Blogging about our lives online.


Browser Review: Arora

The Browser War is an ongoing battle with no obvious winners, although there is a seemingly never ending stream of competitors.

The big players at the moment seem to be converging on their basic feature set while edging out their opponents in a certain area. Firefox has extensibility, Chrome has speed, Safari has stability, Opera has security, and IE has users (yes, IE bashing is mandatory in any browser debate!).

Beyond these, there is an interesting subset of purpose built browsers: Flock does social browsing in an interesting way. Sea Monkey includes many tools specific to developers and advanced users. Dillo boasts an extremely small footprint and fast loading.


But the new browser I've been testing lately is Arora. It is still a very immature version, but I think some of the features are really well done. First of all, it looks really nice on Mac. This may seem like a silly comment, but most apps that have been developed with a "cross-platform" toolkit come out looking like cheap knockoffs with cartoon icons and ugly screen proportions. Even Chrome, with it's oh-so-clever tab bar and Firefox with it's monster icons. This is fine for Linux, which doesn't have clearly established UI conventions, but for Mac development: don't break the rules unless you have good reason.

In this sense, Arora does it right. Not that they use Mac icons, but they are minimalistic and clear, and the layout doesn't add visual clutter or break established conventions. It doesn't shout "Look at this groundbreaking layout!", and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. It let's you focus on the task at hand.

I downloaded the .10.1 version which had some serious bugs on the Mac: many SSL errors, no two-finger scrolling. But this is an alpha version so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I installed the Qt SDK and built .10.2 from source and now it works great. Not really for the faint of heart, so hopefully there will be a Mac binary update soon.

Give me the Keyboard!

The first shock was that it was very keyboard friendly. This is like a +5 million points for me. The way it works is that when you're on a site, if you press the Command key all the links get letter popups beside them. You press the key and it goes to the link. How cool is that! Generally, all the links get letters based on the first letter in the link name, so if a site's top bar has links named "Home", "Reviews" and "Downloads", these will be mapped to the keys H, R and D. All other keyboard shortcuts work as you would expect on a Mac.

These guys have done their homework when it comes to keyboard accessibility. The only exception is using F11 for fullscreen, my macbook has F11 mapped to Volume-DN and fn-F11 mapped to Expose. Not a big deal, considering the wealth of things that they got right, even compared to the big browsers. For example, Cmd-L puts the cursor in the Location bar and Cmd-K jumps to the Search bar. In Safari, you have to Cmd-L to the location and then tab to the search for keyboard only input. Yes, it might be a small thing, but it's good attention to detail.

So far, there's really nothing keeping me from using this as my main browser, which is an amazing feat considering how lightweight and early in development it is. Page loading is fast and application loading is the fastest of any full-featured browser I've used. It renders with qt-webkit, which was a bit rocky to begin with, but has come a long way in a short time.

And you gotta love the polar bear on the globe icon!

1 comment:

  1. Well, I might have got a tad over-excited about this one. I'm now surfing in the QtWebKit demo browser, and it's almost as good.

    It doesn't have the keyboard links, but that's about it...

    I guess I just love the bare minimalism of the thing: tabbed and fullscreen browsing, good looking interface, and not a whole pile of features that no one really uses.