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Friday, June 11, 2004
THE INCREASINGLY UN-MAC-FRIENDLY
WEB. Not that today is an entirely slow news day (although I've
had about enough of Reagan's funeral), but the words at the top of
the screen say that Media Log is at least occasionally supposed to be
about technology. So today, for you handful of fellow Macintosh
users, I'd like to call attention to a dirty little secret: the
pathetic state of Web-browsing software for those of us who "think
If you're a Windows user, you
probably browse with Microsoft's Internet Explorer. There are other
options, but IE is the standard by a considerable margin. If a site
doesn't work properly with IE for Windows, then you can be reasonably
sure that there's something wrong with the site. If only it were that
simple in the Mac universe.
It was just about a year ago that
it would no longer work on new Mac versions of Internet Explorer.
Bill Gates and company have been true to their word. Though the
company has released occasional maintenance upgrades to
IE 5.x, there will be no
significant new features coming out of Redmond.
Mac IE is still probably the most
compatible with the widest range of websites. For instance, there are
certain graphics on BostonPhoenix.com
that work only with IE. But IE is bulky and slow, and there's just no
reason to use it all or even most of the time when there are faster
alternatives available. (And in an unforgivable act, Microsoft has
even rendered streaming video on its own MSNBC.com
site unworkable except with the Windows version of IE.) The problem
is that those alternatives have their own shortcomings.
If there's a Mac standard today,
it's Apple's free Web browser, Safari,
which comes pre-installed with OS X. Safari is a fine program in many
ways. It's fast and reliable. But, again, it's not suitable to
all-the-time use. For instance, the cascading menus on
site don't even show up
with Safari, making it difficult to navigate. Some sites render
horribly with Safari (such as Boston Herald columnist
Macero Jr.'s site, for some
odd reason), yet fine with other programs. Also, I tend to print out
a fair amount of stuff, and Safari has no way of letting you embed
headers and page numbers - a real problem if your printouts go flying
before you can staple everything together.
A final complaint: Safari is now up
to version 1.2, but that's only for users who've upgraded to Panther
(OS X 10.3). Those of us still using Jaguar (OS X 10.2) are stuck
My favorite browser these days -
though, again, it ain't perfect - is Firefox,
a lightning-fast, stripped-down version of Mozilla
Navigator, the free,
open-source program on which Netscape (remember?) is based. Mozilla
has its own adherents, and I use it occasionally for some Web-design
work. But Firefox is so much faster that there's no comparison.
Nearly every site I visit renders cleanly. For certain forms-filling
tasks, though, Firefox chokes, forcing me to switch to Safari. In
addition, Firefox refuses to hand off streaming-media tasks to
RealOne and the Mac version of Windows Media Player, forcing me to
save an icon on my desktop and start it up separately. Not a big
deal, but a pain nevertheless.
Firefox is in beta - I'm using 0.8,
although a 0.9 test version recently became available. So the program
should continue to improve. Unless Apple intends to start putting
some serious development resources into Safari, I'd guess that
Firefox is going to be the browser to watch.
I've also played briefly with
and with Opera,
the latter of which features a truly loathsome innovation: you
actually have to pay for it. In neither case have I seen any evidence
that I should explore further, though I could be wrong.
The larger issue, of course, is
what this means for those of us who use and love Macintosh computers.
I have resisted switching to Windows for years. Yet if there's a
reliable standard for browsing in Windows, but not on a Mac, then
Apple's vaunted ease-of-use claim begins to look pretty silly.
Besides, Apple is finally beginning to make its coolest new products,
such as the iPod and the iTunes Music Store, compatible with both Mac
I want to keep using Macs for as
long as possible. At some point, though, that choice is going to
start looking more like a fetish (not that there's anything wrong
with that!) than a wise decision. If Steve Jobs is retooling Apple
for a post-Macintosh future, I wish he would tell us.
posted at 12:08 PM |
In defense of Opera, I use it as my default web browser on a Dell, and it works well 95% of the time. I don't blame it for web sites not working properly, I blame the site designers. If I occasionally need to use IE, I do, but more often it's for live streaming that I go to Real's Media Browser rather than stay in Opera.
I have a Mac, too, although it's not what I use for the Internet. When I did, Opera did look quite strange most of the time, with typefaces and uneven spacing. Besides, the language options (one of the reasons I first got Opera) are not as extensive. IE isn't perfect, though: A lot of the web sites I need to use as work look really strange on it, and there I have one of the late-model IMacs.
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Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.