Surfin' With Apple's Safari
Eat your heart out, Windows surfers. Apple's Safari browser is fast and feature-packed with functions that Netscape and Internet Explorer users can only long for.
Safari doesn't do Windows--it's exclusively for Apples running Mac OS X.
I decided to ditch my Windows-powered PC for the day and take an Apple Web safari of my own. I traveled to some usual haunts like PCWorld.com, my bank's Web site, an online game site, and other popular Web destinations.
My conclusion? I like this fast, lean (3MB download) Safari browser, and
I hope Netscape (19MB with extras) and Microsoft (7MB) pay attention. Maybe
both will put their bloated and lumbering browsers on a diet and figure out a
way--as Apple has--to speed launching and loading pages. (The open-source
For the record, Apple says Safari loads 40 percent faster than IE and loads pages three times faster. Its performance was impressive on the 867-MHz PowerBook G4 I used to test it.
To be honest, the Safari browser isn't quite all Apple, nor is it
entirely new. Safari is based on KHTML, the open-source Web rendering engine
for the Unix
Apple has taken a utilitarian approach with Safari, giving it a simple yet elegant brushed-gray aluminum interface à la Mac OS X or ITunes. The sleek design translates into maximum real estate for Web page viewing and minimum room for browser buttons, bells, and whistles.
Netscape's browser installs with borders littered with links, utilities, and progress bars--though they can all be removed. Microsoft is better at minimizing clutter, and also lets you downsize status bars and such with customization options.
But don't let Safari's simplistic look fool you; under the hood are many great features. Chief among them is an integrated field for running Google searches straight from the browser window. It is a bit disappointing, however, that you can neither customize the browser with an alternate search engine nor choose to hide the Google query field. Apple is mum on the details, but confirms that it inked a deal with Google.
A feature called SnapBack makes up for that disappointment, however. The SnapBack button remembers where you started browsing. Upon request, it returns you to the first Google results page or the Web site from which you began surfing, or sends you back to a bookmark.
Kudos to Apple for joining Netscape and empowering Safari to bat down
pesky pop-up and pop-under ads. Unfortunately, Apple takes an all-or-nothing
approach with pop-ups in this beta, when it should instead
Apple also earns credit for its easy-to-use and intuitive bookmark manager. It bests IE and Netscape by linking bookmarks to the address bar, and it automatically completes entry of Web addresses if they're stored in the bookmarks folder.
In both the Apple and Windows worlds, downloading, opening, and installing a program can be a complicated, multitasked process. Safari tackles download angst by using a superior download manager that automatically unzips and mounts disk images after downloading them. That means no more hunting for downloaded files, decompressing them, and then deleting the post-download debris.
Exclusive features also give Safari a leg up over Netscape and IE--albeit a small one. For example, Safari is the only browser of the three that lets you access Apple's text-to-speech engine. When you highlight text on a Web page, the engine reads it back to you. Apple's summary feature, which creates a machine summary of text, works only with Safari.
Perhaps Apple is ripping a page from Microsoft's playbook: Safari's speed improvements over IE and Netscape are attainable only on Mac OS X machines. Sounds like Microsoft's claims of speed and performance delivered only under Windows, doesn't it? (You can just hear Netscape saying, "I wish I was part of the operating system.")
Despite its great features, Safari still needs some attention. I encountered plenty of beta bugs that should keep Apple coders busy for a while.
Safari locked me out of checking my bank balance online, hiccuped when executing some Java applications, and failed to render PCWorld.com's Advanced Search page correctly (granted, diehard Apple users might not lose sleep over that last one).
To be fair, the beta version of Safari is still more stable than final
versions of some
"Finding bugs is a normal process of software development," says Chris Bourdon, product marketing manager for Mac OS X. He says Safari is standards-compliant with the industry trade association W3C. Web page developers' creative interpretations of standards-compliant page design are to blame for most Safari snags, he says.
In response, Apple provides a handy Safari bug report button that serves as a tips hotline to alert developers to Web pages that don't display correctly.
Apple is off to a great start. If Apple is joining the browser war, Safari is a stealth bomber.