June 9, 2007

Camino browser revision walks onto Mac OS desktops

Author: Nathan Willis

Mac-owning free software fans got a treat this week with the release of Camino 1.5, a major upgrade of the Mozilla-based, OS X-native Web browser.

Camino 1.5 is ready for download as an English-only (14.8MB) or a multilingual (18.1MB) disk image. Both varieties are universal binaries for OS X 10.3 or later. Some of the Camino's new features dictated dropping support for earlier versions of OS X, but the 1.5 release notes page links to earlier, pre-10.3-compatible versions of the browser.

This release uses Gecko 1.8.1 as its rendering engine -- the same version as the Firefox 2 series. Consequently, Camino's page rendering, CSS and JavaScript support, and XML (including SVG and MathML) are all equal to Firefox's. Where Camino distinguishes itself is with operating system integration.

For example, while Firefox now has built-in spell checking, Camino 1.5 adds spell checking through OS X's system-wide spell checker. This has the added benefits of system-wide dictionary updates from Apple, and the ability to add new words to the dictionary in any OS X app, and have them available to all the rest. Firefox's spell checker is accessible only to Firefox.

Camino 1.5 also supports using OS X's Keychain for cross-application password management; including fixes for interoperability with Apple's Safari browser. Earlier versions made use of Keychain, but exhibited a nasty bug where editing an entry in Camino made it unreadable to Safari.

On the browsing front, 1.5 adds some niceties that Firefox users have enjoyed for a while -- control over opening new pages in tabs, finer control over pop-up blocking, and automatically restoring opened pages after a crash. It also detects RSS and ATOM feeds in pages and displays an RSS icon in the toolbar, with which you can open the feed in your system's default feed reader; Camino itself does not serve as a feed reader.

Camino has always used standard Mozilla plugins, so Java, Flash, QuickTime, and other media plugins will work in Camino if they work in Firefox. And speaking of Flash, Camino has added a Flash-blocking option to its pop-up-, ad-, and other-annoyance-blocking preferences. That could mean seeing a lot of empty Web pages, but it is nice to have the choice.


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Camino 1.5 is nice, but it does have features that I don't care for. For example, the keyboard shortcuts are unique to Camino -- some are the same as Firefox's, some the same as standard OS X apps like Safari, some different entirely.

And while I recognize that Camino intentionally aims for lightweight operation and simplicity, I miss some of the omitted tools. View Source and a detailed Page Info screen aren't luxuries in my book.

A side effect of Camino's focus on simplicity is that it changes less from one release to the next than a more complex app like Firefox. The underlying Mozilla technologies that Camino uses just don't develop at the rapid-fire pace of browser extensions and Greasemonkey scripts.

One year ago, when we reviewed Camino 1.0, the Gecko rendering engine was at version 1.8. Now it is at 1.8.1. If you are expecting wild new innovations in Camino 1.5, you might be disappointed. But if you're looking for a solid browsing experience that integrates with the rest of your OS X system, you've come to the right place.


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