OmniWeb is now free

OmniWeb is now a free browser. I’m a huge fan. I purchased OmniWeb long ago to take advantage of this browsers powerful features. It used to cost $15, but now cost nothing as of last Wednesday.

There are many features of this browser that make it special.

OmniWeb can manually store a set of pages in a ‘workspace’ so that you can easily recall them later. For instance, I have created a named workspace with five sites I use for work; a named workspace with sites related to house hunting; and named workspaces for two different projects I’m currently researching. Handy.

It also displays thumbnail previews of open pages in a fly-out window, which is a nice way to visually navigate between sites.

The best part is that it allows you to save unique settings for individual domains. This is useful for anyone, but particularly useful in terms of accessibility. My father-in-law, for example, has bad eyesight and is not computer saavy. So I set him up with an OmniWeb workspace. All he has to do is click on his workspace, and all his favorite financial sites load. For each site, I used OW’s per-domain settings to boost text size to the largest settings possible without breaking each respective site. I also set up each of his favorite sites to open at a particular place on the page so he doesn’t have to scroll around to get to the sections he most wants to read. And I set per-site ad blocking: this feature is fine-grained enough to select blocking of known ad sizes, pop-ups, third-party sites, and/or blocked URLs. OmniWeb allows you to optimize an individual domain so you get only what you really want to see. Again, handy.

There’s a whole lot I like about OmniWeb, so I was glad to read that the browser will continue to be updated by OmniGroup (at least through version 6.0 — it’s now at 5.9). I’d like to see it go open source some day, but that’s not going to happen in the short term. By the way, the browser runs on WebKit, the same engine used by Safari.

The Omni Group also made several other apps free last week, including the screen effects and presentation tool OmniDazzle, the memory optimization tool OmniObjectMeter, and the disk cleanup tool OmniDiskSweeper.

Choose your browser

I’ve long wished for a flexible, well-integrated tool that would give me complete control over browser choice when opening links. A couple of new applications now in public beta meet this need quite well.

Choosy

ChoosyThe first is a preference pane application called Choosy from developer George Brocklewurst. Once you make Choosy your default browser, you can then use this tool to direct links to the browser of your choice. Choosy can serve up only browsers that are currently running, or it can offer up all browsers regardless of whether or not they are open. You can also arrange your selected browsers in order of priority via the preference pane and choose an option called ‘use best open browser.’ This will open up the link, as expected, in an open browser that is highest up on your prioritized list. I settled on the option to have Choosy present me with a choice of all browsers, regardless of whether or not the browsers are running (this option presents a nice floating menu similar to what you see with the familiar command-tab). It looks the developer has big plans for this little app: check out his development roadmap. He hasn’t yet announced how much Choosy will cost when it ships.

Highbrow

HighbrowThe second is called Highbrow from Helium Foot Software. This tool offers many of the same features as Choosy, but there are substantial differences (the most noticeable of which is that it’s not a preference pane). Once you place this app in your applications folder and run it, Highbrow appears in the menu bar (and automatically creates a login item without prompting…I personally prefer to be asked). Since it runs in the menu bar, Highbrow is faster than Choosy when you wish to change your default browser on the fly. The app offers three main options: you can select a default browser from a list of all of your preferred browsers; or you can choose to have your links open up in whatever browser you most recently used (something which Choosy doesn’t offer); or you can have Highbrow ask you which browser you’d like to use to open up a link (similar to Choosy, via a small floating window). Unlike Choosy, it does not offer you a choice among current open browsers. Highbrow will cost $14 (with a $12 introductory price. No details on how long this discounted price will be available once it’s released).

Which one is best?

I tested both out and decided to go with Choosy for now. While both tools do the job, I prefer the way that Choosy works invisibly in the background. It also offers more customization options in an interface that is a bit more polished than Highbrow. If you are the type of person who likes menu bar apps (my menu bar is already quite full), or prefer to manually change your default browser per user session, try Highbrow. If you prefer to select from your currently-open browsers, or always want to choose from among a user-defined list of your favorite browsers, Choosy is a nice, unobtrusive option. The good news is that you can try both out for free to see which one works best for you.

Why Bother?

Why would you want to choose your browser when opening up a link? Web development is a primary reason: it’s often useful to see how a page renders in different browsers. Beyond that, here are few other reasons I like to choose different browsers on different occasions:

Firefox plugins. Sometimes I receive a link in an email and I want to save it in Delicious. I want to send that link to Firefox in order to take advantage of my Firefox Delicious plugin. At other times, I choose FireFox to take advantage of plugins geared towards web development, such as web developer.

OmniWeb power. I often like to use OmniWeb to take advantage of some of this browsers powerful features. For example, this browser allows me to set per-page site preferences, save multiple pages into groups for easy retrieval later on, and set up search shortcuts so I can quickly search a particular website right from the search bar. I also prefer the tabbed thumbnail views of all my open pages.

