Seeing as we've become very used to having only a few popular web browsers to choose from, it's a bit surprising to see so many new web browsers emerging in the market. My best guess for the reason is that companies are seeing the increasing role web browsers are playing, as browsers have transformed from being a gateway to a small set of basic features (email, news, weather information) to the platform that many individuals use to manage photo albums, communicate with friends, watch TV shows, run cloud applications, and pretty much depend on for any sense of normal life anymore.

With this in mind, I'd like to introduce a browser that has been around for awhile but just released a new version, called SlimBrowser. As you'll see as you read through this review, SlimBrowser has some compelling benefits, but some very significant drawbacks also.

Layout
The second SlimBrowser opens up, one thing is clear: this certainly isn't your typical browser. The metallic purple skin was the first thing to grab my attention. (If you don't like it, simply go to View/Skins/Disable Skin and it's gone.) I also noticed that the top matter (everything above the web page) was significantly larger than competing browsers--which was an instant turn-off--but SlimBrowser does let you modify what is displayed.

Starting at the top, you have the menu. The menu options are absolutely insane--there's an option to do just about everything short of bake a cookie. Moving down, the next toolbar is a row of big icons reminiscent of an Apple desktop. Many of these are the typical Back/Forward/Refresh/Stop, but there are a bunch of shortcuts to interesting functionalities that either (a) only SlimBrowser has or (b) are fairly hidden in other browsers.

Next down the line is the address bar, along with a web search bar where you can specify which site to search through. I greatly prefer the one-bar-fits-all model that Chrome uses, meaning you can type a search command or a url and the browser will be smart enough to figure out which you want. (Once you get used to that, it's hard to leave it.) Though, that's a minor inconvenience. The truly annoying thing about the search box is that no matter how many times you use it, on each new open, SlimBrowser will default to MySearch, an ugly search aggregate site. (Let's put it this way: I'd use altavista.com, mama.com, metacrawler.com, or any of those other has-beens before MySearch.)

Revision: I heard from a representative with FlashPeak and there is a a way to permanently change the Quick-Search Engine. Go to View/Toolbars/Organize Quick-Search Engines, and then you can drag or drop the order of them. Whatever you put on top will be the default on each new open

The above discussion about MySearch piggybacks on my next big complaint about SlimBrowser. The bottom toolbar in SlimBrowser is fully devoted to our new friend MySearch, in all its disgusting glory. Now, SlimBrowser had the right idea. You can pick the type of search (web, images, etc.), and you can pick the site (Google, Yahoo!, msn), customizing that search field, but SlimBrowser chooses to force all those searches through MySearch. So, even though you're searching Google images, it's still going through MySearch showing you the results of Google images on its interface.

Assuming you have all of the toolbars enabled, you'll also have a bar for Links, Favorites, Utilities, and your tabs. One of the cool things about SlimBrower is that you can, at your choosing, select to eliminate each of these toolbars, reducing the size of the top. Click the links for examples of the browser with full toolbars, what I consider an optimal interface, and the most stripped-down interface (though I kept the tab toolbar on). Yes, you can even get rid of tabs, which makes for a sort of fun hide-and-seek game when you have a bunch of invisible tabs that you're panning between.

For awhile, I thought that it was impossible to get rid of the MySearch toolbar at the bottom. But you can--it's just hidden. Go to View/Toolbars/XML Toolbars/MySearch.

View Modes
Something really unique about SlimBrowser is that it lets you view your web pages in four different modes: normal (called maximize all); cascade view, which shows the pages stacked; tile horizontally, which will put them into long rows if you only have two tabs or into boxes if you have more; and tile vertically, which will put the sites into tall columns but only works with three or less. One downside to these views is they often look buggy (sometimes one of the windows' background runs throughout the entire browser background, or it can be difficult to tell where one box starts and another begins). Fortunately, once you click on the tabs it should remedy this.

