Shiira Scores!

Mac users who, for whatever reason, are still using Panther rather than Tiger (like me) might be interested in the Shiira Project.

Shiira is a web browser built using the same rendering engine as Apple’s Safari, but its designers aim to make it better than Safari. Based on my quick test, it’s certainly every bit as good as Safari, but there are a few little differences which may be enough to tempt you to switch…

1. All open tabs can be shown in tiled layout on the screen (using the F8 key) in a fashion similar to the OS X Exposé feature.

2. As soon as you have two tabs open, a little “+” button appears… you can click on this to open further tabs instead of hitting command-T. If you have the “always show tab bar” option selected, this button will always be visible.

3. The navigation buttons are nice. And there are several designs to choose from. Yeah, so that’s only a cosmetic feature, but I do like the default fruit pastille-style buttons.

4. Source code is shown in four (customisable) colours for easy navigation.

5. Downloads can be shown in a separate window (like Safari, Firefox, IE) or in the sidebar.

6. Clicking the pull-down menu in the search box gives a list of alternative (to Google) search sites (does Firefox do this? I can’t remember). In Safari, you get the list of previous searches… these are also available in Shiira, via the last item on the menu. I prefer the Safari approach, but YMMV.

7. Shiira supports bookmarklets.

8. There doesn’t seem to be a progress display at the bottom, unlike in Safari. Shame.

9. You can have your current memory and disk cache usage shown in a small window (no keyboard shortcut, though).

10. Choice of Aqua or Metal appearance.

The browsers are so similar that there’s no need to import your Safari bookmarks at the moment (although the Shiira site implies this is a temporary thing). All I had to do was download and unpack the 2.9MB disk image, launch the application, select “use Safari bookmark bar” and there it was… a fully functional, tweaked version of Safari. The main difference is the lack of RSS capability, even in the Tiger-compatible Shiira, but I imagine that’s going to follow soon. However, the real challenge will be to invent some totally new features. Most of the current differences are the sort of things that Apple could easily incorporate into Safari at the drop of a hat; it’d be nice to see the Shiira team really pushing the design, if only to generate a healthy sense of competition at Apple.

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