on.

Some have claimed that this behavior is deliberate, basing their arguments on an abstract section of CSS1 wherein experts debate the question, “What is a pixel?”

We claim that any twelve-year-old can tell you a pixel is the smallest available unit of screen space, and eleven pixels are just that (not ten). We’re also convinced that this pixel problem is a bug, not a feature – a bug that will eventually be fixed.

Opera responds

Håkon Wium Lie, Chief Technology Officer for Opera Software, replies to our review:

First, I’m happy to see that the Opera Mac Beta you have tested runs fast on your system. We tweak and tune it interally, but machines, connections, and karma vary from user to user. The feedback we have received so far, however, indicates that Opera will be the fastest browser on the Mac planet.

Regarding the problems you mention, we must first emphasize that we’re still in the beta phase. We believe we can fix the RealPlayer problem you report before shipping.

Pixel palaver

The 10px vs 11px is slightly more complicated than you describe. One pixel isn’t always one pixel.

When asked for a 10px font, Windows will return a slightly bigger font (due to the “internal leading” issue) and browsers will typically use the larger font. I’m a little unsure if the problem you report has the same roots, but will look into it. Thanks for reviewing Opera for Mac! –  HWL

Håkon Wium Lie proposed CSS in 1994 and is still a member of the W3C CSS Working Group, now representing Opera Software where he is the Chief Technology Officer. Lie is the co-author of Cascading Style Sheets: Designing for the Web.

IE5.1/Mac: the mini–review

Internet Explorer 5.1/Mac is now available for downloading. The upgrade supports Mac OS 8.1 through 9.2x – operating system versions preferred by many long–time Mac users and graphic designers. IE5.1/Mac OSX was previously available as part of Mac OS X (the Unix–based Macintosh operating system).

Web standards

Like its predecessor, the new version of IE5/Mac thoroughly supports CSS1 (along with a good deal of CSS2), JavaScript/ECMAScript, HTML/XHTML, PNG, and much of the W3C standard DOM.

Bugs ’n things

Several readers have claimed that this version of IE5/Mac fixes a long–standing anchor link bug. Not so. This version does fix a few very minor CSS rendering bugs, and it renders pages a bit faster than its predecessor, which was pretty darned peppy to begin with.

If you use OS 9 and FinderPop, avoid the checkbox that allows you to “Use translucent contextual menus,” or adjust FinderPop’s settings per the note at the end of this article.

Dep’t. of disinformation

An ill–informed journalist has stated that IE5.1/Macintosh now handles CSS “similar(ly) to the Windows version of Internet Explorer 5.5.” Uh–uh.

IE5.0/Mac was the first browser to get CSS right. The Windows version did not catch up until IE6. The new Mac browser is not imitating the flaws of an old Windows browser; it’s merely cleaning up a few of its own.

Microsoft responds

Tantek Çelik, chief developer of the standards–compliant Tasman rendering engine, replies to our review:

IE5.1/Mac is all about three things:

  1. Performance and stability improvements in the Tasman engine
  2. Numerous W3C standards related bug fixes in Tasman
  3. Some nifty (though somewhat geeky) user interface improvements

Performance: too much is never enough

While IE5/Mac was known at release for being smaller and faster than both previous versions and rivals, through some clever improvements in the Tasman engine, noticeable advances have been made both in speed and responsiveness of web pages in IE5.1/Mac.

Fidelity: speed is only good if the results are accurate

IE5/Mac broke new ground in W3C standards compliance (CSS1, HTML4, PNG1, ECMA-262, DOM1HTML) for a shipping browser.  No other Mac browser yet contains as complete support of these standards as IE5/Mac does. Disagree?  Report your standards gripes (er, that should be: well–written, strictly compliant bug reports) to wasp@microsoft.com.  Invalid markup and style need not apply.

IE5.1/Mac continues this steadfast dedication to W3C standards with numerous standards related fixes, mostly minor in nature, but then, when it comes standards, details count.

For example, IE5.1/Mac properly supports nondeterministic matching of CSS2 selectors: child – note the last test: “(this test is harder than the others!);” sibling – note the last test: “(This should be maroon).” Try those pages in your current browser for comparison.

Keyboard junkies and browser tweakers

During MacHack 2000, a few of the IE/Mac developers decided to add user interface improvements that they wanted for themselves.  Turns out others wanted them too!

Type–select hyperlinks

Tabbing to (or – gasp – clicking) hyperlinks is so passe.  Simply type the first few characters of a hyperlink, and watch the focus ring jump to your target.  Press “enter” to load your destination.  Leave your mouse in the dust.

Configurable button bar

Drag any image you want to your Button Bar. Or any hyperlink. Or any hyperlinked image.  Exercise for browser tweakers: take a look at your “toolbar.xml” file and see if you can hack your own active/hover/disabled images for your new buttons as well.

Interface extras

A new preference panel, “Interface Extras,” lets you customize some details of IE5.1’s user interface.  My favorites: open new browser windows when other apps ask IE to go to a page, “flavorize” all your apps, and lust after those cool Gaussian blurred translucent contextual menus.  – TC

Tantek Çelik is Development Lead for the Tasman presentation engine and Microsoft’s representative to the W3C CSS working group.

FinderPop and IE5.1

FinderPop, a shareware control panel, greatly enhances the ease and utility of Mac OS. We couldn’t work without it. But some of FinderPop’s settings can conflict with the Translucent Menus in IE5.1, so if you want to see those Gaussian blurred menus in action, you’ll need to make some adjustments in the FinderPop control panel:

In the BEHAVIOR tab, uncheck “Use FinderPop CMM additions in apps other than the Finder.”

In the APPEARANCE tab, uncheck “Use this font/size for Apple Menu and Path Popups too.”

That ought to do it.

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