What a loverly bunch of browsers

I recently expressed some irritation at the way Firefox for the Mac seems to be an afterthought in the development process. Firefox evangelist Asa Dotzler assured us that Firefox developers do indeed have a high regard for the Mac. But he also took pains to point out that Mac developers have not exactly been stepping up to the plate in droves to ensure that their platform is well represented in Firefox efforts.

I jokingly replied that it might be because they are too busy creating their own browsers. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered why so many people seem to find it necessary to download WebKit and create their own “light” or “speedy” browser. With a few exceptions, what this really means is that these efforts are so lacking in features that they are pretty much useless.

Macworld recently reviewed the current crop of 10 top Mac browsers. Half of them are based on WebKit: iCab, Safari, DevonAgent, OmniWeb and Shiira. Four of them are based on Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine: Firefox, Camino, SeaMonkey and Flock — although Flock is not actually produced by the Mozilla Foundation. And of course there is Opera, which uses the proprietary Presto engine.

And that just scratches the surface. A search on web browser at MacUpdate turns up a huge list. Among them are such obscure entities as Sunrise, Radon, the moribund Netscape Navigator, Nova, Lightbrowser, Dreams, DeskBrowse, LanderBrowse, Scourge and surfDude.

So getting back to the orginal question of development for Firefox, the question is this: Would the time spent developing surfDude, for example, have been better spent working on spiffing up Firefox? Just look at John Gruber’s list of gripes about the latest Firefox beta. There is still hope that they will be fixed in time for the final release, but the loving attention of Mac developers currently devoted to the Novas or Radons of this world would surely help. And what the hay — do we really need Shiira? I know it has a lot of fans, but imagine if some its cool features were in Firefox instead.

Of course, we shouldn’t let Mozilla off the hook either. Why, for example, is Camino a separate project? Camino is everything Firefox should be in terms of behaving like a true Mac app. Isn’t there some way these efforts can be combined? And as for SeaMonkey, let’s face it — this is little more than an attempt to keep the old all-in-one Netscape alive under a different name. Maybe it’s time to let it go.

In the end, only the people working on all these alternative browsers can answer the question of why they decided to go off on their own path. Do they really think they can do something better by themselves? Even if their efforts wouldn’t have made any difference to Firefox, it makes ya wonder.

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