The Practical Mac

Safari and the Apple Internet Experience

A 'Best of the Practical Mac' Column

- 2003.05.13 - Tip Jar

Rating: 3 out of 4

If you your using Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) or later and have not downloaded the latest update to the beta of Safari, Apple's new Web browser, you should. The latest release goes a long way toward making Safari a major player in the browser market.

Like previous releases, 1.0 Beta 2 (v.73), or "version 73," fixes some bugs. But for the first time, there are some serious new heavy-duty features.

The first is the addition of tabbed browsing. The ability to open new pages in a tab in the same browser window is almost a requirement these days. With this feature now included in Safari, Internet Explorer is the only major browser that still lacks this functionality. (When first installed, this feature is not enabled. Enable it through the preferences menu.)

With version 73, Safari adds an equally welcome password manager and form fill feature. The password manager has one feature that, when I first saw it, made me exclaim, "Finally!" When you enter a user name and password, a dialog box pops up and asks you if you want to save this password.

No different from other browsers, right? Wrong! Your choices here are "Yes," "Never for this web site," and the somebody-finally-got-it-right choice of "Not Now." Although I find password managers indispensable, I am irritated that I only get one chance to give my final answer. Let me think about. Let's see how it goes, and then I'll make my decision.

Apple has given me that choice. Did we expect any less from the company who, when iPhoto asks us if we want to launch it automatically when we plug in a digital camera, gives as one of our choices, "Decide later?"

AutoFill starts with the information contained in your card in Address Book and allows you to add more information. When you start typing information in a form, Safari will autocomplete if it recognizes the input. Hit the Tab key after the first field, and Safari fills in the remainder of the fields. Select the AutoFill button (which is not displayed by default; select it from the "View" menu to add it to your browser bar) to fill in a form without typing anything first.

These are the little things that can mean the difference between a pleasant user experience and irritation, and it is often the little things that set a company apart from the competition. In Steve Jobs' Apple, user experience is a priority, and it shows.

Apple has also improved page rendering with the new version of Safari. There is an improvement in Java and JavaScript performance, probably owing to the recent Java update of OS X as much as to Safari. The most noticeable improvement is that Safari now properly renders more pages containing Microsoft's nonstandard, proprietary code and served on its abysmal Internet Information Server (Motto: "Secure as Barney Fife, reliable as a Yugo").

Rating: 3 out of 4 LEMs

Pros

  • A ton of new features.
  • Improved Java and JavaScript handling.
  • Tames Front Page and IIS code garbage.
  • It's free!

Cons

  • Occasional improper page rendering.
I am unfortunately required to regularly access a website that is loaded to the hilt with everything Microsoft, and up until now it only displayed properly in Internet Explorer. Fortunately, Safari continues to properly display the other 90% of sites on the Internet, namely those that adhere to universal (outside of Redmond, WA, anyway) standards and are served on non-Microsoft platforms. Oddly, I was often required to switch from IE to Safari anyway in order to properly view these sites.

Safari now has a one button Privacy Reset. Select "Reset Safari" from the Safari menu to automatically clear the cache, history, passwords, and form data. You can also selectively clear these items.

Safari can now import Netscape/Mozilla bookmarks. In fact, it appears to do so automatically. I know I never did this manually. However, shortly after installing this latest version, I opened my bookmarks and an "Imported Netscape/Mozilla Favorites" had magically appeared there.

Among the "oldie but goodie" features we really love:

  • The ability to block popup windows. This should be a standard requirement for every browser.
  • Safari automatically cleans up after itself when downloading file. It deletes the original archive so all you get is the fully decompressed file. I recently spent over an hour scouring one of my Macs and deleting all the .bin, .zip, .gz, and .sit files cluttering up the disk. Hopefully those days are nearing an end.
  • Safari handles bookmarks in the most intuitive way of any browser. They appear in a traditional window instead of a difficult to maneuver hierarchical menu.

After you download the latest version, go to "Safari Help" and click on "List of Topics." All topics dealing with a new feature of Safari are highlighted with a red "New" at the side. This is a good way to get familiar with a new version.

This latest release of Safari takes some giant leaps forward in terms of features. If it is not currently your primary browser, it may be in the not-too-distant future. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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