Better Browser for the Mac
November 1, 2007 11:59 AM   Subscribe

I need a better browser for my Mac. I use a MacBook Pro 17". For the past year, I've been using Safari as my default browser. I like it swell except that it crashes all the frickin' time. I've installed SAFT, which allows me to restore my browsing sessions, but still -- it's a pain. Last weekend, I moved over to Firefox in the hopes that things would be improved. That's not going to work. What's with the delays for nearly every action? Ugh. (No extensions installed.) I don't yet have Leopard, but am willing to upgrade if Safari 3 offers a marked improvement in performance. What can I do to improve my web browsing experience? (Session restore is a must. Undo closed tabs is nice.)

As a tag-on, I would love to know if there's anyway to restore sessions in BBEdit. Though my MBP is fairly stable, it does freeze sometimes. Worse, it has a bizarre habit of restarting itself sometimes when the lid is closed. I typically have 20-30 BBEdit documents open at once, including some that have not been saved.
posted by jdroth to Computers & Internet (66 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any weird plug-ins installed? Take a look in /Library/Internet Plug-Ins. I use Safari all the time, and crashes are very rare. Also, you don't need Leopard to get Safari 3.
posted by designbot at 12:03 PM on November 1, 2007

Something is wrong with your Safari.

Try creating a new user and OS X without any addons and see if you are still having the same issues. Safari never crashes on me.

A nice alternative is Omniweb. You can save sessions and it uses the same rendering engine as Safari.
posted by mphuie at 12:06 PM on November 1, 2007

Opera of couse.
(Session restore is a must. Undo closed tabs is nice.) -- Opera is a speed demon and you don't need any stinking plugins.
posted by bigmusic at 12:07 PM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

seconding opera
posted by phil at 12:11 PM on November 1, 2007

Safari crashing is not something I've seen - and Firefox having delays before every action I've never run into, and I'm running on a 1.3ghz iBook with 512 mb of RAM, so we're not talking about any kind of speed-demon machine.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:12 PM on November 1, 2007

Response by poster: No plug-ins installed at all. (What is SAFT then?)

Things that may contribute to the crashes: at the moment I have six windows open in Safari. Each of these has 8-12 open tabs. Excessive, I know, but that's how I work. It's not likely to change.

I did upgrade to Safari 3 at one point, but SAFT didn't work with it, so I reverted to Safari 2. I can't recall if the crashes were a problem under Safari 3, but they've been with me on Safari 2 for the past year.

Maybe I should check to see if there's a Safari 3-compatible version of SAFT out there...
posted by jdroth at 12:12 PM on November 1, 2007

Have you tried Camino? If you like Firefox but find it too slow, Camino might be right up your alley.
posted by zachlipton at 12:14 PM on November 1, 2007

Response by poster: Tomorrowful, I almost want to take videos of Firefox in (in-)action. It's bizarre. And frustrating. There's a 1/2-second delay before almost every action. Argh. Plus things don't work the way I'm used to. "Open new tabs in the background, dammit!"

If nobody else has problems with Safari crashing, I wonder if it's not something else I have installed...
posted by jdroth at 12:14 PM on November 1, 2007

I love Camino. I'd still be using it if it wasn't for my reliance on Firefox plugins.
posted by danb at 12:15 PM on November 1, 2007

Firefox having delays before every action I've never run into

I'm just posting to say that I have also run into this. Firefox has gotten increasingly irksome on my Mac, too often going into eternal whirling beachball mode. It also no longer likes to quit, but always has to be force quit. Plus I've grown annoyed that it doesn't keep unicode characters in its URLs (but translates them to %20-type codes) and it still doesn't display ♥ properly!

Anyway I'm thinking of migrating back to Safari. Sigh.
posted by Casuistry at 12:16 PM on November 1, 2007

posted by sneakin at 12:17 PM on November 1, 2007

I'll chime in here and say that I don't have any problems with Firefox (running adblock +), and I'm running a slightly underpowered G4 ibook.

I think I'd go a step further than mphuie, and say that something is borked with your OSX install - cross-browser internet problems + rebooting when the lid is closed? That just ain't right. See if you can't rule out any hardware issues, do a backup, and reinstall.

