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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.

The other browser news.

Do you remember OmniWeb? It was, for a time, my browser of choice on the Mac. Yes, back when it’s only competitors were Netscape/Mozilla and IE for Mac, it felt like the freshest and most innovative option. Indeed, it was amongst the first browsers to feature the concept of tabs and certainly the first i remember seeing live thumbnail webpages in. Sadly my affection for the little browser was eventually knocked out by the double-blows of the arrival of other browsers for OSX (Firefox and Safari) and the OmniGroup’s decision to switch from “Free but displays the odd dialog box asking that you register”-ware to a time-limited demo version. After that OmniWeb went from seldom-used app to seldom-visited bookmark.

And then today, albeit swamped by the coverage of the new Safari beta, OmniGroup announced that OmniWeb is once again available for free. It seems that, as with some of their other products, they’re no longer actively developing it so they’re just giving it away. Granted that’ll mean we’ll see no more improvements but it’s certainly worth grabbing, if for nothing more than nostalgia…

Safari 4 beta (Windows).

Late yesterday Apple released a public beta of version 4 of their Safari web browser for Mac and PC, which apparently has 150 features. Sadly i haven’t yet been able to try any of the fancy new ones like Top Sites (think Chrome’s startpage) or Cover Flow (think iTunes), since my work PC doesn’t appear to be good enough1.

The new “native” Windows look makes a striking, immediate difference and with the new title-bar-positioned tabs actually reminds me of Chrome. The new tab positioning means screen “real estate” for the webpage isn’t pinched when you have more than one open but does feel a little odd at first. The highlight so far for me though has been the performance – Safari 4 plain flies. With the net connection at work webpages seem to render, well, instantly. Could be something to do with the new Nitro Engine2 but frankly i’m not too bothered about specifics. It’s very fast, so i’m very happy.

I’m looking forward to trying it on the Mac later though – seeing it with its proper skin on and trying out the fancier new features in all their glory. I’d better not to get too excited though because i know i’ll probably end up sticking with Firefox since i’m just not happy about the way Safari deals with website logins3.

PS. Something else has just sprung to mind… Why does Safari still exist for Windows? The Windows version first appeared at around the same time that the iPhone was announced and since Apple wasn’t allowing third-parties to write software for the iPhone they were told they’d have to write web-apps for it. So the general consensus was that Safari for Windows was to help non-Mac developers produce stuff for the iPhone. Only, that’s all fallen by the way-side since Apple “opened” the iPhone to software developers and created the App Store… so why should Apple keep working on Safari for Windows? The only answer i can come up with is that there is a reasonable profit made from the revenue they get from Google (from searches done from Safari’s search bar). Anything else would be a step down the road to a conspiracy theory, no?

  1. Top Sites, Cover Flow, etc just don’t exist as options – odd, given that Cover Flow in iTunes works ok on the same PC. 

  2. Obviously the Marketing people didn’t like “SquirrelFish” as a name. 

  3. I want my browser to remember my usernames but not passwords – little ol’ Firefox happily does this but spoilt-child Safari wants all or nothing. 

Gmail broken.

I’ve not been able to log into Gmail for about two and a half hours now. Which is nice.

A Google Status Report says:

“We’re aware of a problem with Gmail affecting a number of users. This problem occurred at approximately 1.30AM Pacific Time. We’re working hard to resolve this problem and will post updates as we have them. We apologize for any inconvenience that this has caused.”

Presumably before it went through the PR-alizer, it read:

Something’s gone titsup on the Gmail systems meaning nobody can log-in. It’s happened in the middle of the night here in California so you’ll have to wait for a fix until we can find which cupboard the on-site engineer is sleeping in. Or until we can coax one of the on-call engineers out of bed. We regret that this has happened but you really shouldn’t be using a “beta” product if you wanted reliability, should you?

Apologies for my most typical-whingey-blogger post to date but since Gmail isn’t working i have nothing better to do…

Update: Yep, you guessed it – as soon as i clicked “Publish” on this post Gmail started working again. The law of sods.