Safari 3 for Windows beta

Apple’s Safari 3 Public Beta download page proudly touts Safari as “The world’s best browser. Now on Windows, too.” I decided to proceed with the download to evaluate whether or not Safari could really be called the world’s best browser.

Some Background

Safari is the name of the default web browser in Apple’s Mac OS X operating system in much the same way that Internet Explorer is the default browser on Windows. During Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in June, Steve Jobs announced that the version of Safari to be released with OS X 10.5 (Leopard), Safari 3, would also be released with Windows, adding it to the list of alternative browsers for Windows, which is currently topped by Mozilla Firefox with Opera.

Browser appearance

Safari for Windows looks very much like the Mac version of Safari, identical save for the minimize, maximize, and close buttons looking like they do in iTunes and having the drop-down menus within the window. It also uses the matte gray that is found in QuickTime and iTunes for Windows as opposed to the brushed metal look of Safari 2, but this is the same in Safari 3 for Mac and for pretty much the whole of Leopard.

In my opinion, Apple’s use of it’s own operating system’s look in it’s Windows applications is a little, well, ugly. It looks fine in OS X, but OS X’s other visual elements use the same system.

Beyond matching the Mac OS gray, it also has the blue rounded scrollbars found in OS X and the pill-shaped buttons within the browser window that are found in OS X. As well, some of the dialogues and alerts us OS X animations for appearing and disappearing. It really does match Safari in OS X as much as possible without losing functionality in Windows.

Font smoothing

Most reviews of Safari for Windows thus far have covered one of the most obvious differences between it and other Windows browsers: font smoothing. In Windows, there is a few options to smooth fonts. In XP, Windows does not smooth font by default, but allows users who to use their ClearType subpixel rendering, which uses the fact that each pixel on most modern LCD and CRT monitors has a red, green, and blue subpixel stacked next to each other.

Safari uses the font smoothing found in Mac OS X, which in addition to subpixel rendering uses antialiasing, which is basically the blurring of the text to make it appear smoother. The effect is that in general, text in Safari looks prettier but isn’t quite as easy to read and a bit blurry. For users not fond of Apple’s font smoothing, I suggest that you go to Edit>Preferences… and under the Appearances tab, change the font smoothing to light. I will still be a bit blurry, but it will be easiest to read.

Some of Safari’s features

Safari has a feature to detach tabs into separate windows with some nice looking transitions. To do so, you click and drag the tab. It turns into a translucent thumbnail. Releasing it in the tab bar or toolbars simply repositions it’s place in the tab bar. Anywhere else on the screen, and the page is relegated to a new window of Safari at the same size as the source window.

Personally, I don’t find this incredibly appealing, since I like browsing within one window (with multiple tabs) and once a tab is detached, you cannot reattach it. Furthermore, detaching tabs while the window is maximized creates another maximized window, which when minimized, is the same size as a maximized window, which is extremely annoying because Safari resizes like it does in OS X…only in the bottom-right hand corner (one of the weaknesses of OS X in my opinion).

Another interesting feature is the find as you type feature. While this is also found in Firefox, Safari’s visual element is superior, darkening the rest of the page while leaving the area around instances of the word light, making it very easy to find all instances of the word. As well, it shows the first instance by surrounding it with an orange bubble, which starts big to catch your attention and then shrinks immediately. While some may like this, I think it’s a bit too flashy.

Safari also has a built-in RSS reader. I personally prefer Google Reader over any of the RSS readers built into Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera, so the relegating of feeds to third party readers by Firefox is actually better for me, though for those who do like built-in RSS readers, Safari’s isn’t bad.

Another minor feature is the highlighting of text, which will be familiar to OS X users: a double click highlights a word and a triple click highlights a paragraph (Firefox acts similarly, highlighting a line instead of a paragraph on triple click). In the address bar, one click places a cursor in the address bar, a double click highlights a word, and a triple click highlights the entire web address. This may be irksome to those who use other browsers where it only takes one click on the address to highlight the whole thing, though you can do it in one click if you click on the icon in front of the address.

Speed

Safari is slightly faster than Firefox in rendering some pages, but I only noticed when I was concentrating on page load speed. The effect that page rendering speed has on speed pales in comparison to the effect that having a fast vs. a slow Internet connection has. But for some, this might be a plus.

