Safari 4: First Impressions

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on February 26, 2009

For a long time, the Web browser was something of a poor relation in Apple’s OS X. It’s easy to forget that the primary browser in the first version of OS X was Internet Explorer and in recent years, many Mac users preferred Mozilla’s Firefox to Apple’s own Safari. But in the last couple of years, Safari has come into its own as a much improved application on the Mac and with versions for Windows and the iPhone.

The new Safari 4, available for download in a test version for OS X and Windows, is a big step forward. After just a day or so of use, two things are notable about it. First, it is wicked fast, especially when loading pages that make heavy use of Javascript. Second, it shares a lot of the look and feel of Google’s Chrome.

User interface design is an area where developers have always borrowed very heavily from their competitors, so it's no insult to note Safari 4s debt to Chrome. The two share a minimalist aesthetic, which puts them in sharp contrast to the busy and cluttered look at both Firefox and IE.

Like Chrome, the new Safari has a minimum of menus and toolbars, keeping the focus on Web page contents. Also like Chrome, it arranges all your open pages into tabs displayed above the address bar, a feature that takes a bit of getting used to but makes great sense once it is familiar. Unlike Chrome, which uses a combined address and search field with sometimes surprising results, Safari offers a separate Google search box to the right of the address bar.

Being based on a relatively mature product, Safari 4 is more advanced than Chrome at an assortment of functions, such as bookmark management. I also did not experience any compatibility problems, though my testing was far from exhaustive.

If you are a fan of the latest developments in browsers, Safari 4 seems well worth a try.

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Reader Comments

Hiimamac

February 27, 2009 02:14 AM

Not bad. Had to run the terminal command to get the tabs back to where I expect them. What were they thinking. Great improvement but in windows, I still think Chrome is the best. We'll see. Will be interesting to see what happens when it comes out for Mac.

h Rosan

February 27, 2009 03:01 AM

FireFox is still better in appearance and user interface. Safari is too minimalist just like Google Chrome which means you won't find right away what you are looking for. As far as speed is concerned,frankly, I don't see much of a difference on my machine to justify switching from any browser (except IE) to Safari. I still think that choosing a Browser is a matter of taste and it would take something very original to make me switch from FireFox. Nice try tho.

Pedro Assuncao

February 27, 2009 06:46 AM

I have to disagree with H Rosan concerning the speed. It was one of the things I immediately noticed, for instance using meebo, was that it feels much much better (e.g. silky smooth ;)) than any other browser out there.

I think there's very much worth in trying it out, at least :)

Ron

February 27, 2009 07:40 AM

Tabs definitely do NOT belong in the title bar way too cluttered not to mention that there are 2 close X buttons and plus + buttons the corner grip is bad also. How do you move the tabs back down to the way it is in Safari 3? I hope this tabs on top idea doesn't spread to other apps, it's cluttered unintuitive and user unfriendly.

DJACRIS

February 27, 2009 08:23 AM

Not sure if it is me or my comp but every time I press a button it blue screens my PC. I actually like the grey simple design of Safari 3 and really do not like the IE look alike that beta 4 is showing. I think they, or I, have a lot to work on before I get version 4.

Toddd

February 27, 2009 08:25 AM

OH Safari, based off of KHTML, nothing like taking open source, closing it and calling it your own.

Leo

February 27, 2009 08:32 AM

I agree that they are all fast enough about 95% of the time (except IE, it is just junk). I like the tabs up at the top because if you notice it gives you more webpage real estate. The thing I like the most though wasn't mentioned. Cover flow isn't too useful in other apps by Apple, but with the history and top sites, it is designed very well, and is actually kind of fun to use. I had to modify the pref file to bring back the progress bar in the URL field; don't know why they got rid of it.

Chris

February 27, 2009 08:36 AM

Safari 4 is a nice upgrade for Safari. As a die hard Opera user I had no problem with the interface and the speed is great. I think I'll be using Safari until Opera 10 comes out. I've tried the Opera 10 alpha and I think that the Presto 2.2 engine renders pages even faster than Safari 4 does. It will be an interesting comparison when the final release comes out.

Daniel

February 27, 2009 08:44 AM

Two comments:

1 - I've been using Chrome on Windows and I love the position of the tabs and the lack of the other unnecessary stuff at the top. I'd like to see the minimalist design "spread to other apps".

2 - The author writes, "User interface design is an area where developers have always borrowed very heavily from their competitors, so it's no insult to note Safari 4s debt to Chrome."

Really? Then why does everyone jump on Microsoft when they "borrow heavily" from other apps like Firefox or Opera?

Every time they add a feature, people go crazy that they can't come up with their own ideas, but it's not only OK, but justifiable, for Safari to mimic Chrome?

Nice.

Rinchen Tsering

February 27, 2009 08:58 AM

Once you are used to getting around, Google's Chrome works just fine for me. Two main points that I prefer Chrome to Fixfire or else are that once you are (1) on a HTML page, Ctrl[+]+ works very smartly, and (2) downloading apps works better than in any other, and the last (3) point I want to make is that typing a name in the address bar instead of the usual triple w format, it works as the Google search bar. Just thinking that these tiny ideas might help to make your browsing experience smooth.

