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OmniWeb and OmniSiblings Run Free

The Omni Group recently announced on its blog that four of its previously commercial programs are now available for free download without restrictions. The products include the popular Web browser OmniWeb, the screen effects and presentation tool OmniDazzle, the disk cleanup tool OmniDiskSweeper, and the memory optimization tool OmniObjectMeter.

OmniWeb, the most widely used of these applications, previously cost $14.95. Like Safari, OmniWeb relies on Apple’s WebKit rendering engine, and thus provides page display capabilities similar to Safari 3. When reached for comment, Omni Group head Ken Case confirmed that the company plans to update the embedded version of WebKit regularly and would be including a newer version in a future 5.9.x update.

Although OmniWeb’s innovative features, such as site-specific preferences, graphical tabs, persistent workspaces, and expandable text area fields, caused the browser to attract a devoted following, OmniWeb had difficulty competing against the Mac’s major browsers, Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox. Both Apple and Mozilla can bring far more development resources to bear, and the free status of Safari and Firefox overshadowed any technical superiority OmniWeb may have enjoyed in specific areas.

Now that OmniWeb is free, it may see significantly increased usage, since it’s certainly a very good browser, just not one that could compete against free alternatives. We would strongly encourage everyone who cares about Web browsers to give OmniWeb a try. If nothing else, it’s often useful to have multiple browsers around for checking recalcitrant Web sites.

As a smaller company with limited staff and resources, the Omni Group decided they were unable to devote the necessary development and marketing efforts to these products. But rather than let them languish, they decided to make them free. However, the company has clearly stated that the programs have not been discontinued or abandoned. While they are no longer considered to be under active development, the Omni Group hopes to update them as possible, with Linda Sharps of the Omni Group stating, “We have lots of ideas for what we’d like to add to these products, and it’s possible that at some point we’ll have more resources to allocate to them.”

Some users are concerned that, despite these words, the move to freeware will slow the development of these programs to a halt, perhaps putting them in the dreaded “maintenance mode.” Some commenters on the Omni Group blog have suggested the company consider making the programs open source, thus enabling a wider community to continue their evolution. When asked about open-sourcing the programs, Case said, “We considered making any or all of these apps open source in addition to being freeware. But a good open source project still requires good project management, good filtering of submissions, etc., which isn’t exactly a recipe for focusing our attention on our other products! But we haven’t ruled out the idea either.”

Despite the jury being out on open source versions, loyal OmniWeb fans may be comforted to know that a new version is in the works. Case said, “We didn’t want to keep charging people for OmniWeb 5.x just because we hadn’t shipped 6.0 yet. We’re still continuing to work on [OmniWeb] 5.9.x updates, as well as a more major 6.0 upgrade – they’ll just all be free.”

Sharps also noted that this move in no way indicates any serious trouble on the business end of things. In fact, according to Sharps, 2008 was the company’s “best year ever,” and it is continuing to grow steadily, to the point of conducting a hiring search for new developers. These newly free programs may even contribute to the bottom line by acting as positive PR for the company, drawing in new users who may then discover the Getting Things Done-inspired OmniFocus, the OmniGraffle diagramming program, the popular OmniOutliner, and the project
management program OmniPlan.

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