Tested: Five Web browsers you've never heard of

If an insight into the world of browsers nobody has heard of excites you, prepare to embark on a thrilling journey through the quirky jungle of Internet underdogs

Internet Explorer , Firefox , Safari , Chrome -- these are the mainstream browsers you probably know and almost certainly use. But there are dozens of others, and every time we don't write about them in a feature about browsers , we're roundly booed at and berated by their devoted fans.

Now, Microsoft is planning on letting European users of Windows 7, Vista and XP choose which browser they want to use, and there could be up to ten choices. So it's time we devoted some serious attention to the most popular underdog Web browsers to see what all the fuss was about.

Here, tested and prodded, used and abused, are the five browsers with the most vocal fans on CNET UK. Of all the browsers people use to visit this site month to month, not a single one of these five accounts for even as much as 0.1 per cent market share.

If an insight into the world of browsers almost nobody has heard of excites you, prepare to embark on a thrilling journey.

The browsers

1: Shiira (Mac)
2: Arora (Windows, Mac, Linux)
3: K-Meleon (Windows)
4: Camino (Mac)
5: Opera (Windows, Mac, Linux)

For each browser we provide some specific details on how they perform technically. Two key areas are standards compliance, measured by the Acid3 test, and Javascript-rendering abilities, measured by the SunSpider Javascript benchmark.

Standards compliance ensures Web pages work correctly, regardless of what browser you use. And as more and more sites rely on Javascript to deliver advanced navigation and interfaces, a browser's ability to handle it is becoming ever more important. As such, we've benchmarked and measured the skills each browser has in these fields.

Enough chit-chat! On with the tests...

Version tested: 2.2 (Build 090226)
Operating systems: Mac OS X
Javascript benchmark: 880ms (Exceptional)
Acid3 results: 98/100
Homepage: http://shiira.jp/en.php

Even for an underdog browser, fans of OS X's Shiira browser seem few and far between in terms of how many of them complain we don't write about it. So we gave it the benefit of our considerable doubt and really liked what we saw.

Shiira looks like an older version of Apple's Safari, but has a few notable differences that may encourage users to try it. One is its version of OS X's Expose feature, but for Web pages. Expose on the Mac displays all open windows and applications on screen at once so you can easily switch between programs. Shiira does the same thing with all open browser tabs.

Another feature of Shiira worth mentioning is its tabbed browsing. Tabs sit on the bottom of the screen by default, and are presented as screengrabs of each open tab rather than just text. (Opera does this too.)

Shiira is an attractive, well-designed browser with a user interface many OS X users will find familiar. It's also lightning fast at handling Javascript -- one of the fastest we've ever tested, in fact.

Sadly, it's riddled with bugs. The current full release wouldn't run on our Mac, and although the latest developmental build would, it suffered frequent crashes, making it hard to recommend. But it's one to watch, providing the Japanese dev team can make it more stable.

Version tested: 0.8.0
Operating systems: Windows, Mac, Linux
Javascript benchmark: 1,489ms (Very good)
Acid3 results: 98/100
Homepage: http://code.google.com/p/arora/

Arora is a lightweight and simple browser. In many ways, its lack of extra features is itself a feature, like a pencil: it's good for writing, because that's all it was ever made for.

Under the hood, it's similar, though not identical, to Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome browsers, using the WebKit engine. In terms of user interface, it's rather like Internet Explorer 6, only enormously faster. On the whole, its small memory footprint makes it a suitable choice for simple browsing on netbooks .

We had issues with Javascript, such as the advanced navigation bar on Amazon.co.uk not being displayed properly, and Google Docs keyboard shortcuts not functioning normally. But Javascript-heavy sites such as Google Mail , Google Maps and Facebook loaded and rendered correctly and quickly. Online banking with Halifax's Web site was problem-free, too.

