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Camino 2.0 tested: The Safari alternative you've been waiting for

Camino has been one of the simplest and cleanest Web browsers for Mac OS X for a while. It just hit version 2.0 and we've loved every minute of testing it for you

Camino has been one of the simplest and cleanest Web browsers for Mac OS X for a while. It just hit version 2.0.

Camino is developed exclusively for Mac, so its development focuses solely on making use of OS X technologies and APIs, such as Cocoa, to integrate the browser into the OS as well as the default Safari browser. You get full integration with the Mac keychain, spell checking using OS X's dictionaries, session save and support for AppleScript.

Version 2.0 brings a ripe bunch of new features. Although competition for Safari alternatives is hotter than ever, with Google's Chrome potentially just days away from release on OS X in beta form, it's impossible for us not to give Camino 2.0 its due attention.

One of the browser's long-standing selling points is its clean UI and focus on displaying Web pages, not tweaking their functionality with add-ons and extensions like Firefox does (although this is possible to a certain extent). This focus remains. It now renders Web pages using Mozilla's open-source Gecko engine (just like Firefox 3), so they typically look as correct as they look in Mozilla's own browser.

Features and improvements

A major new feature is a more graphically impressive method of browsing open tabs. Called 'Tab Overview', the browser offers a thumbnail view of all tabs you currently have open in the main browser window. A keyboard shortcut makes it quick to jump to this view and browse tabs more efficiently. Opera 10 has a similar feature, in which Web site previews are displayed as thumbnails in the tabs bar (see our previous Opera 10 feature for more).

Security has been ramped up a notch as well. Support for the Google Safe Browsing API has been added. Like Firefox and Google Chrome, this lets the browser pull data from Google's list of dangerous Web sites, and display a warning before you visit them. You can also block annoying content (such as Flash ads) from specific sites. If you find a site regularly loaded with Flash bogs down your processor, you can have Camino disable these annoyances when you visit, but leave Flash objects on other sites intact.

Other new features include support for Growl notifications, tabs that can be rearranged in the tabs bar, a History menu which displays the most recently closed tabs, and a new zoom function that enlarges entire Web pages -- images and all.

Speed and performance

Our anecdotal day-to-day tests proved Camino 2.0 to be a very stable, quick and enjoyable browser. Pages displayed as we expected, and Ajax-heavy sites such as Facebook, Gmail and Google Wave functioned normally.

We benchmark everything, however, and found Firefox to be the technically higher-performing browser. JavaScript was processed over twice as quickly by Firefox 3.5, which is also much more compliant with modern Web standards, scoring 93/100 on the industry-standard Acid3 test, compared to Camino 2.0's 72/100.

Using the SunSpider suite of benchmarks, Camino 2.0 took 3,674ms to process all JavaScript tasks. Firefox 3.5, however, took just 1,435ms -- a 60 per cent increase in speed. Here's how this stacks up against the OS X competition.

System performance makes the debate a mixed bag. Using default configurations, with CNET UK and its sister sites GameSpot UK and Last.fm open in tabs, both Camino and Firefox used 172MB of RAM. With these open, both continually used on average between 15 and 20 per cent of the CPU (they were both processing a number of Adobe Flash objects). Firefox 3.5 occasionally spiked into the 35-45 per cent range though, whereas Camino did not.

Conclusion

Google's Chrome may come along and steal Camino's thunder with its speed and extensions, but for those of you who don't care, and don't want Firefox for whatever reason, Camino is a highly recommendable alternative to Safari. And if you've been looking for the most OS X-like browsing experience that wasn't built by Apple, this is it -- and it's awesome.

You can download it for free now at CaminoBrowser.org.