Raven Browser: A Review

When it comes to choosing a web browser on OS X, there are no shortage of options. Many of these options have different rendering engines — some work better than others.

The three most popular browsers in terms of marketshare are as follows:

  1. Safari
  2. Firefox
  3. Chrome

Of course there are other options as well, however these browsers serve a much smaller niche. The browser I am going to discuss today is a relatively new up-and-comer. Raven browser is an interesting option built off of Webkit — the same rendering engine that powers Safari and Chrome. If you ignore Raven’s unique feature set, it should at least perform on par with Safari in terms of pure javascript and rendering performance.

At the time of this writing, I’m using Safari 5.1.2 on OS X 10.7.2. The build of Raven I tested was 0.7.14460 beta.

My intention for this piece is not to purely compare performance, but to focus on some of the unique aspects of Raven. That being said, I’ll offer some javascript benchmark results from SunSpider so you can see the differences between Raven and Safari.

Performance: SunSpider 0.9.1 JavaScript Benchmark Results

SunSpider benchmark

When I ran the SunSpider benchmark in Raven, it took less than 30 seconds for it to complete, however I ran into a peculiar issue when running that very same benchmark in Safari. In Safari, it took well over two minutes to complete. The only reason for the discrepancy that I can conclude is that Raven is using a newer version of Webkit — which not only performs slightly better, but doesn’t have the same bug that caused the benchmark to take so long on Safari.

User Interface and Design

When you first launch Raven, you will notice that all too familiar Tweetie-esque sidebar that Loren Brichter made famous. Unfortunately, this design is now so pervasive among many OS X apps that it’s completely annoying. Perhaps some people will like this — as for myself I find it irritating and a complete turn off.


Putting the design choices made by the developers aside, the most interesting aspect to Raven is the notion of installing web apps inside the browser. Similar to how you can install web apps in Google Chrome, Raven has a small selection of installable apps in their Web App Shop that you can quickly add. The selection is growing, and in the future they plan on opening it up to allow user submissions.

Once apps are installed, they show up in the sidebar on the left, and you can easily switch between them with a simple keyboard shortcut.

Uninstalling web apps is as simple as going into your Library and clicking on the “X” to remove it — which happens to be just the way you uninstall apps in Launchpad on Lion or on iOS.

One of the interesting things that web apps in Raven do is put dedicated links to specific features of that webpage in the sidebar. For example, after I had installed the iCloud web app, it gave me separate icons in the sidebar for Mail, Calendar, Contacts and iWork. If you were to use iCloud via the web in Safari, you would need to open separate browser tabs to do the same thing, where as this becomes built-in Raven. The main advantage is that you may always want to have certain web apps accessible in your browser. With Safari, it’s easy to accidently close a tab that you were in, so this is something I think a lot of people will appreciate.


Let’s keep in mind that Raven is still in its infancy. The beta label should be a very clear warning that it’s far from feature complete — a good example being on Lion how you can’t use swipe left/right gestures to go back/forward between webpages. In addition to missing gestures, If you simply poke around in the apps preferences, you will find some things non-accessible as they have yet to be fully implemented. To name a few major missing components: cookie management and the ability to change the default search engine.

I still plan on sticking with Safari for daily use, but Raven is definitely interesting and fun to use for a brief period of time. I imagine some may like it enough to switch from Safari, so long as those same people don’t rely on browser extensions. Since I’m a heavy 1Password user, I can’t use Raven as my main browser since it lacks any sort of extensions platform. Apparently this shortcoming is going to be resolved in the near future, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on the apps development.