10:26 AM

Review: Camino Offers Fast, Lightweight Browsing For Macs

With version 1.5, Camino now has all the features it needs to really compete with other Mac browsers.

Is software bloat inevitable? Firefox started out fast and light on its feet, but has slowed down and gained bulk in middle age. Before Firefox, Internet Explorer and Netscape went through the same thing.

Camino, on the other hand, is fast and light, like those other browsers used to be. Version 1.5, which shipped on Tuesday, June 5, gives Camino the features it needs to compete with other Mac browsers, without adding unnecessary capabilities that would make it fat and slow.

Camino (which is Spanish for "way" or "path") combines the superior tab-handling and some of the customizability of Firefox with Safari's native Mac OS X integration. New features in Version 1.5 include: improved tabbed browsing, session-saving, feed detection to allow you to automatically subscribe to RSS feeds in your desktop feed-reader of choice, inline spell checking based on the built-in Mac OS X spellchecker, and auto-completion for forms.

Camino offers everything Firefox does -- and less.

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How Different Is Camino?
Camino is an open-source browser made exclusively for the Mac. It's based on the Gecko rendering engine, the same engine used in Firefox, Mozilla, and Netscape. That's important, because it means Camino is compatible with all the Web pages that are compatible with Firefox -- and nowadays, that means pretty much all the pages on the Internet.

Camino is different from Firefox in several ways. To begin with, it uses the native Mac OS X Aqua interface, giving it a look that's consistent with the UI for other Mac apps. (Firefox looks like the Mac UI, but is different in some ways that are annoying to users who prefer complete consistency.)

In addition, Camino doesn't support Firefox extensions because it's based on the native Mac Cocoa toolkit, rather than Firefox's XUL toolkit. Because of the Cocoa and Aqua support, Camino can access Mac services that Firefox can't. It stores its passwords in the Mac Keychain, and can retrieves bookmarks automatically from the Address Book and Bonjour networking service for sharing bookmarks over the Internet.

Putting Camino Through Its Paces
I tested Camino on an iMac running Mac OS X 10.4 and equipped with a 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB of memory.

Performance is Camino's most significant difference between Firefox and Safari. In my tests, the application came up in about two seconds, while Firefox took 12 seconds to load (I have a few extensions) and Safari took 5 seconds. These differences will probably be more pronounced on older, less powerful Macs.

Camino uses fewer resources than Firefox or Safari. I opened 12 pages in separate tabs in each of the three browsers. When I checked up on them after about 10 hours, I found that Safari was using 205MB of system memory to display those pages, while Firefox was using 204MB and Camino was using 171MB. Again, these differences will be more pronounced on older Macs.

You can disable JavaScript, Flash animations, and more from Preferences.

(Click image to go to Image Gallery.)

Camino includes settings to allow you to block Web advertising, and prevent sites from changing, moving, or resizing Windows. You can selectively enable or disable JavaScript, Java, plug-ins, and Flash animations. You can scale images to fit within the content area, and play animated images only once.

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