Safari 4 – Good or Bad?
I recently read, and commented on, a post about Safari over at TechMiso and I wanted to put a post about it here on my blog. Apple released the beta of Safari 4 to a surprised Internet last week touting faster browsing or as the products page announces “Browsing made beautiful. And smart.” Now some of you may say that’s marketing blurb and you’d be half right, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s beautiful it is, however, smart.
One of the main features that has caused a lot of chatter round the web is Apple’s decision to move the tabs to the top of the browser window. While this gives a lot more of your screen’s real-estate for browsing many find it anti-intuitive mainly due to the fact that after you open so many tabs it gets a bit messy. I can appreciate that view point but then I hardly have more than 6 or 7 tabs open at a time and close those that I’m no longer interested in. On the other hand to have that limitation seems that Apple will have to do some changes on how it handles lots of tabs. Firefox for example starts scrolling but still keeping the tabs at a size that you can make out what site each tab is. My wife would find this even more frustrating as she regularly has 20+ tabs open (though she uses an extension that makes FF not scroll the tabs). When she decided to use my MacBook one morning after I had installed Safari 4 she noted that she definitely didn’t like tabs on top as it “wasn’t quite right.”
The other major feature is Top Sites and this is one feature I really like. In a sort of evil genious’ lair configuration your top most visited sites are presented before you. Those sites which have been updated have a corner turned down and a star to let you know there’s something new to go look at. Ignoring Cover Flow, which I’ll get to in a minute, it’s the most innovative part of Safari 4. It’s well executed, well presented and genuinely useful. During my brief stint using Safari 4 I was constantly going back to this feature to see how it was learning my favourite sites and see that little star appear on the odd one or two. Easily amused I may be but it just shows how much this feature captured me and I wonder how long till Microsoft or Mozilla try to imitate Apple’s innovation here (yes I know Google’s Chrome does something similar but I’d argue Safari raises the bar).
Now on to Cover Flow. Cover Flow, for those who don’t use any Apple product as it’s everywhere, is a method of browsing files. In the case of say an iPod, it shows you all the album artwork and you can flick through till you find one you like. It is also implemented in MacOSX and the iPhone and it now makes an appearance in Safari. As I mooted in my comment on TechMiso I don’t like it, don’t see the point in it and wish Apple would quit trying to introduce it everywhere they can. It works on an iPod/iPhone as it’s to browse through albums as if you’re sifting through your record collection, it has meaning here. Browsing through you favourites by flicking past each page is a little cumbersome as you wait for them to load. It has no connection to what you’re doing, it’s a feature there for the sake of it and in my opinion spoils the browsing experience.
The biggest improvement of note is the sheer speed of Safari 4. It loads up pages in what seems like no time at all especially on high-speed broadband. I was loading up pages that can take a little while in Firefox in next to no time and whizzed round sites as if I was sitting there flicking pages of a newspaper rather than watching things load. It’s certainly setting a high standard for load times and the next iterations of Internet Explorer and Firefox will have a lot to do to compete with Safari 4 on speed.
In the end though I’ll still be sticking with Firefox mainly due to the fact there are plug-ins for Firefox I can’t live without Ubiquity being one. Cover Flow is another reason but that is minor point and one purely based on preference. As for the tabs on top, I don’t mind it and after an 1hr or so browsing I stopped noticing, it was just second nature. This, like my dislike of Cover Flow, is something based on preference and while there are many voices against, I’m sure there are as many for and you’re more likely to hear negative press than positive. Safari 4 is a solid browser and the new features help set it apart from the others and gives another choice to those wishing to depart from Internet Explorer. It’s Nitro engine probably makes it one of if not the fastest browser and for some, that’s the be all and end all.