Browser Wars! Part 2 of 7 – Safari

Browser Wars! is an ongoing article series published on the Between Bytes blog. In this series, we’ll look at and review the browsers of today (and some that still look and perform like they’re from yesterday) in a battle where, unlike Macs vs. PCs, people are constantly switching sides.

Safari is one of what we call the “pre-installed browsers”.  The other of course being Internet Explorer bundled with the Windows OS. Safari obviously comes pre-installed on Apple Macintosh “Mac” computers. In some ways I feel like these two browsers are there because they have to be, not because they want to be. Though, recently Microsoft and Apple have been whipping their browsers into shape. Here we take a look at Safari…running on a Windows 7 budget PC (because that’s all we have available at the moment). Sorry about that, but what can you do? Besides, from what we can tell there are no major differences between Safari on OS X and Safari for Windows. So here we go…

I’m 1 of 2 people who actually used Safari on Windows as my main browser. I have since moved on to Chrome, not because Safari was bad, but because it didn’t totally suit my needs. Yet it is still awesome and nerdy (heretic) to run Safari on Windows, and it does have many nice feature.

Performance
Safari isn’t one of the fastest browsers I’ve used. Though the latest version, Safari 5, has only been out for 9 months, it is relatively old for a browser. It is due for some upgrades, but appears to be getting some in what I assume will be version 6 of Apple’s flagship browser. As of now, we only have version 5 to work with.

Safari isn’t slow to load web pages; on the contrary, it isn’t fast either. it’s also not fast. I would’ve run some speed numbers but didn’t for several reasons. First. I have recently been having trouble with slow network connectivity that has even been hanging up Chrome and second, my laptop is running Windows 7 and only has 2GB of RAM. So I think it would be rather unfair of me to test it (and I’m just too lazy…uh…busy cranking out articles for you, our readers).

User Interface
To tell you the truth, Safari is an extremely bland browser. It’s easily one of the most boring browsers available design-wise. It has no themes and a limited set of add-ons which is slowly growing. One nice feature is you don’t need to restart the browser for add-ons to begin working, a feature that came with Safari ever since version 5 was first released if my memory serves me correctly. This feature is something that Firefox and Chrome have recently implemented.

By default you have, from the top left, back and forward arrow buttons, the home button, the bookmark button (a plus sign), the address bar, the search bar, the menu button, and settings. The bar below includes show all bookmarks, Top sites and the Bookmark bar. Tabs are hidden by default but appear below all of that as soon as you open a new tab.

Features
As I said before, Safari has many nice features. The first major one is RSS feed integration (Side note: RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, it’s a way to get notified when a website has new content without having to visit that site all the time). I follow a plethora of feeds, it’s my job to keep on top of the news, so I follow many other tech news sites. Safari has a streamlined, built-in, feed reader. When you are on most sites that have a feed it will display an RSS button on far-right side of the location bar. When you click it brings down a nice, simple reader for scrolling through the feed. If you then bookmark this page (either in the bookmarks bar or menu) it will display a number beside it of the number of unread articles. It doesn’t, however, keep track of which articles you have or haven’t read, the number of unread goes away as soon as you load the feed. Still, this is one of the better implementations of feeds, on par with the way RockMelt handles RSS.

Another really nice feature is Reader. Here’s how it works. “As you browse the web, Safari detects if you’re on a web page with an article. Click the Reader icon in the Smart Address Field, and the article appears instantly in one continuous, clutter-free view. You see every page of the article — whether two or twenty. Onscreen controls let you email, print, and zoom. Change the size of the text, and Safari remembers it the next time you view an article in Safari Reader.”(1) It works as advertised. Almost every article I’ve ever gone to has been recognized by Safari as an article (ocationally a problem for short items). This seems to fall in line with Apples’ (not always well executed) philosophy of trying to putting the content first and letting everything else fade to the background. You can use an add-on like AdBlock (available for Safari in the Safari Extension Gallery or directly from the Safari AdBlock site) to achive the same effect without the reader, but this option sometimes causes websites to look odd and I find that Reader works better.

Other features include Cover Flow for bookmark previews and Top Sites which gives you a nice grid layout view of your most visited sites with previews of how the page looked the last time you were there.

Wrap-up
Apple’s Safari is feature rich, but still lacks a bit of speed and HTML 5 standards compliance, and has consequently since been leapfrogged since most of the major browser have all had significant upgrades since Safari was last updated. Safari is mostly (but not entirely) standards compliant, and it has hurts its performance. Apple has been clear that they support HTML 5 and I expect to see full HTML 5 support in the next major version. It does have some stiff composition though. Chrome has been making inroads since it was released in will most likely continue to do so. Safari does look poised to take a major jump forward with the release of OS X Lion this summer, and I will defiantly check Safari out againwhen it gets upgraded to version 6. Assuming they still have a version for Windows.

Note: After re-testing Safari for this review, I ended up convincing myself to return Safari to my default browser.

(1) Man am I lazy – Apple’s description of Safari Reader on Apple.com

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4 thoughts on “Browser Wars! Part 2 of 7 – Safari

  1. Evan Goetz says:

    actually there is another “pre-installed” browser, its firefox, comes on all linux distributions

    • Reagan W. says:

      I haven’t been able to test any distributions to confirm this. I will say though that Linux is probably more well known as a server OS and a base for other things (like Android) than a desktop OS.

  2. Daniel James says:

    Yeah, but, who actually uses Linux?
    What I mean to say is that Safari and Internet Explorer are made by the same companies that design the OS. Firefox and Linux are from two different sources.

  3. Tim K. says:

    I am a huge Mac fan but have never been a big fan of Safari, I use it only when I have to, but after seeing the Apple Keynote for WWDC and the way Safari will work, I plan to give it another shot. The ability to go full screen and use gestures will be very cool, I feel.

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