Safari speed. Sometimes I choose Safari when I’m casually browsing because it’s quite fast.

Fluid. When I’m using Fluid (which I use for my work web-based email so it appears as a stand-alone browser application), I usually prefer to open up links received in my inbox with other browsers instead of in another Fluid window.

A few other apps

Here are a few other (semi) related apps worth a look:

Bookit. This is a handy advanced bookmarking application that allows you to keep all your bookmarks synchronized across all of your browsers (and across multiple computers using .Mac). It costs $12.

IC-switch. This free application sits in your menu bar and allows you to change your default browser, emailer, FTP client, and RSS reader on the fly in one location.

RCDefaultApp. This is a free preference pane that allows you to set the default applications that open for URLs, file types and extensions, and a whole lot more. It’s a must-have little management app.

Never share a user account, but if you do…

There’s an ongoing struggle in my household. I don’t want to use any names…but if it weren’t for my tireless, unrelenting efforts to keep my iMac (which is shared by one other person) free of desktop clutter, there would now be a virtual sea of files cluttering our desktop. You might never guess I was an organized person if you happened to open my sock drawer, but I keep the Mac lean and clean. The only icons I prefer to see on my desktop are mounted drives. To be fair, I drive my wife crazy (ok it’s my wife, but I won’t use her name) with some of my user habits because I can’t leave the Mac alone. I’m always installing things, deleting things, moving things, changing things … above all, I like to test out third party mac software.

So, you may ask, why on earth do we share one user account on our primary Mac? It’s not the recommended way to do business. The preferred solution is to create separate user accounts; this is more secure and it gives you the freedom to organize your own workspace just how you want it. But I maintain there is at least one scenario when a shared account makes sense ā€” when you have a Mac that always stays at home and you and one other person you completely trust are using it to share the same pool of data.

We share the same music library, the same iPhoto library … we share pretty much all of our data. For several years, we managed seperate accounts, but I grew weary of constantly dropping and dragging files and folders back and forth. We had iPhoto and iTunes set up for sharing, but this requires one to be logged in to both accounts to access the others shared photo/music content. Much of the mail we receive is for both of us. It just seemed easier to combine the two.

Would I recommend this arrangement? Again, and this is critical: only if you completely trust that one other person and you can live with different user habits on one account. For me and my wife, life is just easier using one account, despite our different organizational styles. I’d venture to guess that no one would really recommend this set up, but it’s good for us. Here are a few of the ways we make it work. Even if you don’t share an account, this list may provide you with some fresh ideas.

 

1. Admin or Standard account?

We set up our shared account up with ‘Standard’ user privileges and then created a separate Admin account. This is a good practice, even if you don’t share an account. If you want to learn more about user accounts, check out this affordable E-book from TidBITS.

2. IC-Switch and DeliBar

We prefer to use different browsers and news readers, so we use IC-Switch. This free little Menu Bar application allows us to quickly toggle between default internet applications. I also use a Menu Bar application called DeliBar that allows me to view my stored online bookmarks (via my del.icio.us account) right in my Menu Bar. I like managing and storing my bookmarks online because it enables me to access my favorites in any browser, and in any location. If you like Menu Bar items, by the way, check out this list.

3. Documents folder

We created three main subfolders within our Documents folder: one for me, one for my wife, and one for shared items such as our finances. We did the same for our Pictures folder (for those images that we do not want to manage from within iPhoto). We use color labels to easily identify our folders at a glance eā€” my folders are labeled with red, my wife’s are purple, and folders with shared documents are gray.

4. Alternate keyboard languages

Things are a bit more complicated for us because I use the Dvorak keyboard layout and my wife uses Qwerty. Solution? We set up our Mac with both languages via the ‘International’ system preference (System Preferences > International > Input Menu). We then checked the option to ‘Show the Input Menu in menu bar’ so we have a nice visual way to see what language is currently active. Finally, we established a key combination to quickly toggle between the two input languages (this option is also available in the Input Menu).

5. The Dock

I don’t really use the Dock, but my wife does. She also uses Spotlight, and I never do. I use Launchbar to launch applications and navigate around the Mac (a free alternative is QuickSilver); DragThing is my preferred ‘Dock replacement.’

6. Finder

My wife uses Finder and I use PathFinder. This works out well ā€” she can set up Finder just how she likes it and I can set up PathFinder with my personal preferences. If you’ve never tried PathFinder, by the way, give it a spin. I couldn’t live without it. Some people say, though, that it has too many features and options.

7. Web browsing

I use Firefox when I’m doing webwork and OmniWeb when I’m just having fun. My wife prefers Safari.

That’s about it. One final note: I recently downloaded the trial for a program called Hazel from NoodleSoft. This little program automates file organization, manages trash, monitors and organizes folders, and more. It’s very clever and quite easy to use. I think this may be a great new tool to help me and my wife manage our shared account.