Alternatively, give the OSX optimized builds of Firefox a try.

For the record, I've never had Safari crash, either, but that's because I hate it with a burning passion, and it's only seen about 10 minutes of use on my machine.
posted by god hates math at 12:18 PM on November 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Tomorrowful, I almost want to take videos of Firefox in (in-)action. It's bizarre. And frustrating. There's a 1/2-second delay before almost every action.

Like, when connecting to websites? I'd watch to see if you're seeing a lot of "looking up" messages in the status bar. I've thought web browsing was ungainly slow before, only to realize my ISP's dns server completely sucked or was even dropping responses.
posted by mikeh at 12:28 PM on November 1, 2007

Just wanted to note that I have the same problems (and the same overwhelming frustration) with Firefox on the mac. I'm running a 1.5gHz G4 Powerbook with 2gb RAM. As a result, I use Safari, and it only crashes when I make the mistake of clicking on links to peoples' Myspace profiles. I've always considered that to be what superstitious people call a "sign".

I love seeing how passionate people are about their browser choice - myself no exception: I hate Firefox with a fiery passion (for its slowness; I like the rendering engine and the extensibility). It's like 1996 all over again!
posted by myrrh at 12:29 PM on November 1, 2007

Camino has unconsciously become my default browser over the past 3 years, especially on older machines. It's the fastest and most reliable browser I use (and I generally have 3 different browsers running at any given time, including Opera, which is very good, but still too goofily un-Mac like, interface wise). It has session saving built right in, and a very "Mac like" interface.

There are Intel optimized versions of Camino that you can find at
posted by melorama at 12:30 PM on November 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'll second (third, fourth?) the recommendation of Camino. It uses the same html renderer as Firefox, but feels more like a native Mac OS X application.
posted by browse at 12:30 PM on November 1, 2007

Response by poster: And other innocuous things. For example, just now when I opened this page to comment again, I clicked in the text-edit area. It took a half second for the cursor to appear for me to begin typing. There's a good chance that if I go try to grab the scroll bar it will take another half second before it responds.

Safari doesn't do any of this stuff. I love Safari. But it crashes all the time.
posted by jdroth at 12:30 PM on November 1, 2007

There's something wrong with your Safari install or your OS X install. Apart from a repeatable bug with launching my (old) version of Windows Media Player, I have never had Safari crash, and I've put tens of thousands of hours on it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:31 PM on November 1, 2007

Re: BBEdit

In the latest versions you can go into the Preferences window & check "Reopen documents that were open at last quit."

That'll give you what you want. I'm not sure what version you're on, or in what version Bare Bones added that feature. But I love it.
posted by iwhitney at 12:33 PM on November 1, 2007

Response by poster: Strange. Safari has always been prone to crash for me on all my Macs (and I've owned many). But never like this. I wonder if I carry a Safari curse.
posted by jdroth at 12:34 PM on November 1, 2007

Response by poster: Oooh. Thanks, iwhitney. Here's the big question: Does it restore things after a crash, though? And does it restore untitled docs? I would seriously pay $200 for this feature. It's that valuable to me and my work.
posted by jdroth at 12:35 PM on November 1, 2007

How much memory are your six windows with multiple tabs (I count around 80 total) taking up? I use a javascript-based RSS reader in Firefox that sucks up RAM something fierce and the sheer mass of its claim on system resources commonly slows the browser down.
posted by rhizome at 12:39 PM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

In Safari 3, you can go to History > Restore All Windows From Last Session. No Saft needed.
posted by designbot at 12:39 PM on November 1, 2007

Your computer is most likely restarting because of the sudden motion sensor. When you close the notebook it writes all of the data stored in ram to disk, if you move the computer quickly during this process, such as flipping it over to put in your bag, it will often restart.

This problem was driving me nuts when I first got my macbook pro, but after I learned about this I haven't had any unexpected restarts.
posted by rollo tomassi at 12:40 PM on November 1, 2007

Generally, I've been able to trace 2.x Safari crashes to the Flash plug-in.

