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OmniWeb is dead – long live OmniWeb

August 25, 2003

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August 8 was a wonderful day for me. I’d gotten over the previous day’s killer work deadline. Then I woke up to find that the Omni Group had released the final version of OmniWeb 4.5 overnight, my time. Both events give me considerable satisfaction. The second lifts my heart more, it has to be said. Meeting that work deadline just clears the decks for the next three deadlines looming over coming months. But the final release of OmniWeb 4.5 eliminates work for me. Never again will I have to test in pre-4.5 OmniWeb. I don’t really even have to worry too much about the new version, since its standards support is that of Safari, virtually bug for bug. There might be a few differences between the WebCore versions used in OmniWeb and Safari, but as yet I haven’t heard of any significant differences that makes for Web authors.

As I’ve previously argued, the Omni Group’s decision to use WebCore – the same basic rendering engine as is in Safari – frees it from the burdens of implementing the complexity of current Web standards. Doing so is hard, and really requires that you have at least one standards maven on staff – an Eric Meyer or Håkon Lie. Outsourcing this aspect of the product’s development allows the Omni Group to concentrate on the nuances it’s good at, like the automatic hanging punctuation and the sub-pixel rendering that makes small text ever-so-slightly easier to read in OmniWeb than Safari.

So, there’s absolutely no excuse for existing users of earlier versions of OmniWeb now. Upgrade to Version 4.5. You’ll get a product that renders more accurately and has many other cool new features besides. And if you do, it will benefit all the other readers of MacEdition. You see, in the recent redesign of the site, I used the CodeBitch OmniWeb hack to supply a stylesheet just for earlier versions of OmniWeb, and then another one for everyone else. Every other reader is loading a stylesheet they don’t need, consuming bandwidth they should not have to use. Sure, it’s only a stylesheet, not a 50KB table-and-spacer-GIF monstrosity, but it’s the principle that counts.

Here’s what I’m going to do – and not do. I’m going to remove the content of the stylesheet targeted to pre-WebCore OmniWeb. The rest of you never have to download it again. (You’ll save an HTTP request, too, because I was using the @import hack on that OmniWeb-specific stylesheet to hide it from Netscape 4. That way I only had to put in all the Caio Hacks for Netscape once.) Users of pre-WebCore OmniWeb will get unstyled content from now on.

And I’m not going to be updating the portions of the various MacEdition CSS resources referring to pre-WebCore OmniWeb anymore. They will remain as they are, set in stone for historical interest.

More news from the browser world

Around the same time as OmniWeb 4.5’s final release, we also saw iCab 2.9.5, bringing tabbed browsing to the 68k set. This is in many ways an admirable achievement, although I will be much, much happier when Version 3 arrives, with its promised improvements in standards support. Right now, iCab is the only desktop browser currently being distributed that can’t render MacEdition correctly.

Words for the non-Jaguar user

Someone’s bound to pipe up that OmniWeb 4.5, like Safari, isn’t available to users of OS X prior to Version 10.2 (Jaguar). What about them? Is serving those readers unstyled content fair? Shouldn’t I try to accommodate them?

Well, no. You have to realise that even while it was in beta or sneaky-peek, OmniWeb 4.5 accounted for around two-thirds of our OmniWeb-using readers, and in the first couple of weeks of its final release, the share was more like 80 percent. The final release of Safari 1.0 accounts for just under 85 percent of MacEdition’s OS X-using readers, so it must be that the proportion of OS X users with Jaguar is at least that high. Consider that OmniWeb’s share of OS X users in our readership doesn’t break 3 percent on a good week, and OS X users are about half the identifiable desktop computer users in our readership. MacEdition gets tens of thousands of pageviews a week even including all the robots, spiders and RSS feedreaders. But putting that together implies that OmniWeb-using readers with pre-Jaguar versions of OS X are something like 15 percent of 3 percent of 50 percent, or a couple of tenths of a percentage point.

So I say to both of you using OmniWeb but not Jaguar: I’m sorry that you’re now getting an unstyled page, but you do still get all the content. However, supporting your browser consumes too much time and energy, working around all its support gaps. And doing so hurts everyone else.

On a personal note

Most of you would know by now that I am not actually a professional, get-paid-for-it Web designer. I have a day job, and it is an increasingly demanding one. Because of some work commitments that take me out of the country for some time, I will be taking a sabbatical from this column. I hope to return in the New Year. Until then, stay valid and keep well.

— CodeBitch (codebitch@macedition.com) is the grumpy cow who used to do the HTML production for MacEdition. Read other articles by CodeBitch

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