Safari 3.0 Beta

While not exactly a 98-pound weakling, Apple's new Windows browser doesn't yet have the heft to make it a real contender.

June 19, 2007

6 Min Read
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It's been a while since a new Web browser made headlines, but when Apple made the beta of its Safari 3.0 Beta browser available to Windows users, it raised a few eyebrows. It certainly caught my attention -- as a non-Mac user I thought this was a great opportunity to sample the simplicity and efficiency that my Apple-using friends have been touting for years.

Certainly, simplicity is part of the aesthetic of Safari. The slightly shaded metallic gray design offers a more Blade Runner feel than the corporate blues and tans of my Firefox browser. And there are a lot of nicely designed details: the way the Customize Toolbar window unfolds out from the address field like a window shade, for example. You want to add an URL or an RSS feed to your bookmarks? Hit the plus mark. You want to see your bookmarks? Click on the open book icon. It's so simple, it's almost sparse.

I also found that the look some of the Web sites I went to were improved, either to a greater or lesser extent. The main Google search page, for example, looks a bit more polished than its equivalent in Firefox: the buttons are more 3D in appearance, and the blue outlines around the fill-in fields make them stand out more. The appearance of the RSS feeds was also clean and easy to read.Maybe A Bit Too Simple
On the other hand, you can take simplicity too far. This is, after all, an Apple app, and as a result, some Windows features that I've come to take for granted were missing. For example, there are no cursor-over tooltips, which heightened my learning curve a bit -- if you've got a mysterious button with a plus sign on it, and you don't know what it's for, an informational caption is a lot safer than simply clicking it to see what happens. (Help file? I don't need no stinkin' Help file....) In addition, when I wanted to customize the toolbar (to, for example, put a Home button on it), right-clicking on it got me bupkis -- I had to go the long way around: click on View and then Toolbars.

I also normally use right-clicking for opening links from my History and Bookmarks lists into new tabbed windows. However, that doesn't work with Safari. In fact, although you can set your Preferences to open a link in a tabbed window, or open a link in a new tab by hitting Ctrl-Click, it doesn't seem to work with Safari's Bookmarks Bar (the drop-down listing of bookmarks) or History list. (It also seemed to balk at Google's Docs & Spreadsheets documents.) If I were to adopt Safari as my default browser, this would be a real issue.

That being said, the Bookmarks Manager is very nicely organized, and wonderfully simple to handle. Click the open book icon on the toolbar, and you have an elegant and easy-to-navigate listing of all your bookmarks and RSS feeds. There are some features I'd like added -- for example, I tend to store a lot of my bookmarks in folders on my toolbar, and unlike Firefox, Safari doesn't let you drag and drop URLs into a toolbar folder. But all in all, I was impressed.

Privacy And SnapBack

There are other features that I found very inviting. For example, a private browsing feature stops Safari from recording the URL to your History list, automatically removes file listings from your Download box, and protects your privacy in other ways. I'd find this type of feature especially useful in, say, the press room of a trade show (assuming Safari was installed on their systems). However, it would be nice if there was some indication on the browser (aside from the checkmark on the drop-down menu) that private browsing is turned on.

I thought the SnapBack feature was a pretty nifty idea, but I'm afraid it's so Mac that I can't figure out how it works -- at least, not completely. Snapback lets you jump back to a Web page or a search that you were previously on, thus saving you from all that clicking on the "back" arrow. It works well on the search box -- for example, I could do a Google search, click on a few links, click on the orange arrow in the search box and I was immediately back to my original search page. A great timesaver -- however, Snapback only works on selected Web pages (which ones, I haven't figured out yet). While I really appreciate the ability to do a search and then jump back to that search whenever I need to, I'll have to let the rest of the feature go until it becomes a bit more predictable.

Apple may also want to make things a bit easier for those who do want to move to Safari from another browser. It's not all that simply to importing bookmarks from another browser -- if you want to get your current bookmarks into Safari, you need to either find the file from the browser in question (an exercise that a lot of less technically-adept users won't be able to handle), or create an export file in your other browser and use that for the import.

Finally, one of the main selling points of Safari is that it's supposed to be much faster than rival Windows-based browsers -- in fact, as I wrote this, Apple had a chart on its download page showing how much faster Safari is. That may be, but in the real world, there are many factors that determine how fast a page loads: the makeup of the page, whether it's optimized for your browser, what the traffic is on your network at that moment, etc. I ran several sites on both Firefox and Safari, and while there were some in which Safari came in 3-5 seconds faster, in the end, it didn't make that much of a difference.


So would I switch from Firefox (my current browser) to Safari? No -- there just isn't enough there to make it that much more attractive. Would I be terribly unhappy if my boss told me that Safari was going to be my browser from now on? No -- I could certainly live with it.

Apple is claiming more than one million copies of Safari 3 Beta has been downloaded as of Friday, June 15. It's still to be determined how many of those who download the browser will actually use it as their default application. While it has some potential, I imagine that this beta will have to be tweaked quite a bit more before it can claim to rival its more popular Windows-based peers.0

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