Sunrise: WebKit-Based Indie Web Browser

The Sunrise browser has been around for two or three years, but I never paid it much attention. It was pitched as a browser for web developers, and I’m not one, but being something of a browser junkie, the recent release of version 1.7.5 finally enticed me give Sunrise a look. I’m glad I did. This is an interesting browser.

Sunrise uses Apple’s Webkit rendering engine. It’s compact — a 1.1 MB download, and 2.4 MB expanded — but with an amazingly deep feature set, considering its tiny footprint. Highlights include thumbnail bookmarks displaying image and title, window fader and auto-resize functions with which the main window can be made transparent and/or resized from a toolbar command, with all open web pages assuming the revised screen resolution. A button cycles through 640×480, 800×600, 1024×768, and full-screen sizes. You can change a page view size from 10 percent to 400 percent using a convenient  toolbar pull-down menu, without a page reload.

You can configure your favorite search engine for the Sunrise search field, and the View Source command displays web page sources in your favorite editor. Files can be downloaded by inputting their URLs.

Another handy Sunrise feature is creating PDF files from web pages via a keystroke using the Page Shot feature.

What’s Sunrise like to use?

First the good stuff. Setup is simple. Decompress the disk image and drag the application to the Applications Folder. Sunrise starts up with admirable dispatch. It’s also very fast, and has a pleasant, un-ponderous feel to it. Aside from the above listed points, another nifty small nuance is individual progress bars in each browser tab conveniently in line of sight allowing you to watch respective progress of multiple pages loading simultaneously. Why has no other browser done this?

If you like the thumbnail bookmark concept pioneered by the OmniWeb folks, Sunrise has what may be the most interesting implementation of bookmark thumbnails yet. Bookmarks live in a slide-in drawer that may be positioned at the bottom or right-side. A button on the toolbar toggles them in and out of sight.

You can adjust thumbnail size from 64 to 256px using a preferences slider, and color-code thumbnail borders to help you find the ones you’re looking for more quickly.

Thumbnails automatically update when you access a web page. You can also import your Safari bookmarks into Sunrise.

The Downsides?

The downside is sluggish response of the whole bookmark apparatus, such as opening and closing the sidebar and loading my large collection of Safari bookmarks on my concededly well back of the cutting-edge 1.33 GHz G4 PowerBook. I expect Sunrise would be much more lively on Intel Macs.

Other negative criticisms include there being no way, at least that I discovered, to turn off images loading, and particularly no resume session feature, which is something most current browsers offer one way or another and something I’m really am not happy without any more.

I also experienced a troublesome incompatibility with one of the news posting CGIs I use whose Preview function refused to work from Sunrise. I’ve encountered no similar problem there with any other browser. It also seems to be a bit of a memory-leaker. I’ve noticed other applications slowing down on my old PowerBook with 576 MB of RAM when Sunrise is running and the memory stack is fragmented from several days of uptime.

However, Sunrise’s biggest shortcoming is spotty stability. With today’s mainstream browsers, crashes are pretty much a thing of the past. The browsers I use most — Opera, Firefox, iCab, and Safari — are all commendably stable. Not so, unhappily, with Sunrise, which crashed with distressing frequency on two different computers and Mac OS versions I tested it with. I also found that restarting the browser didn’t always cure the problem, making a system reboot necessary. This, combined with the lack of a session restore feature, rules out my adopting Sunrise for regular use, which is too bad because in many respects I really like the browser and likely would use it if those problems were addressed.

Sunrise is free so give it a try and let us know what you think.