I'd recommend upgrading to the Safari 3 beta to start, which has "Reopen Last Closed Window" and "Reopen All Widows From Last Session" built in.

Safari 3 in Leopard is a significant improvement over both 2.x and the 3 beta, IMO.
posted by mkultra at 12:40 PM on November 1, 2007

Make sure you check /Library/Internet Plug-Ins at the root level of your hard drive, not just ~/Library/Internet Plug-Ins under your user folder. I think even a default install of Safari has some plug-ins in there.
posted by designbot at 12:42 PM on November 1, 2007

nthing that there is something up with your install; that all sounds really weird. But, to address your question: I personally use Camino because I need Gecko, and Firefox breaks too much normal Mac UI for me to be able to stand it. Camino drawbacks are that it has to use an external RSS reader, doesn't take Firefox plugins, and has a slightly lame-looking UI (though much better than FF). It's certainly fast enough and using a highly designed-for rendering engine has it's benefits. It does tab restore.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 12:45 PM on November 1, 2007

...I have six windows open in Safari. Each of these has 8-12 open tabs. Excessive, I know, but that's how I work. It's not likely to change.

Then get used to crashes. As you say, that's an excessive combination of windows and tabs. Seriously.
Working against you, too, is that Safari is known to choke when it has to deal with an abundance of animation (Flash, gifs, whatever) I'm not surprised you're getting crashes.

I have no idea what the issue is with Firefox. I've never seen that behavior. Like others, I'm wondering if you don't have something running in the background that's sucking-up cycles.
Look in your System Preferences > Accounts >Startup Items and see if there isn't something in there that's not needed. Or take a look at Activity Monitor.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:47 PM on November 1, 2007

I'd put money on the issue being nothing to do with any of your programs - other than your complete abuse of tabs and window - no-one needs that many tabs open. Seriously.

I like to keep things open while I work but I never have more than 20 tabs open at a time.

I don't know if Macs have a task-manager equivalent that will show you how much memory you are using but if it does, you should look.
80 browser windows + 20-30 documents + whatever else you're running = you need assloads of RAM
posted by missmagenta at 12:48 PM on November 1, 2007

I don't know if Macs have a task-manager equivalent that will show you how much memory you are using...
Yes. Activity Monitor.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:02 PM on November 1, 2007

at the moment I have six windows open in Safari. Each of these has 8-12 open tabs. Excessive, I know, but that's how I work. It's not likely to change.

Oh, it's user problem! I think you need to find a different way to work, as your describe sounds like a memory hog that will screwup just about any browser on any system.

Try and experiment, just use one Safari windows, with it's 8-12 windows and see if the problems continue.

Also, since you obviously can't look at all those browser windows at once, maybe you need to investigate what you're doing and how you're doing it. So, what are you doing that require 6 browser windows and 80 tabs?

Finally there are two types of people in the world: those who save their documents and those who lose data.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:04 PM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My six open windows are using 241mb of 3gb.

Thorzdad is correct that I do suspect a correlation between Flash-based stuff and the crashes. USA Today is a site that I know will crash Safari more often than most.

No-one needs that many tabs open.

Wrong answer! You may not need that many tabs open, but I do. If I'm researching an article (or three), I have a browser window open with tabs related to the subject. Plus I have my window with my normal stuff (like AskMe), etc. I know that the number of tabs seems excessive, but it's how I work.

Designbot, aha! There are lots of plug-ins at the root level. I'll look at them to see what's up.

Rollo Tomassi, thanks for the heads-up on the restart thing. Any suggestions (other than don't fling my MBP around)?
posted by jdroth at 1:08 PM on November 1, 2007

Geez.. no wonder it's crashing, when you're trying to open that many browser windows and documents at the same time. I don't think any one browser is going to help you (except maybe lynx :P) You really do need buttloads of RAM.
posted by cgg at 1:09 PM on November 1, 2007

I've never had stability problems with Safari, but its memory leaks have generally been so bad that I've never used it enough to get it to crash. Camino is my daily browser, but after having an awkward conversation with a member of the Safari team at a recent iPhone Tech Talk ("Safari's not my regular browser." "I noticed.") I've been running nightly WebKit builds along with Camino. In addition to those two I run Firefox for site testing and debugging, and it's rare that I get performance issues in any of the three, and I usually have eight to ten windows with many tabs each open in Camino. Counting all three browsers, I have about fifty tabs open right now, with 2GB of RAM in my MBP and no performance issues.

