Stainless Review: A Fresh Take on the Browser

Stainless 0.6.5




Mesa Dynamics
- Incredibly fast
- Light, minimal design
- Unique independant tab features
- Doesn't play nice with Spaces
- Lacks migration wizard
- No fully fleshed bookmark manager

StainlessStainless came into the world as a technology demo meant to show off features touted by Google Chrome, but has blossomed into a fully-functional, handsome, minimalist browser. For the past week I’ve been test driving Stainless as my default web browser (though, you don’t yet have the option to make this browser your default). I’ve come back slightly surprised, and found that I liked it more than I thought I would.

Stainless is the brainchild of the small software company Mesa Dynamics, initially meant more as a proof than a product. Mesa wrote the browser simply to demonstrate a multiple-process web browser similar to Google Chrome, but the app has since flourished due to fan demand into a full fledged web browser.

Stainless utilizes the same WebKit layout rendering engine used by Apple’s Safari browser and Google’s Chrome browser, but has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Stainless has a unique feature called parallel sessions, which allows users to log into the same website multiple times with different accounts in each tab. Each tab open is designed to be its own process, so that if it stops responding, it doesn’t crash the entire browser. I noticed a number of subtle features in the course of using Stainless that really stuck out. One being that when you search for text on a page (Cmd+F), it searches on each page you click to afterwards automatically, something neither Safari or Firefox do. It was incredibly useful when looking for references of the same topic on multiple sites.

Stainless has a useful minimalist interface

I see the app’s main feature as it’s simplicity. Stainless gives all the screen real estate to the web page, rather than cluttering it with it’s own icons and menus. The simple 3-button control bar, address/search combo bar, and thin bookmark column felt comfortable. I was surprised how much I liked the icon-only bookmark column WebKit gives the browser that zippy feel that we’ve all come to expect in Safari, though Stainless is possibly even speedier. I found in an informal speed test between the new Firefox 3.5, Safari 4, and Stainless, that it definitely edged out on top in rendering and application responsiveness.

I do have a few quipes with Stainless though. It’s obviously still a beta, but I had trouble moving the app around in Spaces, and then switching tabs in the new space. The app wanted to jump back to the originating space, so I presume that this is related to the multiple-process architecture. Also, the switch to the browser was tricky without a bookmark or settings import wizard, something I’ve come to expect from a browser if it expects me to switch.

All in all Stainless is a fantastic piece of software. It’s obviously been planned out well. It’s handsome, integrates fabulous features like parallel sessions, and Google Gears, while maintaining performance. It’s sparse, but after a few days I realized that it had everything you NEED in a browser, nothing more, and nothing less. In the Mac world right now I’d call Safari the flashy browser, Firefox the extendible browser, Stainless the speedy browser, and Chrome the vaporware browser. If you’re waiting for Chrome, Stainless provides an excellent preview of what to expect.


52 Responses to “Stainless Review: A Fresh Take on the Browser”

  1. Christiaan on July 13th, 2009 7:42 am

    Didn’t work for me. Tried logging into with two different accounts in two different tabs but couldn’t. One would simply follow the other.

  2. Libby on July 13th, 2009 9:01 am

    @Christiaan, you need to log into your accounts in “Single Session” tabs (Shift-Command-T) not regular tabs. Regular tabs in Stainless function just like tabs in any browser (meaning they share the same session).

  3. Lucky on July 13th, 2009 9:43 am

    By that definition, Google Chrome is not even close to being vaporware. I’ve been using it for a few weeks and I’ve been using Chromium for more than 2 months.

    Yes, it’s supposed to be only for developers, but anyone can try it and it works very good and it didn’t crash on me not even once. And it’s also incredibly fast. I don’t think any browser launches as fast as Google Chrome (on the mac).

  4. Dave Ryan on July 13th, 2009 10:32 am

    @Lucky – the vaporware comment is in reference to an op/ed I wrote a few weeks ago on Google Chrome:

    Chromium isn’t an official Google project, and relies heavily on Wine in order to run in the Mac environment.

    As for Google’s developer beta, it lacks many security features, a bookmarking system, and other things that many expect to come standard in a browser. As it took them over a year to release this skimpy beta app after the official Windows release, it’s only to be expected that people are skeptical that it will come out in a reasonable time frame. According to previous statements back in January, Google was planning to have already released at least a consumer beta by now.

  5. Christiaan on July 13th, 2009 3:17 pm

    Thanks Libby.

  6. Peter Kasting on July 13th, 2009 10:22 pm

    @Dave Ryan: I am a member of the Chromium team and your comments are factually incorrect. Chromium is an open source project that was created by Google, and the majority of contributors (though not all) are Googlers. Google Chrome is built from the Chromium sources, and thus it is reasonable to look at Chromium builds to determine what the state of a potential Google Chrome release would look like. Chromium has no reliance on Wine at all; perhaps you are thinking of Crossover Chromium, which was a Wine-based release by Codeweavers (the Wine developers) last year, not by the Chromium project or Google. Crossover Chromium was not a “port” of Chromium to the Mac, it was a demonstration of the capabilities of Wine.

  7. Dave Ryan on July 13th, 2009 10:57 pm

    @peter kasting – mea culpa. I thought lucky was referencing the crossover chromium project. when people reference chromium i naturally think of crossover chromium, even though I realize there is an open source browser called chromium.

    i find it hard to differentiate chromium and chrome in my mind, when they’re both so closely related, and chromium requires users to compile the source code themselves (as there appears to be no download link on the page, only one to the source code). maybe as a member of the chromium team that’s one thing you guys could do: make a clear differentiation between the two projects if they’re supposed to be separate. it was my understanding that google created the chromium project to help them identify bugs in chrome, and encourage developers to assist them in the coding or in creating plugins.

  8. Jason on July 14th, 2009 12:14 am

    Very cool, worth it just for the single session tab. The bookmark sidebar is also very nice.

  9. Lucky on July 14th, 2009 12:45 am

    I can’t see my last comment! :( (

  10. Lucky on July 14th, 2009 12:46 am

    Maybe your blog thought I was spamming because of the many reference links. Please mark one of the possibly two comments as “Not spam”

  11. Lucky on July 14th, 2009 3:53 am

    How can you complain of something so beautiful? It’s interface is just awesome!

  12. Peter Kasting on July 14th, 2009 1:55 pm

    @Dave Ryan: Sorry it’s confusing. We wrote a blog post at that might help. From the intro paragraph:

    “Chromium is the name we have given to the open source project and the browser source code that we released and maintain at One can compile this source code to get a fully working browser. Google takes this source code, and adds on the Google name and logo, an auto-updater system called GoogleUpdate, and RLZ (described later in this post), and calls this Google Chrome.”

    So, in short, Chromium is an open-source project, and Google Chrome is a product that consists of the compiled Chromium code plus branding and a few other minor bits. This is somewhat similar to how Mozilla (the company) has a bunch of open-source code and then releases a product called Firefox that’s the compiled open-source code plus branding elements.

    The idea is that Google Chrome is effectively open-source (except for things like the official branding), and that source is “Chromium”. The two aren’t separate projects with separate codebases; the Chromium code _is_ the Google Chrome code. You are right that one hope is that non-Google developers will contribute (which they have), just as Mozilla seeks contributions from non-Mozilla employees.

    Hope that helps a little…

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