App of the Week: Raven Browser
It seems that the world of internet browser is growing more and more daring. A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Sleipnir browser’s release for Mac, which had a very surprising twist to the browser interface, specifically where tabs and the URL bar were concerned. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying out the newest beta Mac browser on the scene, called Raven. Like so many new upstart browsers to the scene, this one runs on the Webkit engine, the same one that powers Safari and Chrome. As such, most browser testing sites see Raven as Safari. That being said, it feels very light, fairly responsive, and only takes up a little over 7 megabytes.
What first sticks out at you when you first run Raven is the left sidebar, called the SmartBar. You can install into Raven what are called webapps, which really are nothing more than glorified versions of websites. However, where other browsers like Firefox and Chrome simply let you pin the tab,
when you install a Raven webapp, it really acts like an app. For example, if I install the Facebook app, upon subsequent opening, the app’s icon opens up to reveal quick access to my news feed, messages, friend requests, and calendar. Likewise, other apps have appropriate shortcuts that open up under the app’s icon. If you navigate away from the webapp, you’ll see a a small little light to the right of the icon, much like the OSX dock, to show that the app is still running. These webapps are different from tabs. The tabs are found at the top, just under the URL box. But just like Safari, the tabs are hidden until you have multiple open tabs, or you re-enable them. The tabs also aren’t open in every webapp; so if I open a link in a new tab on my Facebook webapp, and then switch to the YouTube webapp, I won’t see those tabs anymore until I switch back to the Facebook app. Depending on who you are, this may be annoying or convenient, I however did not find it all that distracting. Also, most links opened from outside sources, such as a mail client, will open in the main app, which just looks like the Raven logo at the top of the Smartbar. It is also from this tab that you can easily access your history, downloads, and bookmarks.
Bookmarks also are treated a little differently in Raven. Bookmarks are organized as bookmarks and favorites. Confused? Favorites are websites that you might visit frequently. Bookmarks, are websites that you want to have for reference later or to read the articles on later. It seems a bit of an odd choice to do so, but then again many people have done this before. If you do bookmark a lot of items to be read later, you can link Raven to an Instapaper account so that you can read it later from there. Raven takes a page from Apple’s book, and then makes it better. Raven gives you a visual history of your web activity in a two-paned window style. One pane shows the link and the headers of said links that you clicked. Once you click on one of them, the second page shows you the page itself as when you visited it. I find this nicer than Safari’s visual history because it gives a nice chance to read over the page, so you don’t have to open a whole new tab if you just want to reread an article or quote a small portion of it.
The control bar, which is the main bar of the browser, also has some interesting features. On the left side of the URL/search bar, you have the standard back, forward, and home buttons, but also the add bookmark button. Here you can add the current page to either your bookmarks or favorites. On the other side of the URL/search bar, is the favorites button, for quick access to your favorites, a tab reveal button that will hide of show all your open tabs in the current window, and a mobile view switcher. I find it strange that the favorite button and the add bookmark are not closer to each other. The mobile view button allows you to switch the current webpage from a desktop browser mode, to a mobile mode that you would see on a smartphone or tablet, including the width. I can see this being handy for people testing websites, but I found the idea buggy when trying to exit mobile view. Sometimes it took a restart of the browser to fully exit mobile mode.
if I want. And while Raven does have a rudimentary Ad-blocker, there are still several ads that it still seems to miss. This also relates somewhat to download. Raven automatically sends and downloaded files straight to your Downloads folder. While this isn’t necessarily bad, I prefer that it pops up a notification asking at least if I want to download the file. Once I was on a merely reading a forum when it automatically started downloading a file. What that file was, I don’t know, but that is a security flaw to me if there were any chance of getting some Mac malware or unwanted crapware on my system. The browser, like most beta browsers do, also does not support links opening the browser from an outside source. So if Raven is closed and I try to open a link from my Twitter feed, I have to click the link once to open the browser, and a second time once Raven is open to actually open the link. One last request would be the addition of notification badges in the webapps, that way I could know if something important changed on the page without always flipping to it (say like a notifications badge for Facebook, new tweets badge for Twitter, etc.).
The browser is still in beta, so it would be no surprise that most of these issues should be resolved with future updates before the final version is released. It is worth the try and is a step in the right direction, but I wouldn’t recommend using this browser just yet for work or for any sensitive web browsing. Raven is a free download from raven.io and runs on Mac OS 10.6 and 10.7 (Snow Leopard and Lion). And If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com You can also check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen. You can also check out my Google Plus Page at https://plus.google.com/107817518299218190319. Thanks!