What you're describing sounds like either a javascript or a plugin problem, though. What are all those sites you have open? Is there a lot of javascript or Flash involved? To troubleshoot your problem I'd first remove all vestiges of Flash and see if the problems go away. If so, install the most recent Flash and see if things are any better. Also try running a WebKit nightly instead of standard Safari (especially if you're still on Safari 2).

And max out your RAM, if you haven't already. It'll help a lot.
posted by fedward at 1:09 PM on November 1, 2007

You could try dividing your gazillion open tabs among several browsers, or even multiple instances of the same browser. (At least I think that’s how it works.)
posted by tepidmonkey at 1:09 PM on November 1, 2007

I'm thirding Opera - it's your requirements that got me hooked in the first place, years ago. I occasionally try FF and Safari and they're horrid. Opera is stable (I have 6+ tabs open all the time), does session restoration (and gives you the option to start with a blank slate after crashing - that prevents the link causes crash-restart-open tab which causes crash-restart-etc loop), and it's got a goddamned snappy interface.

Do it. Do it!
posted by TheNewWazoo at 1:24 PM on November 1, 2007

i have a difficult time believing that all 80 tabs only use 241MB (i assume you meant MB not mb) of memory. it seems more realistic that a singular safari windows is using 241MB of memory. with six windows open you are dangerously close to using all of your available memory, which would account for the wacky behavior.
posted by phil at 1:36 PM on November 1, 2007

error on my part. i thought you had 2GB not 3GB. still using an estimated 1.5GB of ram on your web browsing can not be helping things.
posted by phil at 1:38 PM on November 1, 2007

DesignBot has the answer. I also get frequent Safari crashes, and I also abuse it. Firefox for me is also abysmally slow, and that's without plugins.

I switched to Webkit (the nightly builds of the Safari upgrades) which was better, and reluctantly installed Safari 3. It has the restore - last - session which means that the frequent crashes no longer faze me. As much.

I wonder if we're using the same computer?
posted by prophetsearcher at 1:41 PM on November 1, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback, folks. Several approaches to try here. I'll play with all of them.
posted by jdroth at 1:46 PM on November 1, 2007

Definitely install Safari 3. I've never had a problem with Safari crashing except when I've installed funky input managers and Saft; with Safari 3 you get a lot of nice interface tweaks on top of relative stability.

OmniWeb wins kudos from people I know, but very few people seem to use it. I find Firefox hideous on the Mac, very unMaclike; if you don't care, it's worth a try. Safari is definitely not horrid; I'm frankly unsure why a small core of people has such a hate on for it, though in its original incarnation it wasn't a world-beater.
posted by waxbanks at 1:48 PM on November 1, 2007

I am also a multiple tabs in multiple windows kind of guy, and I switched from Safari to Camino last year - way less crashes, much better altogether.
posted by sluggo at 2:08 PM on November 1, 2007

Not on a Mac, but I opened 160 tabs in my Firefox just for fun, each with a HTML document (images but no javascript, flash, or other plugins; 4 copies of the same 40 documents and 150 images, so firefox may be doing smart memory re-use here). "top" (process monitor) shows that it's only 230 megs big, 107 megs resident. Firefox CPU usage less than .1%.

While I don't typically open that many tabs on my browser, I sure would expect that level of usage to work, and not to require crazy amounts of RAM either.

On the other hand, if more than a few of those pages are flash-ad-ridden crapfests I'm not surprised that the browser goes titsup. Earlier I was testing with Metafilter Music as on one of the pages (a dozen or so plugins per page) and firefox quickly became totally unresponsive.
posted by jepler at 2:12 PM on November 1, 2007

I for one hate the oversimplification of Safari and refuse to run without an adblocker, so it's Firefox for me. Many things that I expect to just work in a web browser do not work in Safari (no middle-click to close tabs? Why not? Where are all of the rest of the keyboard shortcuts? Why do you work so hard to make my bookmarks inaccessible?) I do agree that Firefox seems much slower on initial start on my Mac than it does on Windows. I suspect that many former Windows users prefer Firefox because it is a familiar option; personally, I like that the program works essentially the same cross-platform.

