Apple takes Safari into Windows jungle

Today Apple released the Safari 3 Public Beta, which has a few new features – not the least of which is that it also runs on Windows (XP or Vista).

Until now, Safari has been restricted to MacOS X. But Windows is an increasingly important platform for Apple and, like iTunes before it, Safari has made the transition. Safari 3 seems to largely bring a number of Firefox features to Apple’s browser. Safari 3 gets movable tabs, which allows users to drag tabs to re-order them. Safari takes it one step beyond Firefox and allows you to drag a tab right off the browser, which opens the tab in a new window. That’s kind of nifty, I’d like to see Firefox add that.

Safari also gets real-time text searching within loaded pages, with the same Ctrl+F & Ctrl+G commands as Firefox. It works pretty much the same, only Safari is a bit cutesy-er about it.

A cool feature Safari 3 has which I haven’t seen in other browsers is resizable text fields. For example, the HTML ‘textarea’ that I’m typing this in right now, under WordPress, has a little ‘resize’ has in the lower-right corner. I can resize any of the textarea boxes that I encounter with Safari. That’s a nice little feature, as I’m often frustrated by the choices other websites have made in the size of the boxes they present for comments, etc.

Apple’s major marketing effort for Safari 3 seems to revolve around speed. They claim that Safari is the fastest browser available, rendering HTML up to 1.7 times faster than Firefox 2, 2.1 times faster than IE7, and 2.9 times faster than Opera 9. JavaScript execution is up to 1.9 times faster than Firefox 2, 2.8 times faster than IE7, and 1.1 times faster than Opera 9. And Safari 3 launches up to 1.2 times faster than Firefox 2, 1.3 times faster than IE7, and just a hair faster as Opera 9.

Of course, I recommend taking these figures with a grain of salt. Doing some quick ‘eyeball’ comparisons between Safari 3 beta and Firefox, I don’t see much, if any, speed advantage to Safari. It may well be slightly faster, but real-world results are sure to vary widely depending on the PC, what else is running, the network connection, and the specific pages being loaded.

Safari has the minimal user interface that Mac and iTunes users are familiar with. It may feel a bit sparse to those accustomed to more traditional Windows applications, which tend to have more color. Google is the default built-in search provider, with the option to select Yahoo! instead. Bookmark management is done in an interface similar to iTunes, so it is easy to adapt to it if you’ve used iTunes before.

Other features one expects to find in a modern browser are there – pop-up blocking, tabbed browsing (with the aforementioned movable tabs), auto-fill of form information, RSS reader, and the ability to flush personal data.

One thing I was expecting to find, but haven’t yet, is a way to secure stored data. Safari will save form data for the auto-fill feature, and it can also be set to store user names and passwords. The product site says it is“all stored in a secure, encrypted format.” With Firefox I can enter a master password which secures all of the stored, encrypted information. Someone would need that password to enable the auto-fill functionality. I don’t see a way in Safari to set a similar master password, and that seems to be a major oversight to me.

Another thing it doesn’t have, at least at the moment, which I would definitely miss, is the in-line spell-checking that Firefox provides. I’m typing this (and typed my last post) up in Safari, just to try it, and I’m already missing the confidence the in-line spell-checking gives me. Enough that I’m probably going to re-open them in Firefox to edit and make sure I didn’t make too many mistakes. (Update: More than I’d hoped…) There is an item in Edit -> Spelling -> Check Spelling While Typing, but it doesn’t seem to do anything. I’ve made deliberate errors to test it and they weren’t flagged. Hopefully that’s just something left to complete before the final release of Safari 3. That would be enough to keep me from considering it as my main browser. (Which is unlikely anyway, but I’m just saying.)

I’ve been a long time Netscape/Mozilla/Firefox user. I started using Netscape browsers when it was still around 0.9, and I used Netscape through 4.79. I switched to Mozilla Suite (aka Seamonkey) when they hit 1.0, and I stuck with that until a little bit after Firefox hit 1.0. I very much prefer the features and standards support of Mozilla Firefox, and I consider IE6 one of the worst things to ever happen to the web. I feel that IE6 single-handedly slowed down the evolution of the web by being such a bad client with such awful standards support, while dominating the market simply because it was the default on Windows. IE7 is a major improvement, but it isn’t enough yet in my eyes.

I’ve been doing web development, personally and/or professionally, since 1991. I’ve contributed to web standards such as HTML 4, CSS 2, and the WAI guidelines. As much as I hate the term ‘Web 2.0′, I’m excited about the recent revitalization of the web with the advent of AJAX applications, and the long, long overdue replacement of IE6. The new generation of browsers, such as Firefox 2, Safari 3, Opera 9, and, yes, even IE7, with their improved support for web standards and the addition of many newer standards, really open the door for interesting developments.

I’m unlikely to switch to Safari myself, as I use a lot of tools and extensions in Firefox (I’ll probably cover those at some point too), and I’ve been using it for so long it is second nature. But it is nice to have Safari on Windows so that, as a developer, I can test my work in another browser. That hasn’t been possible until now, without buying a Mac. Now developers who use Windows can test in all four of the major browsers, which makes life easier. And there is no excuse for not testing your work now. I think I would rank Safari as my second choice amongst the major browsers, after Firefox, followed by Opera, and lastly IE7.

About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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