Although by no means free of bugs, thanks to still being a work in progress, Arora is a simple no-frills browser. One for more advanced users to check out if you want a small, lightweight browser for your netbook.

Version tested: 1.5.3
Operating systems: Windows
Javascript benchmark: 11,556ms (Poor)
Acid3 results: 53/100
Homepage: http://kmeleon.sourceforge.net/

One of our least favourite browsers on this list, K-Meleon is the most popular browser for people to complain about us not testing when we write about other, more popular options. Having given K-Meleon a full test, we now know exactly who most of these people are: coders and hackers, and it's clear why they love this browser.

K-Meleon's is much more customisable than most others, but it requires some knowledge of computer code to get the most out of it. Aesthetically it looks like an old Firefox, and having been built upon the same engine as Mozilla's Firefox, renders pages well.

But it's slow at handling Javascript, making Google Mail, for example, feel noticeably sluggish in our tests. Many of its key features -- tabbed browsing, mouse gestures, quick access to sending a search to Google -- are handled and displayed much more effectively by Firefox, Chrome and Opera.

No more do we question why people pledge their allegiance to this browser -- these people are hackers and developers who adore tweaking and customising. If you're a very advanced user and are familiar with coding, this could be your new best friend. But its dated UI and relatively poor feature set will keep it out of the hands of even intermediate computer users.

Version tested: 1.6.8
Operating systems: Mac OS X
Javascript benchmark: 13,614ms (Poor)
Acid3 results: 53/100
Homepage: http://caminobrowser.org/

The Camino browser is a sweet and elegant open-source alternative to Safari and Firefox on the Mac. It's probably the only browser with a UI more simplistic than Google's Chrome, yet still allows juicy extensions and add-ons of its own, just like Firefox.

Functionality is similar too. You still get your Google search box, your tabbed browsing and bookmarks bar, in-line spell checking, pop-up blocking and more. Which made us wonder, what is it about this browser that makes people use it? It's slower than both Firefox and Safari, but lacks some of their advanced features.

We concluded that it's down, once again, to sheer simplicity: it works like Firefox, but with the elegance of Safari. Plus, we suppose, by using it you avoid the feeling that you're just lapping up what's being served to you by default.

It's a lovely little browser for the Mac, and one of the only times in this test we didn't think to ourselves, "Why on Earth do people force themselves to use this?" For that, it gets our recommendation to people wanting a decent alternative browser for the Mac.

Version tested: 10 beta 2
Operating systems: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Javascript benchmark: 3,817ms (Average)
Acid3 results: 100/100
Homepage: http://www.opera.com

You didn't think we'd let Opera off the hook did you? A whopping zero per cent of you use Opera to browse CNET UK (no really -- our internal stats told us so), which makes it as much an underdog as the rest, even if you might have at least heard of it (a version of it's on your Wii after all, and maybe your DSi and your smartphone , too).

Having said that, it's the best underdog by about, oh we don't know, maybe a thousand miles? Opera 10 has some useful features, such as a tabbed-browsing mode that uses Web-page thumbnails instead of text, and Opera Turbo, which compresses pages before sending them down your Interweb pipe, making slow connections feel significantly faster. And it's features like these that set Opera apart from every other browser in this feature.

It's also neat for syncing up bookmarks between home, work and laptop computers. Opera Link is a feature that keeps a central record of bookmarks you make as you browse. So, if you add CNET UK's excellent forums to your favourites at work, it'll be right there in your favourites on your computer at home. (The X-marks add-on for Firefox does the same job.)

It's reasonably fast, well-designed and pleasant to use, and to quote our previous definitive review: "It's a much better browser than Internet Explorer, and we're considering it an essential install on our laptops for times when connections are flaky and painfully slow. And that, ladies and gents, is an achievement no other browser has yet garnered."

'Nuff said. But if 'nuff hasn't been said for you, don't miss our complete, detailed feature about Opera 10 to learn about a bunch of other features we didn't have time to mention here.

 

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