Another day, another browser. Stainless was released by Mesa Dynamics as a proof of concept. The concept? A working, less ambitious version of Google’s Chrome browser.
According to the Stainless website, it is available (for free) now simply because the project is less ambitious than the eventual version of Chrome on the Mac. Besides the fact that it doesn’t have all the robust backend features Chrome will eventually have on its Mac version, from an end-user’s perspective it’s Google’s Chrome browser in all its speed and simplicity.
Stainless runs on Mac OS X Leopard — but only Leopard. Tiger enthusiasts may have to hang tight for Google’s eventual Mac release or use the variety of other browsers (Firefox, Safari) available.
Chrome and Stainless have a lot in common. At first glance, both browsers have almost identical streamlined interfaces. There is little to no clutter on the screen. The tabs line up at the top of the screen without menus maximizing web space. New tab windows are created by a little plus sign on the browser menu.
Stainless is a very stripped down browser. For evidence of this, look no further than the preferences panel. There are literally two options: A pulldown menu to designate what will open on startup — a welcome page or a home page of your choosing. The other option allows you to choose a default search from the address bar.
It does combine the address book with search, a feature now typical in all new browsers. Whether you call it the awesome bar (Firefox) or Quick Find (Opera) or whatever, the search and address fields are becoming more and more the same thing in all browsers.
There are plenty of proof of concept (read: alpha) issues too. Flash 9 is installed and video runs smoothly, but support for other plug-ins and add-ons are out. The major stopping block to making Stainless your default browser is it has no download manager, and therefore, no way to download anything.
It takes a bit more memory per tab than, say, Firefox, but it makes those tabs a fortress onto their own. If one tab breaks, it doesn’t take the browser down with it. When a tab is closed, the memory for the tab is freed.
The company and its multi-process design was inspired not only by Chrome, but also on a web-wrapper application called Hypercube. Hypercube is able to take widgets, gadgets and Flash movies from the web to your desktop. The way Hypercube is structured, running each widget on a different process, inspired the company to try out a browser.
Stainless joins another Chrome look-alike on the Mac scene, Codeweaver’s Crossover Chromium. Unlike Stainless, Crossover Chromium actually runs the Windows version of Chrome on a Mac desktop, albeit very slowly.
Taking a step back, the benefits of a streamlined browser like Stainless, or even Chrome, is it doesn’t make any promises. It won’t email or clutter things with buttons or programs you’re not sure of. It is stable as an application can be. Stainless adheres to this idea, ensuring all tabs run its own processes.
What this browser is, even if you consider it was not made to be taken seriously, is a bare bones window to the internet. A browser and a search bar and not much else. Perhaps this is what everyone really needs to allow the features of web applications speak for themselves. Speed and stability is important, but in this case, I doubt it. If Stainless is an indication of the future of open-source browsers, expect many more third-party browsers running off of existing rendering technology.
Luckily, because most of these new browsers will be working off of existing open-source rendering code, web developers will only have to work for the underlying rendering engines, and not the browsers themselves. For example, even if there are 100 Webkit-based browsers, I only need one Webkit-enabled webpage for them all.
Besides, it’s not likely these alternative browsers are going to get much traction. The jury isn’t out yet, but in spite of a first month spike in browser usage across the web, Chrome hasn’t taken much market share from its Windows competitor Internet Explorer or its runner-up Firefox. It is not like Chrome rip-offs like Stainless will do the same for Mac users either.