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OmniWeb 5.1.3 beta 1

Where's the joke?

OmniWeb was designed to provide you with the best user experience you'll find in a web browser. More than just a pretty face, OmniWeb comes packed with cool features that make your time on the web more efficient and more fun.

Omni Group
Rating: (four severely burnt toasts)

Download: 6,297,933 bytes
Executable: 1,719,016 bytes (not stripped)
Collateral Damage: CPU meltdown, crashes galore, unfixable for ordinary end users

[$29.00] Single Licence (three licence forms available)

Where's the joke? Omni are part of NeXT history. But so are their crashes. Apple regularly link to them in their own documentation. They run one of the biggest developer forums after Apple's own.

So where's the joke?

Omni web browsers prior to version 5 were notorious for being crash prone. A lot of people who wanted to offer their support bought licences - in a market increasingly populated by 'free' browsers - only to find they couldn't use the product. It's not uncommon to see OmniWeb crash and burn before it gets out of the starting gates - when the user is still setting the preferences in anticipation of the first run.

Seriously: one has to wonder what kind of coders Omni have if they can't even deliver an app that makes it through its own preferences without going south.

When Apple announced that Chimera Dave was coming to Cupertino to help Apple replace MSIE, Dave surprised everyone by not choosing the Gecko engine but instead opting for KDE Konqueror. Released under the GPL, it required enhancements also be released under the GPL, and this Dave did. And as soon as he gave the WebKit back, Omni popped up again.

Dave's WebKit is the complete rendering engine for Safari. 'No code' browsers have been built up around it. There is literally no code necessary - only a NIB created in Interface Builder. And you're up and running with your own browser. Google around to find the samples available. No code.

So when Omni announced they would base their next 'great' browser on Dave's WebKit, it was met with a fair amount of skepticism. Obviously Omni couldn't get their act together enough to stop their own program from crashing; possibly by scrapping all this buggy code and just taking Dave's WebKit they could finally come out with something that could stand on its legs for more than a minute at a time.

Of course this would cost: Omni browsers - as opposed to Camino, Firefox, and Safari - always do. But for some the hopes were high. Omni couldn't write solid stable code, but maybe they could add tonnes of geeky doodads that would appeal to a lesser demographic.

And when this new version 5 was released, it of course got rave reviews everywhere. And one has to wonder how well it was ever tested. People download and test browsers all the time, and none of the others ever behave as badly as Omni's - and worse, Omni's always behave this badly.

Scrapping all that legacy code and using Apple's own extremely stable rendering engine seems to not have helped - but it's worse actually: read on to get the gory details.

OmniWeb shouldn't be categorised in the 'The Very Ugly' but instead only in 'The Bad' but for one very good reason: Omni consistently produce unstable products. When their browser repeatedly goes south after less than a minute - on platforms where all of the other browsers work fine, thank you - something points to something being very wrong at Omni Group.

The download on the Omni web page says this version is 6.0 MB. It expands to 935 files [sic] taking a total of 14,740,127 bytes on disk in 32664 blocks. The package needs some minimal cleaning. The OmniWeb executable is not stripped, although the embedded OmniGroupCrashCatcher executable is.

The package will run for a total of thirty days, not necessarily in succession. You'll also get nag screens and the app won't let you change your home page.

The app keeps track of how many days you use it by storing the file '.owdemoinfo' in your preferences directory. The file is a bzip2 archive which expands at runtime into an ordinary Apple property list.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN"
"http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">
<dict>
    <key>563.62</key>
    <dict>
        <key>daysRemainingInDemo</key>
        <integer>30</integer>
        <key>lastRunDay</key>
        <integer>732273</integer>
        <key>lastWarnedDay</key>
        <integer>732273</integer>
    </dict>
</dict>
</plist>

Curiously the NIBs contain 53 unneeded classes.nib files but the info.nib files are gone. As this is an English only edition, the 18 lproj directories could be eliminated. Tweaking what's given by Omni will bring the disk crunch down under 880 files.

The first thing to do with any new browser is see that one is secure before accessing the Internet. There are a number of questionable defaults in OmniWeb but there are also some cool new ideas, such as blocking ads from companies like DoubleClick. That's very cool thinking.

But it all founders as one uses the arrow buttons in the preferences to navigate through each pane, comes to the 'History' pane, and suddenly the following pops up - not one full minute into use of the app.

But that's when the fun's just begun - seriously: one expects to be able to dismiss the above dialog, start the app going again, and be on one's way.

Foolish thinking: for while OmniWeb melts the CPU it drops a tonne of flotsam and jetsam in its application support directory - files like 'History.plist', 'HistoryIndex.ox', and 'HistoryIndex.ox.log' - so that when it starts up again and tries reading its own files it hangs and has to be externally put out of its poor user's misery.

Meaning a quick clean of the junk Omni have already spread around is in order before tempting fate again. But this time it works better - sort of...

And now when everything but history has been tweaked it's time to put the thing online. And right away one is presented with the next great revelation: merely trying to type a URL in the location bar takes ages. Why, one could ask - and if one then rummaged up a CPU monitor, one would find the answer.

The following four images represent Safari, Camino, Firefox, and our good friend OmniWeb idling at the same web page, one after the other. OmniWeb is racing the CPU at 100% usage when it's supposed to be doing nothing - and whatever: no one races the CPU at 100%.


Safari

Camino

Firefox

OmniWeb

And there are so many cool things to test - but what does it help when one is in the middle of a PowerPC meltdown? Something is very wrong at Omni Group.

And just before exiting something catches the eye. And one doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry, but it certainly feels like the last straw, like someone playing a macabre joke - it's just that no one knows where the joke is.

Will the last to leave Omni Group please turn out the lights?

Everybody wants to see Omni win, but when the sick thing can't even get out of the starting gates before crashing, crashes on its own proprietary permanent storage files, and races the CPU at 100% when idling, maybe it's time to throw in the towel and set this company of heritage and pedigree out to pasture.

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