A brief background: My first access to the Internet was through my elementary school’s network. All computers were loaded with Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, and I always went for IE. Netscape was bloated, slow, and the screen filled with useless clutter. Despite trying other browsers slowly over time, they were always slower and had toolbars and icons hogging too much screen space, leaving IE tops.
That is, until a later investigations of what was available. My first full browser switch was to Avant; based on the Trident (IE) engine, it was tabbed and featured a boatload of customizations and perhaps most importantly, featured “Compact Mode” cramming everything into a minimized space.
Being increasingly interested in computers and web development, it became increasingly clear that Internet Explorer itself was a liability. Merely using it put your computer at risk due to ActiveX, so IE and Trident-based browsers were out, and I haven’t used on for any significance since. I jumped to Dr. Orca, later Orca Browser, which was the Gecko (Mozilla) engine based version of Avant. Due to technical issues I moved on to find K-Meleon, which I used daily right up until just recently.
Where was I going with all this? Avant was always the most streamlined, fully featured and elegant of any browser. Orca just hadn’t gotten the development time to be stable and as well-polished. Well, guess what?
The BETA release of Orca looks fantastic. It’s based on the Gecko 1.9 engine (Firefox 3) and performs similarly if not a little better, but without the slightly sluggish response. The built-in features are so extensive, it’s faster to name what’s missing than what’s there. What I’m missing is Flashblock, Speed Dial and Developer tools. And a minor note, it’s a bit disappointing to not be able to create add multiple search boxes to the toolbar (I have Wikipedia, Merriam-Websters and Thesaurus search boxes in Opera 9.5).
Other browsers have been catching up in sheer numbers of available features, but Firefox requires a lot of extensions to do what Orca does out-of-the-box and without the performance hits, while if Opera and IE can match the features, it’s through an overly difficult process.
A little note is that using CTRL+L to open a new address triggers the Default Beep in Windows, so that sound needs to be disabled to make it tolerable. Occasionally CTRL+L was unresponsive when attempting to open another address right after a previous one.
Unfortunately, as of the alpha, Orca does not support Firefox extensions (though it likes to make it look like it does). Get those working, and it’s not longer a browser war–it’s a slaughter. Orca can’t replace my personal use for Firefox as my browser for web developement due to the complete absence of tools
If there was any doubt already, 2008 is the year of the web-browser. The improvements in the releases for the year are astounding, and Orca jumping into the fray just made the competition all that much more interesting. For an all-around browsing experience, Orca pushes for my top choice, though I still lean toward Opera 9.5. It works very well straight away while allowing extensive customization directly in the browser through relatively clear processes. It doesn’t provide everything, though, and preference really does reign supreme. Opera 9.5, Firefox and Google Chrome all have their distinct specialties that make them appealing. It’s nearly impossible at this point to go wrong with a browser.