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Safari 4 beta (Mac)

Yesterday i gave my initial thoughts on the Safari 4 beta after giving it a quick test run under WindowsXP on my work PC. Now, having tried the Mac version, i want to share a little more.

Safari certainly looks better in its “natural” skin but sadly i don’t think the title-bar tabs work very well in OSX. There’s no obvious difference in the OSX and Windows handling of the tabs, yet it seems like a bit more of a chore on the Mac. The reasoning for the new tab positions i understand and is the sort of thinking i welcome, but I wasn’t taken with using it in the Windows version and am even less so with the Mac version. I just can’t put my finger on why that should be. Perhaps i’m too accustomed to tabs being under the address bar and with a little time i’d be able to get over this.

The new Top Sites and Cover Flow features look, feel and act pretty much how i’d anticipated but, as i’d also anticipated, don’t add any real wow factor. Top Sites is just a glossier version of Opera’s Speed Dial or Chrome’s start page and Cover Flow is… Cover Flow. They’re nice additions, that’ll no doubt have their uses, but are certainly nothing worth shouting too loudly about.

Another new feature i’d not tried on Windows (since it’s not the sort of thing i’d ever add buttons to the toolbar for) but did on the Mac (since it has a multi-touch gesture) is the Full-Page Zoom. A nice touch if you ever find something on a webpage too small (or large) for comfort… but sadly it didn’t seem to work properly. Sure it does by clicking the toolbar buttons (added temporarily) but the “pinch” gesture either results in the page being fully zoomed-in or fully zoomed-out. Of course it might be me being inept but i’ve never had any problems with the same moves in iPhoto or Preview.

As far as performance is concerned, Safari 4 does feel quicker than it’s predecessor but the Mac version for me didn’t feel as snappy as i’d found its PC counterpart. With my work’s super net connection but an aging PC (3GHz P4, 2GB RAM) Safari seemed quicker than Firefox, whereas at home with a slower net connection but brand new MacBook (2GHz C2D, 4GB RAM) they just felt equally matched. That is an improvement for Safari (as i’ve found Firefox to be quicker historically) but not by the amounts i’d hoped for. Mind you, with the load times we’re talking about it’s all subjective. “More than 3 times faster” doesn’t mean much when you’re working in fractions of seconds to start with.

So, conclusion? Despite my negativity here, Safari 4 is pretty good browser and would be a contender for my “default”… only there are two flaws that prevent that happening. They’re not particular big and aren’t new to version 4 but they’re just frustrating enough to put me off altogether. One, which i mentioned yesterday, is the fact that Safari doesn’t have the option to save usernames but not passwords – it’s both or neither. I like the browser to auto-complete usernames on website logins but i don’t want it remembering the password too. This is partly down to paranoia and partly because i have multiple accounts for some sites (but mainly it’s the paranoia). Still, that is my want and the browser should allow it… Mozilla browsers do and I imagine that Chrome does (though i’ve never tried – since the paranoia prevents me from allowing Google access to anything like that). Why does Safari have to be like Opera and insist on storing both?

My other problem with Safari is the Bookmarks Bar. I like to have all my bookmarks stored there in folders thus giving me “always available” drop down menus. Only, in Safari, if you click on the bookmark folder next to the one you actually meant to, you can’t just flick the mouse over to the right one and have it drop down as you’d expect. No, you have to click to have the mis-selected one disappear and click on the correct one to have it appear. What’s that all about? It’s not natural. You don’t have to do it in Safari’s menu bar. Or in the Apple menu bar. Or anywhere else. It is truly infuriating. So i stick to Firefox which does work as i expect.

PS. Yesterday i asked why Safari for Windows actually still exists… and then i happened across Michael Gartenberg’s “first take” of Safari 4 where he offers an answer:

“Apple is pretty serious about the web and Safari takes this commitment to a new level. More importantly, Apple did it in a way that focuses on standards without proprietary extensions to deliver on that experience. As the web continues to grow in importance, the ability of a browser to work with key sites is critical and the browser that defines drives standards controls quite a lot. Imagine a browser that couldn’t support YouTube for example. By driving new enhancements for Safari as well as leveraging the Windows platform, Apple is growing the installed Safari base and at the same time making certain Mac OS as a web platform will has the latest and greatest browser support as well. No waiting for IE or Google Chrome.“

Probably goes a long way to explaining why he’s paid for his thoughts on technology and i’m not.