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Camino is an open-source, Gecko-based web browser for Mac OS X, currently at version 1.0.2, and a universal binary. Developed by the Mozilla Foundation, the simplest description for it would be that it shares features, underlying frameworks, and the approach to web browsing found in other Mozilla-family browsers, but has the distinct advantage of more of a standard OS X application than any of the others.

Camino was originally released as Chimera in 2002, but with version 0.7, the name was officially changed, for reasons which I was not able to uncover in my research. Although its original intention was to provide a viable Cocoa-native browser for OS X, since the release of Apple's Safari, the focus has shifted to providing a Cocoa-native browser that incorporates the elegance and functionality found in the Mozilla family of browsers. Says the Mozilla website on their position in relation to Safari,

We would have preferred to have Apple use Gecko or collaborate with us on the development of the Camino browser, but providing an alternative to an OS-sponsored browser is nothing new to us. The key goal of the Mozilla project is to help keep content on the web open and help keep access to that content from being controlled by a single source. Apple's decision to ship a browser based on an open source rendering engine, with a focus on standards compliance, is a good thing for the big picture goal.

One of the greatest weaknesses of, say, Firefox under Mac OS X is that it uses its own proprietary system for rendering all of its forms, windows, and widgets. That is to say, instead of using the radio buttons built in to the OS, it uses its own that look similar and function similarly. The result of this is that it has a substantial speed decrease compared to browsers that are using standard Cocoa widgets. Camino takes much greater advantage of the power and speed that Cocoa development offers, with almost any action being noticably faster than any other Mozilla browser, whether it be loading a page, moving through history, or even opening a contextual menu. When Camino piggybacks OS X functionality with Mozilla design, the results are quite impressive. Camino can also tie in to other programs, such as an external download manager, Quicksilver, or other OS X technologies.

Camino also has a distinct advantage over other browsers for the Mac in its customizability. Although not nearly as refined as Firefox, Camino is nonetheless highly mutable. A power user can simply type about:config into the location bar to bring up an enormous set of configurable options, as is the case with all Mozilla browsers. Nearly every aspect of the browser's behavior and performance, from delays between actions to how foreign languages are treated to a bewildering array of security settings, is configurable here. If it isn't, most of the hints found online for editing chrome files in other Mozilla family browsers will work for Camino, too: the underlying engine is the same; it's mainly the GUI which differs.

Although Camino is strong in its configurability, it is weak in its extensibility. If a user wants to change the appearance of buttons and tabs, it requires downloading a set of image files, opening up the Camino.app package, and replacing the original images in the Resources directory. At this point, this is effectively nothing more than an effective hack: these alternate images are not even indexed by the Mozilla Foundation themselves, as is the case with nearly every other product of theirs. Expanding the browser to give it more power is only slightly better: there is effectively only one expansion available, CamiTools, and installation requires manually creating a PreferencePanes directory in ~/Library/Application Support/Camino and copying the pane in. However, doing so gives a set of much-needed tools, including advertisement blocking, Flash blocking, and the ability to configure the menubar search engine field without editing chrome files.

That last paragraph was something of an overstatement of the hackiness of extending Camino; there are several programs available that facilitate changing Camino's look. Some of this functionality is built into the previously-mentioned CamiTools; even more can be done with the program CaminIcon, which downloads a number of icon sets, and provides a handy interface for mixing, matching, and applying them. Although it would be nice to see this functionality built in to the program, it isn't a priority; until then, tools such as these help to bridge the gap.

Camino is still heavily in development. Version 1.0 is a relatively recent release, and the development team hints at the fact that 2.0, which will see the light of day within a year, will be astoundingly powerful. Certainly, perusal through Bugzilla (Mozilla's bug tracking and feature request database) turns up any number of nifty features (user-requested and not) being incorporated into future versions. And the developers certainly are not working within a bubble; several are active on the Mac versions of other Mozilla browsers, and are most likely keenly aware of the shortcomings of Camino's feature set.

I was a Firefox power user for a long time, and still am when I'm forced into using a Windows computer. Although I miss the power of extensions like Adblock, Noscript, and my menagerie of functionality-extending extensions, I in no way miss the obvious lack of effort on the developers' part compared to the Windows and Linux versions. I'm not happy with the return of advertisements into my life, but it's only a matter of time before some frustrated developer (who knows, it might even be me) decides to make his or her own version of a crucial extension for Camino. The night is still young, so to speak.


Requirements:

  • Mac OS X, version 10.2 or later
  • 128 MB of RAM
  • 50 MB of free hard drive space

Resources:

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