When people learn that I am into vintage Macs and systems and that I still use Macs that are, like, 15 years old, they usually start asking me for tips and suggestions. Maybe they have this old Mac around and would like to put it to good use, and that’s a very fine idea in my book. If their Mac is capable enough to allow for Web browsing, the most common question they ask me is What browser would you recommend?
For the purpose of this post, I’m assuming we’re talking about a not-too-old Macintosh. Although it’s possible to browse the Web even on machines like the black & white compact Macs, the experience is very likely to be frustrating for a number of reasons: limited screen estate (a 9″ display with a screen resolution of 512×342 pixels is tiny), lack of support of modern standards and technologies in the browser (leading to pages horribly rendered and with a lot of missing content), limited processing power and RAM (resulting in low speeds and poor performance), and so on.
For a decent Web experience, I think your vintage Mac should be equipped with a colour display, have a screen resolution of at least 640×480 (though it really should be 800×600), have a fairly capable CPU and a good amount of RAM. For the CPU, I suggest it should have a PowerPC processor, although I have witnessed decent rendering speeds on a Quadra 950 (with the Motorola 68040 at 33 MHz) and a Quadra 840AV (with the Motorola 68040 at 40 MHz). Speaking of RAM, as always the motto is “the more, the better”. Just to give you a real example, I can browse the Web rather satisfactorily with my PowerBook 5300, which has a 100 MHz PowerPC processor, a 10.4″ display with 800×600 screen resolution (thousands of colours), and 64 MB RAM.
Now we can talk about browsers. For those using System 7.5 to Mac OS 8.x, my usual recommendation has always been iCab. It’s a good performer and not too memory-hungry, which is always a good thing with vintage Macs. If RAM isn’t an issue, the other candidates would be the usual suspects, Netscape Communicator 4.x and Internet Explorer 4.x or 5. I especially like Netscape because it gives you the whole package (browser, email & newsgroup client, etc.). With Mac OS 8.6 to 9.2.2 and a generous amount of RAM, one can consider the more modern Mozilla 1.2.1 (check here) or, even better, Classilla.
Who knows why I’ve always left Opera out of the picture. A short guide to which Opera version goes with which Mac OS system version is as follows:
OS X Panther (10.3) or higher on an Intel- or PowerPC-based system.
OS X Panther (10.3) or higher on an Intel- or PowerPC-based system. OS X Jaguar (10.2) is believed to work, but is officially unsupported.
OS X Jaguar (10.2) or higher on a PowerPC-based system.
OS X Puma (10.1) or higher on a PowerPC-based system.
OS 9 or higher on a PowerPC-based system.
OS 7.5-OS 9 on a PowerPC-based system (Opera 5 will not run on OS X).
[Source: System Requirements for Opera for Mac]
Versions 9.27 to 10.10 of Opera are available for download at this page. Older versions can be found in the Opera archive. Opera 5 on my PowerBook 5300 is not so bad. It’s a little more demanding in terms of RAM and the browser experience feels sluggish at times, compared to iCab, but Opera 5 renders better because it handles CSS better. Web pages tend to be prettier and more accurate under Opera. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs.
Opera is a very good choice especially if you have a Mac with at least a G3 processor and therefore capable of running Mac OS X. Last night I realised that the latest stable version of Opera (10.10) still supports Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. It’s the only major browser out there which doesn’t have Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger as a minimum system requirement. I downloaded and installed it on my blueberry iBook G3/300 with 288 MB RAM and runs surprisingly well. It’s rather smooth and snappy and if you’re still on Panther because your Mac can’t run Tiger, I think it’s the best choice. Opera has also really improved as regards to speed and Mac-likeness of its UI. It’s definitely more pleasant to use than in the past. Of course, two other browsers that still do fine under Mac OS X 10.3 are Safari and Camino. If your Mac has Mac OS X 10.3.9 installed, the latest versions supported are 1.3.2 for Safari, and 1.6.10 for Camino.
But remember to take Opera into consideration. You may be surprised.