Week of Safari 4 – Summary

Picture 5.pngThe Beta label can be a difficult proposition when it comes to software. Companies like Google have applied it to products that are clearly far beyond what I would categorise as a Beta release, whereas other companies who have treated it more traditionally have been criticised for releasing half baked products. It’s a difficult line to walk, and users expectations have certainly changed over the last couple of years.

I’m not adverse to the beta label, in fact I’ve been using the FireFox Beta releases for some time, but I’m also not your average Joe user. Given the push from Apple to get their products in the hands of normal consumers, releasing a beta version of a key piece of software may not be the most “joined up” move.

I mention the beta label to make it clear that Apple are expecting constructive criticism on this release. So in the “beta” spirit, I’ve made the following observations about Safari 4, and have some suggestions for improvement.

The New URL Bar

safariURLBar.png

This upgrade has been a long time coming, and Apple have gone some way to matching the functionality found in Chrome and FireFox. In fact, the limited URL bar functionality in previous versions of Safari have been one of the main reasons I avoided it. However, it’s still not perfect. I notice it’s limitations particularly when typing out addresses. Typically I omit the “www” from the start of the address, in the past, FireFox has filled this in for me. Safari does not, and will just take you to the address you type. For 90% of sites out there, this isn’t a problem as the address without the “www” will not resolve. There are, however, sites for which this doesn’t work.

I also miss the ability to search from the URL bar, a feature in FireFox called search bookmarks. I’ve described my reliance on this feature earlier in the week, and it gets no easier to accept.

Bugs

Safari 4 is not free of bugs. For example, I cannot write blog posts in WordPress because the lightbox WordPress uses in the editor breaks Safari. I don’t know whether this is the fault of Safari or WordPress, but either way it’s not working and remains a problem. This isn’t an isolated problem either, as it happens on other sites as well.

Auto-Complete

Safari 4 has got an auto-complete feature, but it doesn’t seem as comprehensive nor as reliable as FireFox’s. As someone who’s both lazy and very forgetful, having to repeatedly type user names and passwords is tiresome and stressful. Which leads me on to my next point…

Cookie Management

I don’t know why, but it appears as if the “remember me” setting on many sites simply does not work with Safari 4. I find myself constantly logging in to my Google Reader and GMail accounts, which isn’t something I had to do nearly as regularly in FireFox.

The UI

I’m not entirely sold on the UI. The “tabs on top” approach doesn’t necessarily feel the most natural, and the points I made earlier in this series still hold true. I don’t know if this is just something I need to get used to, or whether I have a more serious issue with it. Dragging the window remains the biggest annoyance.

Summary

Safari 4 can now be classed as a serious contender for the “best browser” crown. Compared to FireFox, it feels paired down and simple. Compared to Chrome, it feels more established and next to IE, well, it does a far better job of browsing the web than IE. Being predominantly a Mac user, my choice comes down to FireFox or Safari, and for the moment at least, I’m sticking with Safari. The amount of time I save with every page load, every action, more than makes up for the odd occasion I’d use a FireFox extension or feature that isn’t present. If I just want to get through some no-frills browsing, then Safari seems like the best option, for now. I eagerly await Mozilla’s response, specifically on the performance gap that appears to exist between Safari 4 and FireFox.

Note: Please forgive the lateness of this conclusion and the unavailability of this site over this weekend and last, I assure you the two are not unrelated. Unfortunately out web host had been experiencing some significant technical issues leading to our unavailability. These issues should now be resolved. Thanks for your patience.