OmniWeb 5.5

In a world of free web browsers, a paid-for offering needs to have killer features to attract new converts. But after more than two years since its last significant update, the latest release of OmniWeb doesn’t offer much in the way of new innovation.

While the previous version was based on a bastardised version of OS X’s web-rendering engine, OmniWeb now uses the same WebKit system as Safari. This has improved overall speed and compatibility. In fact, OmniWeb uses a more up-to-date version of WebKit than Safari, so it’s better at handling troublesome sites.

Web developers also get to play with new technologies such as SVG – the open-source technology for vector graphics. But these are temporary advances, which Safari will sport when version 3.0 is released next year with OS X Leopard. Other new features, such as Intel support and the ability to save pages as web archives, have already been around in Safari for some time.

OmniWeb’s unique selling point remains its graphical tabs, which are unsurpassed. A thumbnail-sized picture of each open web page appears in a drawer to the left or right of the browser window. It takes up a bit of screen space, but a scroll bar appears if you have too many tabs and you can always switch to a text-based view if you prefer. It’s brilliantly done.

The other standout feature is workspaces. If you are researching a particular topic you can save the pages you have open as a workspace and return to them at another time. There’s also a default workspace that can be used to automatically save all open pages if you quit OmniWeb or if it crashes – although this latter feature is also in the new Firefox 2.0.

OmniWeb offers a lot of customisation. For example, you can alter font sizes on particular sites and block adverts on others, although it’s debatable whether most users have the time or inclination to do this.

OUR VERDICT

OmniWeb remains a top-class browser and, if you consider graphical tabs and multiple workspaces essential, then it’s worth paying for. But with little new in this release and the free browsers continually innovating, it’s becoming harder to justify paying for it.

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