Web browsers are a bit like fridges. They do one simple job and, no matter how many gadgets and widgets and doodads and thingummybobs you hang on them, they will always just be there to keep your beer cold in one case, and let you at the contents of the world wide web in the other.
We've always found it a bit odd that people are prepared to enter into heated discussions about their favourite flavour of web browser. It's a bit like being passionate about a breakfast cereal, or your favourite type of pencil.
Mac users have been well served in the past with Apple's Safari, which is fast, simple, stable and doesn't constantly nag you to use the company's products and services. It can, however, be a little flaky with some complex sites. The content management system that we use refuses point blank to have anything to do with Safari, for example.
In such cases, most Macolytes will turn to Mozilla's Firefox. The fact that most Mac users would rather just not use the internet at all than have to resort to Microsoft's bloated, overcomplicated and self-serving mess of a browser is testament either to their convictions, or their stupidity. We'll let you decide.
There are, of course, dozens of other Mac-friendly web browsers out there and the comments section is bound to be full of people howling with derision because we have failed to mention Opera or Sunrise or Seamonkey or Camino or Flock any of the other also-rans, but for our purposes here we are going to discount them as niche offerings made by and aimed at beardy geeks.
As far as we are concerned there are only three contenders for the King of the Browsers crown: Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer. And since it is quite clear that anyone willing to besmirch their beloved Mac with Internet Explorer is almost certainly clinically insane, we are down to just two.
The third way
Since Tuesday, however, there has been a third viable alternative in the form of Google's Chrome for OS X. It's not quite clear why the company that has dominated the whole internet search canon for so many years that Yahoo is just a distant memory took so long to come up with its own browser. But the Wintel version has been knocking about as a stable release for just under a year and, with the entire source code for Chrome released into the wild as an open-source project called Chromium soon after, Linux and OSX versions were eagerly anticipated.
There have been developer builds of Chrome for OS X kicking around for some time now, but Google has finally bitten the bullet and released an official beta which, although incomplete, gives a flavour of what to expect if the software ever makes it to a full version. And let's face it, Google is well known for dragging its heels when it comes to losing the beta label on most of its offerings. Having said that, Google is promising to upgrade the beta release to 'stable' by 12 January.
Having used Chrome on our Mac Pro for a couple of days now, what is becoming clear is that the current release probably doesn't deserve the lofty status of beta, feeling very much more like an alpha, not least because some pretty large chunks of the software's functionality is missing.
Despite the fact that there are over 300 plug-ins - or extensions as Google is calling them - available for Windows users, so far the Mac faithful have been left out in the cold, despite the fact that they were included in the developer versions. Also missing from the beta release are a working bookmark manager, the ability to view PDF files, bookmark synchronisation and 64-bit support.
Owners of older Macs will also be disappointed to find that the release is Intel only, not least because there is no port of the Google Native Client which only works on x86 systems. Given that it took over a year to develop this version, the chances of a PowerPC port are, quite frankly, slim to none.