First Impressions of the Safari Beta

2003 – It’s only a beta, but Safari – Apple’s new Jaguar-only browser – won me over the first time I launched it. And it continued to impress me as I visited site after site. And then I headed off to Yahoo Games to unwind.


Browsing History

I began browsing the Web using Netscape somewhere around seven years ago. I used it right up until the day we had Internet connection problems at work. Our connection was s-l-o-w. That was the day I learned of one really stupid Netscape “feature”: Netscape would not print out a page without reloading it from the Internet first.

You read right. For some unfathomable reason, Netscape couldn’t just print the page it was displaying, couldn’t pull the data it needed from the cache, but had to load it anew over our abysmally slow connection.

So I tried Internet Explorer, found that it didn’t suffer from this bug, and soon made it my default browser. Today I still use IE 5.1.x on OS 9 and IE 5.2.x on OS X most of the time. Most of the time – but not all of the time.

I’ve watched iCab evolve and evolve and evolve. Until Tuesday, it was the only other browser on my TiBook that worked properly with Yahoo Games. It loaded some pages a whole lot faster than IE. It let me block certain sized graphics if I wanted to. It just worked.

The big problem was and remains that my favorite URL manager, WebChecker by Jeremy Kezer, is coded to support only IE and Netscape. It doesn’t support iCab or any other Mac browsers. (I’ve suggested Kezer update it to add an option to use the default browser selected in the Internet preferences.) I’ve been using this wonderful shareware bookmark manager for years and am happy to report that it works like a champ in Classic Mode – and will even use Internet Explorer for OS X if that browser is open when you double-click a page.

I visit a lot of sites every day, and WebChecker is a real help. (Before you email me about URL Manager Pro, which a lot of you swear by – I’ve already tried the unregistered version. It looks promising, but the number of features locked out of the trial version make it unusable, and I’m not going to pay a $25 shareware fee before I can determine that it’s worth the price. That flies in the face of the shareware philosophy, which is try before you buy. With URL Manager Pro, the trial version is so crippled that I can’t give it a fair trial.)

The Alternatives

I’ve got IE 5.2.3, iCab 2.8.2, Chimera 0.6, a recent build of Mozilla, OmniWeb 4.2, and Opera on my TiBook. I have them so I can see how Low End Mac looks on the various browsers. I hate Opera and find the others quite comfortable. OmniWeb was the first beautiful browser for Mac OS X, but Chimera and Safari now offer equally attractive presentation.

Because of the design of WebChecker, IE remains my most used browser, and iCab has held second place, followed by Chimera in third place over the past several weeks. Chimera and OmniWeb have some problems with Yahoo Games, but IE and iCab worked pretty well there.

Surfin’ Safari

I had no reason to be looking for a new browser, but as an online publisher, I feel it is important to know what’s out there. So I downloaded Safari, launched it, and visited my favorite sites. It’s not iCab or IE or Chimera or OmniWeb. It’s a unique product with some very nice features – and some bugs.

Visually, Safari uses Apple’s brushed metal look (below), and the navigation bar at the top of the window is much smaller than on competing browsers. There is no bar at the bottom of the window, so Safari makes the best use of screen real estate of any browser I’ve seen.

Here’s the default navigation section:

Safari navigation bar

Nice features include compact icons, the URL window doing double duty as a page loading indicator, the bug report button on the right (this is, after all, a beta), and the way it highlights a mouse over item in the favorites bar. The book icon on the left opens your history.

I missed the larger and smaller text buttons introduced by iCab and copied by Internet Explorer. There are keystrokes to make the text larger or smaller – and then I discovered that you can turn on larger and smaller buttons under the View menu. I think they should be on by default to accommodate all those websites with too large or (mostly) too small text. You can also turn on/off the back and forward buttons, bug report icon, Google search, etc. Very customizable.

The Low End Mac home page displays very much as it does in Internet Explorer, iCab, OmniWeb, and Mozilla. That’s because I deliberately do nothing to optimize my pages for any specific browser. I want the visitor to have control over things like font size – something I wish a lot of other designers thought about. (AppleCrap is one of the worst Mac-related examples with too small text. Surprise – it looks better on Safari than it does on any of the other Mac browsers!)

Koni-Omegaflex twin lens reflex cameraIn addition to attractively rendering text and graphics, Safari has a Google search window. Just type in your term and click the magnifying glass. I’ve used it to help find information and pricing on a late-1960s Koni-Omegaflex medium format camera system my father hopes to sell.

The only two glitches I’ve seen so far:

  1. A problem with extra spaces showing up when you cut text from a browser window and paste it into another application – sometimes lots of extra spaces.
  2. The lounge windows in Yahoo Games are wider than necessary, something I haven’t seen on any other browser. It’s easy to resize the window, but it shouldn’t be necessary.

These are minor. On balance, Safari is a very nice browser.

I’ll let others worry about how well or poorly Safari handles sophisticated CSS designs, and several Web designers are already doing that. I’m just pleased at how well pages look, how quickly they load (no, I didn’t run any stopwatch tests either), and how nicely the whole program seems to be designed.

And unlike IE or iCab, I haven’t managed to crash Safari yet.

And this is only a beta?

Safari requires Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar and is available for free download from Apple’s site. I suggest you try it.

Keywords: #safaribrowser #macosx #osxjaguar

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