Customizability

Safari’s customizability leaves quite a bit to be desired. Basically, the only thing you can change in terms of appearance is the ordering of buttons on and the showing and hiding of toolbars, things you can do in any browser. Firefox is best at this, where one can move elements from one toolbar to any other toolbar, even to the menu bar, which is something I’ve done with the bookmarks that would normally be found in my bookmarks toolbar.

Of course, even beyond layout, customizability is a real strong point for Firefox, which has literally thousands of extensions and themes that are available from third party developers on Mozilla’s add-ons page as well as others like those offered by Google. Safari has comparatively few, and none seem to be currently available for Windows.

Integration with Windows

The integration with Windows is not great. I use a laptop and frequently use keyboard shortcuts rather than the touchpad for ease of use. One shortcut I use frequently is alt+space, which brings up a menu in the top-left corner of the window with the functions Restore, Move, Size, Minimize, Maximize, and Close (you can also bring up this menu by clicking on the program’s icon in the same area of the window…something that Apple likes to exclude). In Safari for Windows, the alt+space menu has functionality between QuickTime (non-existent) and iTunes (fully functional). However, the inability to maximize or minimize using this menu irks me.

Another problem that seems to be afflicting me (but probably won’t affect most English-speaking users) is inputting Chinese and Japanese. When using the IME’s for Chinese and Japanese that are built into the system, text will not input. It will show you the preview of the input like normal but as soon as you hit the input key (space for Chinese, enter for Japanese), the text disappears. I find this surprising because when using Firefox to go to the Chinese version of Wikipedia, the address appears as thus:

http://zh.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%E9%A6%96%E9%A1%B5

Whereas, in Safari, it uses the Chinese characters as such:

http://zh.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=首页

While using the original characters appears nicer, it seems pointless if you can’t actually input the characters yourself.

Another glitch with it’s Windows integration is that it does not comply with the Ctrl+M shortcut, which minimizes all windows to show the desktop in Windows XP

Missing features

Safari is missing quite a few features that I have become accustomed to in Firefox and other browsers. Most of these are pretty minor, but cause using Safari to clash with my browsing habits. The first is an issue of shortcut keys. In Firefox, Opera, and Internet Explorer, hitting Ctrl+Enter while typing in the address bar surrounds what you’ve typed with http://www.{what you’ve typed}.com (Firefox also has Shift+Enter for .net and Ctrl+Shift+Enter for .org), which is something that you cannot do with Safari. This was a bit of a surprise for me because I am so accustomed to using this shortcut when entering addresses.

As well, to increase font size, one cannot use the hold the ctrl key while scrolling using a mouse of touchpad, as you can in Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera. This brings up another feature that is missing in Safari (and Firefox 2). In Internet Explorer 7 and Opera 9, this Ctrl+scroll actually zooms in and out of the page, preserving the layout, rather than just changing the size of the font. This feature is to be added in Firefox 3, which will come out before the end of the year, making Safari the only one of the four largest web browser to be without the feature at the end of the year.

Another missing feature that irks me as a heavy keyboard user is the lack of keywords assigned to bookmarks. This allows one to enter a keyword assigned to a bookmark into the address bar to go to that bookmark. This feature exists in Firefox and Opera and I use it quite regularly when browsing.

Final Thoughts

Using Safari leads me to think that it is a decent browser, but in my opinion, it is certainly not “world’s best”. I suspect that it is largely targeted at web developers who want to ensure their site is Safari compatible and Internet Explorer compatible without switching computers and those Mac users who have Windows but want to use Safari on both. It might also pick up some of the new owners of the iPhone, which has dominated the media in recent days with its launch.

I plan to continue to use Firefox, and I suspect the vast majority of Firefox users will not switch. I am skeptical that Steve’s vision that the current browser market:

Will turn into a duopoly run by Microsoft and Apple:

It’s likely that Safari’s share will grow, but I doubt that there will be widespread adoption among Windows users. It is important to note that Safari has earned most of its market share the same way Internet Explorer did: by being the default browser of the operating system.

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About Meng Bomin

Real name Benjamin Main, I am a graduate of Grinnell College with a degree in Biological Chemistry.
This entry was posted in Reviews, Software. Bookmark the permalink.

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