In my experience the initial load is the slowest, and any first load of a page that contains a text box is also painfully slow. Once that has come up at least once in a session, things seem fine. Firefox 3 is supposed to use native widgets - which will hopefully speed up the load times - but I wouldn't recommend using a pre-release alpha or beta version as your main browser. You could try Opera, but I would think that Camino might be more what you are looking for.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:18 PM on November 1, 2007


my understanding was that in many modern browsers the ridiculous memory usage was the result of caching the pages in your history. it is nice to be able to navigate back instantly but it comes at a cost. as a result opening new tabs is not an accurate reproduction. i could be mistaken though.

the massive memory usage i am describing only comes about when you leave lots tabs open for an an extended period of time, on the order of a few days to a week. i myself am guilty of doing this often. it seemed likely that someone who often has 80 tabs open might as well.
posted by phil at 2:18 PM on November 1, 2007

Safari on Leopard is wicked fast. I'm not a full-time Safari user (firefox and yeah, firefox can have weird delays at various points), but I find I'm using Safari more and more since I upgraded to Leopard last week. It opens almost instantly and pages load very fast. Never had it crash except on weird java plugins.
posted by mathowie at 2:24 PM on November 1, 2007

FWIW, Firefox is much faster for me after upgrading to Leopard. I'm not sure why. Also, if you tend to keep a GMail window open and have Firebug installed, disable Firebug for That also made a world of difference for me.

I also hate bold text on the front page of AskMe.
posted by kcm at 2:33 PM on November 1, 2007

Response by poster: I also hate bold text on the front page of AskMe.


I hate one-line questions. They drive me nuts. Ask the damn question on the front page so I don't have to look inside to read it. I find that bolding the important points to my questions makes it more readable. I wasn't aware others didn't like it. Good thing I don't get to post many questions!

I've been looking for an excuse to upgrade to Leopard. Looks like I might have found one...
posted by jdroth at 2:38 PM on November 1, 2007

I had a similar "pausing" problem with Firefox to what you have - it was not actually an extention that caused the problem but was something bad in my user profile. Creating a new user profile fixed all of my problems.
posted by cftarnas at 3:12 PM on November 1, 2007

you don't need Leopard to get Safari 3.

The Safari download page still says it's beta. Wasn't Safari 3 supposed to be released with Leopard?
posted by kirkaracha at 3:13 PM on November 1, 2007

Honestly, I don't think it has anything to do with the number of tabs. I usually have more than 100 tabs open at any one time (Firefox on a regular Macbook) and I very rarely have any problems.
posted by sugarfish at 3:18 PM on November 1, 2007

I've been there, too. I gave Safari and Camino a shot but ended up back to Firefox. specifically for Gmail Manager, Adlock, and Flashblock. If there's a better way to check multiple Gmail accounts (and not with Apple's Mail) and block Flash by default as well as other ads I'm up for trying it out. Camino seemed fine for someone not needing those specific features. I hated the way Safari managed tabs.
posted by 6550 at 3:21 PM on November 1, 2007

Oh, and I use a large number of tabs as well, so the OP isn't alone in that.
posted by 6550 at 3:22 PM on November 1, 2007

I for one hate the oversimplification of Safari and refuse to run without an adblocker

Dude- PithHelmet. That and Inquisitor seal the deal for me.
posted by mkultra at 3:22 PM on November 1, 2007

Hey folks - on the 'restart when I close the lid' thang, it's a feature called 'Safe Sleep'. Basically when you close the lid in the newer Macs, the Mac will spend up to a minute writing everything in your RAM to the hard drive before actually going to sleep. If you make any sudden movements with the laptop, it'll reboot. Really annoying.

Here's how to disable that.

