iCab: Why Bloat When You Can Float?
Feb 22, 1999
Some of you may already have heard of iCab, the latest web-browser to enter the market. iCab is a German-language web-browser created by Alexander Clauss. It's lean, it's fast — very fast, it's packed with features, and it's created for the Power Mac.
The preview version of iCab has only last weekend been released in English, thanks to the combined efforts of Cari Burstein and Robert Sixkiller along with the help of some German speakers on IRC and the Computer Science Undergraduate Association at Berkeley and AltaVista's babelfish.altavista.com web translator. An official English version from iCab's developers is said to be available a couple of weeks from now, so look out for it if you want to skip the unofficial English version for now.
As Cari Burstein writes of his English translation of iCab:
Note: This is an imperfect and only semi-complete translation of various menus and dialogs in iCab to English. It was done mostly thanks to Alta Vista's translator and the help of a few German speaking friends. Use this to tide you over until the official translated version is available, but this does not come from the author and is in no way an official release of the product.
Cari D. Burstein
Fair enough, Cari.
As you might expect, there are still traces of German here and there as this is essentially a quick-and-dirty fix. But even without the English version of the original iCab help file, you should still pretty much get by without too much difficulty.
Although still some way to go towards being a final product, the preview version of iCab already rivals the two established browsers, Netscape Communicator and Internet Explorer, because it manifestly demonstrates you can have a fast and fully-featured web-browser without turning it into some memory-gorging bloatware.
iCab weighs in at under 2MB, and can run with as little as 1.3MB of allocated memory! Even so, it still allows you to send out emails, though you can't receive any from within iCab.
For less than the application size and memory requirement you would need for even Netscape Navigator 2.02, iCab is remarkably svelte, and improves on Navigator 2.02 to the extent that a comparison seems unfair to Navigator 2.02. But it is this very point that must be remembered when comparing iCab to the big guns: Communicator and Explorer.
iCab has a graphical user-interface that is adequate and quite pleasant to look at, even if it may be less interactive than the other two browsers. The button icons are rendered fairly elegantly and serve most functions you would need frequent access to. Pull-down menus are laid out slightly differently than the two established browsers, but you'll get used to them in no time.
iCab supports Mac OS 8.5, including such features as Navigation Services, Appearance Themes, and proportional scrollbars.
Bookmarks are referred to in iCab as the Hotlist, as opposed to Favorites in Explorer, and Bookmarks in Communicator. The first time you start up iCab, you're given a choice to import your bookmarks either from Explorer or Communicator.
As for installing iCab, it actually requires none. After you've downloaded the compressed iCab archive (just 812K!) and expanded it, a folder containing the iCab browser application within plus two other text documents is created. Just double-click the iCab icon and you're ready to go, with no restart required. Faster than even Explorer, if you ask me. The other great thing about iCab is that it doesn't dump any stuff into your System Folder aside from the iCab Preferences folder, somewhat similar to Communicator.
Like both Communicator and Explorer, iCab has very comprehensive preference settings, making it as highly configurable as those two. In addition, it includes features that neither has at present:
- In Preferences, You can specify the search-engines to be used when iCab conducts a search on the Internet, and launch a search on the Internet with the Find command under the Edit menu.
- You can specify an expiry period for your browser cache, so that older — and possibly outdated — cache files are automatically deleted when the expiry period is up. Speaking of cache, iCab organizes your cache in a rather interesting way; it creates a series of folders spanning the entire alphabet within its cache folder, and places the individual cache files into these folders in some hidden order. These files, as in Communicator, are retrievable and remain identifiable by their extensions and icons.
In some respects, iCab appears to be modeled after Internet Explorer:
- It maintains a record of sites you've previously visited, even if you've quit iCab.
- It allows you to download web pages as complete archives, that is, including all images or sounds embedded within the pages.
- It can autocomplete your URLs and forms for you .
- Editing your bookmarks in iCab is very convenient. All you do is click open the Hotlist window and edit the entries directly.
What's Not So Cool
The interpretation of HTML into what you actually see onscreen is at times clunky. However, I've realized that the simpler the layout of the page is, the less likely this seems to be a problem; tables in particular appear to be a source of problems when viewed in iCab. This is not to say that it's the problem with iCab as most sites I've viewed in iCab with less specific page-formatting (read: more latitude) will still look okay. And so, as was my previous observation of Explorer, my feeling is that iCab is less flexible than Communicator is in permitting deviations from the norms of HTML. (It even has an error log that records bad codes!)
iCab doesn't appear to use the same default settings as either Communicator or Explorer does, so even common tags like <blockquote> or <p> and <br> can behave differently at best, or erratically at worse. Hence iCab as it is can be a potential headache if you need to have a pixel-perfect layout, as using the inappropriate tags can cause your page to go awry. (As it is, Explorer's interpretation of simple HTML is erratic enough to give me unexpected problems sometimes in laying out this website.)
Cool Or Not — Depending On Your Point Of View
The contextual pop-up menus you've grown accustomed to in Communicator and Explorer are available in iCab as well. You can opt either to Control-click or to hold down your mouse button to activate the pop-up menu in the preference settings. Speaking of the popup menu, there are several options to choose from, and you can even save background images directly, while a "Links" option lists out all the links on the page you're on in the event you wish to quickly skim through the links that are available.
This next feature of iCab is highly controversial: iCab can selectively filter out images, either by dimensions or by the URLs they are linked to, and stop them from loading. This is ostensibly to prevent the majority of banner ads from appearing while at the same time allowing other images to load.
To give you an example, you could filter out images measuring 468 x 60 pixels (which is the standard size of banner ads found on websites) and stop them from loading, or you could filter out images that are linked to servers or to URLs that contain words like "doubleclick.net" or "click.cgi" or "/ads/" in them. And you can configure any such parameters as you like in iCab's preferences.
When All Is Said And Done...
Despite being a fledgling, iCab is a much-needed wake-up call to both Netscape and Microsoft that something is terribly wrong with the way they are creating browsers these days. With considerably less baggage than these two heavyweight browsers, iCab still manages to offer a plethora of features rivaling both and run as fast if not faster than either. In terms of stability, it's still too early to say, although I can tell you that iCab hasn't once froze nor crashed on me yet. (Explorer, by comparison, does it with clockwork regularity.)
I'll have to tell you I once had the inclination to write a short article challenging Netscape to take a couple of steps back to see how they could have proceeded from Navigator 2.02 differently. Well, the answer to that appears to be iCab.
This nifty German product might have come in late as a contender in the ongoing browser war, but once it smoothens out its rough edges, you can be sure it'll be ready to stage a challenge for some serious market share.
As always, any user feedback is welcome.
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