OmniWeb was originally developed by Omni Group for the NeXTSTEP platform, and was released by Lighthouse Design on 17 March 1995 after only one month's development time. As NextStep evolved into OpenStep and then Mac OS X, OmniWeb was updated to run on these platforms. OmniWeb also was able to run on Microsoft Windows through the Yellow Box or the OpenStep frameworks. After Lighthouse Design was bought by Sun Microsystems, the Omni Group released the product themselves, from version 2.5 onwards. From version 4.0 onwards, OmniWeb has been developed solely for the OS X platform.
OmniWeb is developed using the Cocoa API which allows it to take full advantage of OS X features. It uses Quartz to render images and smooth text. it will use multiple processors if available, and features an interface that makes use of Aqua UI features such as drawers, sheets and customizable toolbars.
On August 11, 2004, the Omni Group released version 5.0 of OmniWeb which included a number of new features. The most notable feature was an unusual implementation of tabbed browsing, in which the tabs were displayed vertically in a drawer on the side of the window (including optional thumbnail pictures of the pages.) Despite a certain amount of controversy over the merits of a tab drawer over a tab toolbar, the feature has persisted through the current version.
On September 6, 2006, version 5.5 was released. Major new features include the use of a custom version of WebKit instead of WebCore,universal binary support, saving to web archive, support for user defined style sheets, a "Select Next Link" feature, FTP folder display, ad-blocking improvements, updated localizations, many other small changes and bug fixes.
OmniWeb was Omni Group's flagship app but as OS X web browsers improved—Apple eventually bundled Safari— and Omni successfully introduced other products such as OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner, OmniWeb's importance diminished. OmniWeb's price was successively lowered, first to $39.95, then on February 24, 2009, Omni Group announced that OmniWeb would be made available for free, a change from its previous price of $14.95. Despite assurances from Omni Group that the browser is still under development, there has not been a final release since 2012.
Separate window form editing: Click the square in the upper right corner of multi line form fields to open it in a separate window. This helps when you wish to add lots of text to an area which is very small and you want to see all of it at once. This feature also allows you to enter tab characters.
Workspaces: groups of web browser windows and tabs in them. A user can have multiple workspaces for different web research topics and quickly switch between them with a key shortcut or menu choice.
View Links: By clicking on this button in the toolbar, one can quickly view all the links contained in the page.
Ad blocking: OmniWeb uses a powerful pattern match ad blocking feature to stop images from loading from servers matching the pattern. It is also possible to block images that don't originate from the current server you are browsing and to block images that match common advertisement sizes.
Shortcuts: allows one to type a key word or phrase to open a certain web site or begin a specific web search.
Site-specific preferences: OmniWeb allows you to specify preferences that apply to specific websites. For example, if you adjust the font size on a given web page, the adjusted font size will be used on all other pages of the same site. Preferences are saved automatically and retained between browsing sessions.
OmniWeb was most popular in the early 2000s when the OmniGroup's experience developing for OPENSTEP (which became the foundation for Mac OS X) gave them an edge over other developers. Until Apple's Safari, OmniWeb had the best support for Mac OS X technologies among its competition (chiefly Mozila Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer for Macintosh). John Siracusa, a technology journalist and critic for Ars Technica, said, "Finding [this level of functionality] in a proper Mac OS X application from a respected developer with a proven track record is like finding a perfect 1/10,000th scale replica of the Eiffel Tower in a box of crackerjacks. Then the tower transforms into a tiny robot and makes you lunch."