distraction in action

Like my work? Check out HexaLex, my game for iPhone & iPod Touch. It's a crossword game like Scrabble, but played with hexagonal tiles. http://www.hexalex.com

Posts in category Opinion :

Some time ago (10.4.4 maybe?) Safari started to leak memory. Actually, it started to gush torrents of memory, to the point where I would have one tab in one window using 250MB of private memory. At that point I tried switching to Camino, which had the courtesy to use the OS X keychain for its passwords and is generally a pretty nice browser. However, as we know, I’m not enamored of the default OS X key bindings for editor widgets and it seems that they’re hard-wired into Camino1. So I figured that if I was stuck with a browser that didn’t act like my other apps anyway I might as well get the plugin support of Firefox, and I switched once again.

Using Firefox has been a pretty unpleasant experience. Between weird bugs (on a multi-screen setup the popup menus for a window would sometimes show up on the wrong screen), some of which border on indescribable, and the infuriating key bindings problem, I just got completely fed up with it. Meanwhile, Opera became a free-as-in-beer product and released version 9. One of my lab-mates is a fan, so I gave it a shot.

I am impressed! Opera is really darn fast, for one thing. “Back” is instantaneous, and scrolling is teh snappy. Memory usage is totally acceptable — I’m seeing about 150MB private memory usage after about 5 days of browsing and I’ve got about 15 tabs open.

But what really impresses me is not the performance, but the customizability and usability features. Changing key bindings is pretty easy — it can be done through the preferences system or by editing a text file — so I’ve got my Windows-style editor bindings back, to my immeasurable relief2. It’s so nice to say goodbye to those jarring “you just scrolled to the top of the window instead of moving the cursor to the beginning-of-line” moments.

This, however, was the clincher moment when I knew I had to switch. I was browsing digg, using the space bar to advance down the page, and when I reached the bottom another hit of the spacebar advanced to the next page! My jaw dropped in wonder. One of my pet notions for ages now has been that there should be a way to designate a link as pointing to the next page of a multi-page document3, and browsers should give you some sort of interface for advancing to that page easily. Opera’s programmers have not only given me that functionality, they’ve integrated it into the browsing experience seamlessly. My hat’s off to them!

That’s not to say that there haven’t been downsides to switching. Once again I’ve lost my password database and I’m forced to store my passwords in yet-another-password-database. (Come on, folks, just use the bloody keychain!! It’s a freakin’ operating system resource!) Opera seems to lack the notion of a special “bookmarks toolbar” folder whose contents are automatically displayed on a toolbar, instead allowing you to mark individual bookmarks and/or folders to appear there, which is more cumbersome IMHO. Plus, there are the usual issues associated with being a user of a browser with a fraction-of-a-percent market share. But all in all, I am cautiously optimistic that my search for a web browser I can live with may be at an end.

1 Oh the irony — I can’t get a ported Linux/Windows widget to act like a Linux/Windows widget…

2 Here they are, by the way. I think you probably can just drop them into

~/Library/Preferences/Opera Preferences/Keyboard/

and select “Standard with Windows editing commands” from the list of Keyboard setup options in the Advanced > Shortcuts section of the preferences pane.

3 Maybe such a thing already exists? I don’t know…

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Like my work? Check out HexaLex, my game for iPhone & iPod Touch. It's a crossword game like Scrabble, but played with hexagonal tiles. http://www.hexalex.com