Why Camino

Posted in Camino, Life at 5:07 pm by

I’ve had this post half-written in some form, picking up dust, in my Drafts collection for quite some time now. I was afraid I would have to pick it up after Colin’s post about making Mac Firefox not suck hit the airways, but it’s actually been unnecessary (although I’m doing it anyway, since it’s still an opportune moment to say most of what I wanted to say on the subject of Camino).

Why did I have this half-drafted? For about as long as I’ve been associated with the Camino project, any time there is a big post or thread somewhere about what’s wrong with Firefox on the Mac, there are always a large number of people who suggest things like “Mozilla should just discontinue Camino and focus on Firefox” or “Camino developers should go work on Mac Firefox” or the like, implying that Camino is somehow a millstone around the neck of Mac Firefox development. (They’re also implying that Mozilla has control over Camino or its developers, which is not the case at all.)

For the first time, this hasn’t happened. I’ve seen far more posts along the lines of “Mozilla should just scrap Firefox and rename Camino” or “Add extensions to Camino and kill Firefox” (as well as a comment asserting that Camino’s built-in ad-blocking is better than Firefox’s, even with AdBlock installed; it’s quite flattering, although I’m not sure even I could agree that the assertion is true). There has been a subtle, but significant, shift, in how Camino is perceived by the world at large, and that’s why I don’t really need to dust off that old post (in fact, by the time this is done, it will be a significantly different post).

So, why, then, does Camino exist, why do I use it, and why do I volunteer for the Camino Project?

First, some history. In the dark days of yore, there was Mozilla (and before that, Netscape Communicator). It was an “internet application” that was all things to all people and claimed to handle your entire internet experience (web browsing, email, newsgroups, HTML authoring, chatting, baking cookies, etc.). Mozilla was based upon a cross-platform framework, from the rendering engine (what draws the web pages) right up to the user interface. And while Mozilla was really good at drawing web pages, it was pretty bad at doing everything else, especially on the Mac. Enter Camino (well, Chimera, in February 2002), a Mac-only, browser-only product, designed to be fast and to look and feel like a Mac app, using real Mac UI elements, not a “cross-platform app” (which really means a Windows app, when you get right down to it).

As a footnote to this history lesson, several months after Chimera 0.1 appeared on Mac OS X, Phoenix (later Firefox) 0.1 appeared for Windows and Linux, with similar goals: make a fast, browser-only app for Windows and Linux, but continue to use the cross-platform user interface. Firefox was not available for Mac OS X until Firebird 0.6 in May 2003.

Why do I use Camino? A good number of these are the same as why I volunteer for the Camino Project, so I’ll treat them together. First and foremost, Camino is a Mac app, through and through. Not even “Mac-first,” but “Mac-only.” Camino is built by people who make Mac software; some of them have even been writing Mac web browsers since before Mozilla existed! The team cares about how every pixel looks, the content of every context menu, and every integration point with the rest of the Mac OS X universe (even if sometimes there are compromises with time and resources—that’s the only reason there’s no .Mac sync yet :-( in Camino, for just one example). There’s no requirement that something look or work the same way as it does on Windows or Linux in case people use several different operating systems. Again, we’re Mac users. ;-) There’s no corporate agenda behind development; we get to build a browser which meets our own goals—which haven’t changed since 2002: a fast, lightweight, Mac-only, browser-only application that absolutely feels like it was made for Mac OS X. (Not “made by Apple,” but made for “Mac OS X;” there’s a significant difference there. In fact, as I‘ve mentioned before, we’re the browser for people whose initials are not “SJ.”)

So Camino doesn’t have every possible feature for every possible audience, but it is still powerful software. It’s very scalable and grows with you as your needs grow. Out-of-the-box, Camino is set up to do the things everyone wants it to do (except for blocking ads, because this feature works imperfectly and can break sites, so a user needs to make a conscious choice to enable it), but if you want Camino to use tabs, or to make links that would open new windows open new tabs instead, there are preferences for those (the latter coming in the next release, code-named ☃). But Camino’s feature set is not overwhelming at first use; it just works, and it scales well to advanced users as they need features. By comparison, other browsers targeted at “Everyman Mac User” have limited feature sets or have tons of features exposed right in your face. By contrast, the tabbed browsing preferences in ☃ are a thing of beauty (thanks Stuart!).

Gecko is the world’s most compatible and most standards-compliant rendering engine; it’s also big (try being either of those things alone and you end up big!) and there are some annoying Mac-only bugs, like crappy font rendering in some cases, but Gecko is still a strength. It’s fast—maybe not WebKit nightlies fast, but fast enough—and I don’t know of a single site I’ve encountered personally that didn’t work with Gecko. And Camino is the best-looking Gecko-based browser in existence. ;)

Finally, I (and I think I can safely speak for other Camino developers here) work on Camino because I love it and because Camino is a great browser. We don’t work on it because we want to make everyone happy, or have the most users, or take over the world. We don’t work on Camino because we’re paid (aside from the occasional Summer of Code student, no one is getting paid to work specifically on Camino); we’re a small band of volunteers working on something we love. Going back to the beginning, when in the past people used to suggest “Mozilla should discontinue Camino” in favor of Firefox—even if Mozilla could do that, it doesn’t mean the Camino Project volunteers would go work on Firefox; we wouldn’t.

Why is there a Camino? If “Why Camino” hasn’t explained it sufficiently yet, then let me end with something from someone who has written more browsers than any other person on the planet, father of Camino, co-founder of Firefox, author of tabbed browsing in Mozilla, and Safari/WebKit hacker extraordinaire, Dave Hyatt:

“Let 100 browsers bloom. Let 100 schools of thought contend. Separately. :)


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