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Gecko vs. WebKit: a conclusion

by Rob Friesel

About three months ago, I decided to pit my Safari/Mail experience up against Firefox/Thunderbird and see where that took me. Since I spend so much time in a web browser and an email client each day, I want to optimize my workflow as much as possible. I wanted to find the “one client to rule them all”, I guess. The one that would come to the forefront. What I found in the experience surprised me.

First, while Thunderbird is great for Windows PCs, I dropped it pretty quickly on the Mac. It had a couple of advantages over Mail that I could get down with but overall it just didn’t have any staying power. I kept my promise to myself and at least used it continuously for a solid month. But after a couple of crashes and some other nuances, I just gave up on it.

I gave up on Firefox, too. But only because I discovered Camino. If the MozDev community could come together on an email client like they did for the Camino web browser, all of my prayers would be answered. That said:

Firefox Camino Safari
Alternate Styles Firefox says: You can turn CSS on and off. You can switch to alternate embedded stylesheets. It rules. No alt styles here. Alas, it’s a nice dream though… 0 Alternate what? 0 I’ve decided I don’t care about this too much…
Bookmark management Camino has an awesome bookmark manager. Very similar to Safari’s in terms of UI – – but then it has all of the things that Safari’s SHOULD have. “Rich bookmarking” with descriptions and histories etc. Oh, and it uses an XML-based plist for storage, so it’s easy to roll your own sync service.+2 I like how Safari handles bookmarks. It’s basically as simple as that. I like the UI. I like that you can sync the bookmarks plist between computers. +1
Built-in RSS aggregator None but: “Who cares when you have NNW?” What I don’t like is that there’s no RSS badge in the address bar or any other indication of an RSS feed’s presence.0 Introduced with “Safari RSS” – – so it’s there, even if the implementation is kind of weird. Adding a bookmark to a site doesn’t automatically also add it’s RSS feed to the RSS collection. (What’s that all about?) Either way, who cares when you have NetNewsWire? 0
Form handling Can and will “tab through” form fields. Doesn’t always let me do the full keyboard control the way I’m used to from Windows machines? (Maybe that’s my problem?) Has a little trouble with checkboxes but in general does OK. 0 Safari just doesn’t seem to want to play nice when I try to “tab through” form fields (not the way “it should” anyway – – see Dornfest’s “Tab to select…” for more on this…). -1
“Open in Tabs…” 2-clicks by default; configurable to 1-click; AND you can add bookmark groups to the Dock icon’s contextual menu. +2 1-click +1
OS X Keychain support Camino rocks the Keychain Access like a good Cocoa app should. +1 Has it: integrates w/ OS X Keychain. +1
Page text searching Text searching on a page works just fine. Nothing special here though. 0 Eh, it’s OK. At least I can “Cmd+G” to the next one. 0
Rich bookmarking (See above…) This is one of Camino’s highlights, in my opinion. I love being able to drop URLs into my “Web Grabs” folder with a little note to myself about WHY I wanted to come back and read it (or where I left off…) +1 Bookmarking isn’t “rich” – – there’s no “last visited”, no “description”, nothing but the title and the URL (unless you count the ICO). You’d think that with Spotlight this would have been in Safari RSS “for sure” but apparently they spent more time converting the Bookmark plist files to binary. -1
RTF/WYSIWYG editors That’s the advantage of having the Gecko rendering engine under this Cocoa hood… Rich text editors work! +1 Doesn’t play nice; most RTF/WYSIWYG inline apps/widgets don’t work. -1
Searching in “textarea” elements “Found it!” +1 Doesn’t search in textarea elements. (I guess I was reaching on this one…) 0
Stability Overall, fairly solid. I’ve seen it crash but usually because I opened 45 tabs from a group (slight exaggeration) and half of them were crawling with Flash-based banner ads. Seems to be an odd bug though where the app will “SPOD” when opening groups of tabs and you can’t close any of them until they’ve all finished loading. 0 Flaky at worst. I haven’t gotten any epic “SPOD” sessions like may folks ’round the web have reported but occasionally if I’ve got 22 tabs open and I go for one more and #23 is top-heavy with Flash, Safari decides to peace-out. But that combined with its inconsistency re: standards compliance makes this a bit of a cringer (though hardly a show-stopper). 0
Standards compliance Maybe it didn’t pass the Acid 2 test but as far as I can tell it’s compliant in every way that counts. Or at least it renders web pages “as expected”. Or is at least it’s designed to be. At least the rich text editors work. +1 Allegedly the first browser to pass the test and earn the title of “most standards compliant” browser. Great! Then why does it have so much trouble with so many web pages in “real world” scenarios? 0
Standard font settings Proportional + Monospace defaults; Advanced… Serif, Sans-serif, Cursive, and Fantasy. +1 Just “Standard font” and “Fixed-width font”? -1
Tabbed browsing “Are you sure you want to close 50 tabs?” +1 “Oops, I just killed 50 tabs!” -1
ZeroConf networking Bonjour? +1 Bonjour! +1
TOTAL: 12 -1

So yeah, all that said, I can’t recommend Camino enough. I realize that a lot of this boils down to the “Gecko vs. WebKit” question w/r/t/ certain SITE features. However, the application features make their own compelling arguments. Like I’ve said a couple times now: How can Safari NOT have rich bookmarking when you factor in Spotlight? And another thing: What’s up with WebKit not being able to support all these rich text WYSIWYG editors out there? (Shiira can’t do it either.) The Gecko/MozDev people are standards-compliance FREAKS – – so I find it real hard to believe that Safari doesn’t support the rich text editors because they rely on proprietary codes or obscure forwards-compatible implementations…

Anyway. Yeah. Mail is good enough. But get Camino if you haven’t already.

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

5 Responses to Gecko vs. WebKit: a conclusion

found_drama says:

@Furies: yep, I’ve seen that. (I’m seeing it right now, actually… 😉 )

Back in ’06 when I wrote this that was not really the case (w/ the RSS detection) — not sure what you mean with the “search engine detecting” though. In the address bar…?

The past couple years have seen quite a few improvements in both the WebKit- and Gecko-based browsers though.

Nathan says:

I’d love to see this analysis versus Safari 3. I switched back as Firefox/Camino have gotten so horrible on the mac (with the exception of plugins) and Safari has become so compliant.

aseveisstshole says:

Just because something works doesn’t mean it’s following the standards. With that logic, IE6 was superb with “standards” since every web page was designed to work with it. But it’s hell for web developer to get everything working with poor browser like IE6.

Also the title for most standard compliant browser goes to Opera, not Safari.

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