While most of the time the regular view is the best, I can see some valuable uses for the others if you need to copy information from one site to another, or if you have a very large screen and want multiple pages up at once. This is far more convenient and faster than opening multiple browser windows. Which, while we're on that topic, is an interesting thing about SlimBrowser: it won't let you open multiple windows. If you open the program again, it just brings up your existing window. And if you click to "open in a new window" on a hyperlink, it opens the link in a new tab.

After the jump, we'll talk about the overall functionality, performance, and security.

Functionality
Are you one of those people that enjoys having an insane number of customization options? Do you tinker with a new device for hours to get it set up just the way you want it? If so, SlimBrowser might be for you. In addition to being able to collapse the toolbars, SlimBrowser gives you easy access to a lot of interesting options most browsers don't give you. Here's a short list of a few I'd like to point out:

  • Download Control: Choose to have SlimBrowser not download images, play videos, play sounds, execute scripts, or more (you can take off some and leave others on). Taking off play videos and play sounds appeals to me a lot, since I typically listen to music while on the computer.
  • Quickly pull up local weather and a local map.
  • Enter a keyword and highlight all instances of it on the web page.
  • Open Internet Options setting in the Control Panel directly from the browser, in case you need to change security settings, for instance.
  • Open a short list of programs, such as Notepad and Windows Media Player. One frustrating thing is you're stuck with the five or so SlimBrowser thinks you'll want.
  • An icon to quickly open several different email clients. Again, I don't use the ones they have listed and it won't let me change it.
  • View a privacy report.
  • Full screen view, quick zoom in/out, quick font size adjustments, and a button to clear all history and cookies.

I don't doubt that most browsers can do a lot of these things, but SlimBrowser equips you with icons and quick menu options to accomplish these tasks in a click or two. It takes some time to get used to the whole layout and learn your way around, but the level of functionality is pretty neat.

One odd thing about SlimBrowser that I should note is that Cntrl + N opens a new tab, and double clicking on a tab deletes one.

FlashPeak's SlimBrowser 4.11
PROS: Has functionality other browsers don't; provides more customization to remove toolbars for a more stripped-down experience; offers unique cascade and tile views to view many tabs at once
CONS: Ugly interface; too much work for most people to customize the options; tries to force you to use MySearch search engine
RATING: 2.5 out of 5
PRICE: Free
RECOMMENDATION: If you're looking for more customization options than the average browser, SlimBrowser might be for you. But, my suspicion is that the layout will grate on you.
CONTACT: FlashPeak • www.flashpeak.com

Performance
I ran SlimBrowser, IE8, Firefox 3, and Chrome Beta 2 through the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark. The order in speed, from fastest to slowest, was: Chrome, Firefox, SlimBrowser, IE8. In my personal tests, though, the differences aren't very noticeable. SlimBrowser's speed is comparable to IE8, even if it can't compare to the slimmer browsers. (I didn't test Opera or Safari, but I'm sure they would fall close to Chrome in speed based on past experiences.)

Security
If you're used to Internet Explorer, you're going to notice a significant drop in security features, as should be expected. Aside from popup block, SlimBrowser also offers "Universal URL Filter" to web pages that you add to a list. There is also an in-page ad filter which helps eliminate flash animations, ad-banners, and floating images.

Overall
While SlimBrowser is a very interested product, a few minor flubs will keep it from attracting a wide audience. Most notably, the ugly layout and insistence on using MySearch just doesn't sit right with me. I understand that web browsers need a way to make money (Firefox using Google as your default homepage, for instance), but all the leading browsers let you switch to the search engine of your choice and save your selection. (For instance, when you download IE8, it starts out with LiveSearch as the engine to search through. But once I changed it to Google, it stayed as Google.) Being able to remove the MySearch toolbar is a big win, but you still have to reset your quick search bar every time you open the browser. (Or just set google.com as your homepage.)

But don't take my word for it. Download SlimBrowser here and try it for yourself. The extra customization and functionality is pretty exciting, and maybe you won't be bothered by the flaws as much as I am.

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