Also, I may be wrong, but I think every time you have a seperate window open in Firefox, that's actually a seperate instance that's running, hence sucking up a new chunk of RAM. Perhaps you could use something like Tab Groups to keep them all in one window - I know I regularly have 40-60 tabs open and I have nary a hiccup.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:40 PM on November 1, 2007

Adding my frustration on the Firefox constantly crashing thang.

I have to force quit the programme regularly. sometimes more than once a day. Started all of a sudden about 2 weeks ago.

If I didn't love my Mac so much, I'd be tempted to smack it upside its head...
posted by Brockles at 5:00 PM on November 1, 2007

Fourth'ing Opera. Just make sure and give it enough time -- your initial reaction may be negative, but try it out for a week. You'll find it's very stable, can handle a lot of pages open, and does everything you want. Plus, once you use their native mouse gestures, you won't want to browse any other way (the FF gesture plugins are weak and clunky).

The downside is that some websites don't work well in it. I've had trouble with Google Maps, for example, in Opera.
posted by spiderskull at 5:24 PM on November 1, 2007

I wish I hadn't written Opera off for so long. It's partly their fault, because the defaults are hideous, and the preferences UI is horrendous -- but once it's tweaked to your taste it's a viciously good browser. Fast as anything, too. Try it (not the beta, the release version)!

Oh, and download a theme for it. The defaults are useless, but it's got a really nice appearance thing in Tools > Appearance
posted by bonaldi at 6:18 PM on November 1, 2007

Response by poster: What a delightfully awful experience.

I decided to take the most expensive route possible, purchasing Leopard and upgrading to Safari 3 at the same time. Nothing wrong with that, right? I'm a Mac fanboy, after all.

Well, wouldn't you know it? The install failed. In the process, it may have fucked up my drive. I took my MBP to an Apple Store and hung out while they tried to help me, but eventually they kicked me out because they were closing. They did point me to two Apple docs explaining ways to try to fix my problem. But the "genius" who helped me seemed to think my hard drive was toast.

posted by jdroth at 10:03 PM on November 1, 2007

I know this doesn’t help much, but it’s possible that your drive was already on its way out, and the attempted OS installation hastened its imminent death. The slowness and the random restarts could have been symptoms of this.
posted by tepidmonkey at 10:11 PM on November 1, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, that's possible. I've had the machine less than a year, but you never know. HOWEVER, I'm typing this from Leopard, so one of the options to make things work did indeed work (an Archive install, which has left me with very little disk space).

Safari 3 only has WINDOW undo, by the way, not tab undo. Not the same thing.
posted by jdroth at 11:26 PM on November 1, 2007

It seems like you've been ignoring everyone suggesting Opera, but I would like to point out that it automatically does come with automatic session saver/restore, and the ability to easily reopen at least the last 30+ tabs you've closed, and it's easily reachable both by the standard undo keyboard shortcut and by the menu RIGHT on the tab bar (which, by the way, can be placed on the side for better readability with lots of tabs.)

You can also save your sessions (which can consist of more than one window of tabs saved together) and open one or more session(s) at a time. It really is a great browser; I've only been using it for a few months, and I'm already something of an evangelist. Oh, and I also tend to have a ton of tabs open, though they're all in one window, usually. I definitely have had 80+ tabs open at once for long periods of time, and it's worked just fine. Here is a direct link to the latest release for OSX.

Seriously, I see no reason to not try Opera. It's free and seems to solve your problems stated in the question.
posted by mismatched at 3:47 AM on November 2, 2007

Response by poster: No, no. I've downloaded Opera and will be giving it a spin. I'll try all the suggestions here.
posted by jdroth at 6:03 AM on November 2, 2007

Oh ok :) Hope I didn't come off as a bit snippy there. Good luck, in any case.
posted by mismatched at 7:29 AM on November 2, 2007

You've made all your backups of important data and ordered a new hard drive, right?
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:08 PM on November 2, 2007

Response by poster: Bought a new 1TB drive with Leopard last night. Once I got the thing installed, Time Machine was my first order of business. I have a backup. Finally. And I've got scheduled backups for the future, too...
posted by jdroth at 3:06 PM on November 2, 2007

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