Arguably, part of the elegance of Safari comes from the lack of plugins and customizability, though Saft is a must have to get some of the standard features touted by competing browsers: such as full-screen browsing and resuming sessions after a crash.
Safari has, however, come under fire for sub-par phishing protection.
Based on the new Gecko 1.9 rendering engine, Firefox 3 also boasts native look and feel on the Mac, but for some occasional bling. Now that the important plugins all support this version of the browser, there’s no reason to keep hold of Firefox 2 anymore, unless you are a web developer checking site renders in several browsers.
Firefox’s strength is the enormous variety of plugins and themes available to tailor it to your tastes. It does feel a lot slower than Safari, and seems to take up more memory when you keep a lot of tabs open. Even so, I can’t imagine developing a website without firebug!
It also supports EV SSL to help keep you safe from phishers.
Originally built on the old Gecko 1.8.1 rendering engine, Camino raison d’etre was to provide a more mac-like browsing experience with the flexibility of Firefox. Camino is still in active development, with regular point releases, the latest of which is also based on the new Gecko 1.9 base used by Firefox 3.
Due to the enormous improvements in Gecko 1.9 on Mac OS X, there doesn’t seem to be much left to differentiate between the two. Camino is somewhat lighter and consequently might be a hair faster. Camino supports most firefox extensions, though you can get more Camino specific themes and extension at PimpMyCamino.com. It’s largely a matter of taste, which one you happen to prefer.
Historically, Opera has always been a bit of an ugly duckling on Mac OS X, but like Firefox its most recent release has a much more Mac like look and feel. As a consequence, it runs a lot smoother and faster than it used to; subjectively speaking, it seems to render quite a lot faster than Firefox 3, though not so fast as Safari (according to my very unscientific tests).
Even if you’ve had a bad experience with Opera in the past, the new release is worth a look. You might even end up prefering it to the competition…
Flock is another browser that has begun to move to the newer Gecko 1.9 engine used in Firefox 3 with it’s recent 2.0 beta releases. Billed as “The Social Browser”, at first it seems like a lot of fun to have a seemingly always on connection to all the social media sites you frequent. But after the novelty has worn off, the interface feels too busy and cluttered, and it doesn’t really bring me anything I can’t do with some bookmarks and a couple of plugins for Firefox 3.
In comparison with Firefox’s “live bookmarks”, and Safari’s dreadful builtin RSS reader, Flock’s builting RSS reader does offer some improvements, yet as a heavy user of Google’s reader, it still doesn’t make the grade in my eye.
In it’s favor, Flock does provide some nice features for bloggers, even in the stable release. But nothing ground-breaking enough to make me want to mess with my current workflow.
I haven’t tried to cover X11 browsers like epiphany, paid for browsers like OmniWeb, or kooky niche browsers like w3m or lynx. Even so, Mac users have got a great selection of quality free browsing software to choose from. And competition is good, so the forerunners will certainly keep trying to outpace one another!
If I didn’t mention the killer feature of your favorite, or missed out a modern free mac browser altogethr, do please set me straight in the comments!