Steve Wildstrom

February 27, 2009 09:16 AM

@Daniel--Yes, Microsoft gets criticized a lot of adapting features from other OSes, but it's largely by people ignorant about how the design business works. Whether we are talking about user interfaces, architecture, fashion or anything else, what any given designer does is strongly influenced by what others have done and the aesthetic of the times. Designers take inspiration from others and, we hope, improve on them. And there's no shame whatsoever in this process.

Pedgi

February 27, 2009 09:32 AM

Being that I am committed to a website and it's moderation, I feel that it's necessary to have a great browser. And, as of yet, I've found the best to Opera. The websites on the home page of Chrome and Safari 4? They both took the idea from Opera. Not to mention, Opera still has the fastest rendering times and the best security of ANY browser. And it's next installment will support CSS3 before the public release of any other. Discluding WebKit, no browser has yet to support this. But WebKit isn't from the makers of Safari.
So yeah, Opera is my preferred browser and so far, I've only seen other browsers take ideas from Opera.

Leo

February 27, 2009 10:21 AM

I agree Opera is the best by far in so many ways, but it has issues that is relegated it to being my backup (with Safari perhaps taking the reign from Firefox). I've been using it since 7.0, and can't get over the problems it has though. It has always had issues crashing, with rendering many websites (e.g. any google apps), and the design is horribly disorganized. If they spruced it up, and stabilized it, it would be the best by far. And as said, the most secure. I always find it funny when a security hole is found across all the browsers, except the Opera version listed with the others is from several years back.

tom

February 27, 2009 10:27 AM

Its pretty cool with the new design but I had to down grade due to the fact that Hotmail doesn't work on it. I really do hope that Apple can fix this problem.

John

February 27, 2009 11:21 AM

I'm a PC user and used chrome on a daily basis until it started giving me issues. I decided to try out this new Safari and experienced my first issue at ebay. When you "select more" from the menue to narrow your search, the popup was not supported.

Save Safari

February 27, 2009 11:36 AM

Tabs in the title bar, perhaps the worst decision Apple has made in recent years. It looks horrible, and does not even come close to Apple UI guidelines. Please ask Apple to forgo this abomination.

Microsoft, start your copy engines.

Art

February 27, 2009 11:50 AM

Apple joined KHTML back in 20002, and funds a lot of the effort there though "webkit". See here http://webkit.org/blog/ and here http://planet.webkit.org/

Google joined the effort around 2005.

ronjamin

February 27, 2009 12:01 PM

Unfortunately, Safari 4 does not work with WordPress. The java used to implement items for editing posts locks up the browser, making using WordPress impossible.

Steve Wildstrom

February 27, 2009 12:10 PM

Everyone should remember this is beta software and it's going to have issues. There's a bug reporting tool just to the right of the search window, so when you run into a problem, like ronjamin did with WordPress, let Apple know about it. That's the point of a beta.

Travis

February 27, 2009 03:52 PM

On Windows it delivers on it's promise of 4x faster JavaScript processing, but crashes daily on me. Firefox still has a better user interface. I like the Ipod-ish "wow" effects, but that's about it. If developers get crackin' on the plug-ins then it has the potential to be a competitor. Blows IE 8 out of the water in my opinion.

Rod Ariwite

February 27, 2009 04:15 PM

I love it - am using more than Firefox now. Running it on XP PRO, AMD X26400, 4 GB RAM. Used it for a couple days and am hooked, nice job Apple. Now can you fix Itunes/Quicktime?

KDurr

February 27, 2009 04:18 PM

I have a MBP and have noticed that the new version causes everything else to run a little sluggish. Understand a BETA version, but still...

ES

February 27, 2009 04:33 PM

i have been using safari ever since last year when my windows desktop crashed do to many trogans that attacked my internet explorer. Got safari didnt have a problem after that plus it seemed faster. Safari 4 works even faster, plus you dont have to worry about any random popups its just works flawless for me.

Viswakarma

February 27, 2009 08:18 PM

It is very fast on 12" G4 PowerBook (2002).

Nicks

February 28, 2009 04:30 AM

@ES, what brand douche do you recommend?

Scott

February 28, 2009 09:09 AM

Apple selected KHTML, which was being used by (I think I have this number right) NO ONE and heavily improved and advanced into Webkit, which they then released to open source. Since doing that it has been adopted by many other browsers and is on a growing number of mobile phones too. They still pay for their own team to advance the Webkit code and it is available to competitors.

However, the ultimate purpose of sharing it with competitors is to create a number of great browsers and thus break the stranglehold of the thoroughly awful IE. Which, with Mozilla's and now Google's help, is nearly accomplished.

EZ

February 28, 2009 11:51 AM

Vinegar.

David Nicholson

February 28, 2009 03:59 PM

Why doesn't Safari have nested folders like IE and Firefox? Also, the Bookmarks bar closes whenever a web page is clicked, which is unacceptable. I won't switch back to Safari (from Firefox) until these probelms are fixed.

akamaial

March 1, 2009 01:53 AM

IE sucks, don't like Chrome, Firefox hangs up way to much, but I do like Orca...'nough said

Brad

March 1, 2009 12:21 PM

What browser war? Really who cares about Safari? Free publicity for them I guess.
IE and Firefox rock. Frankly I have never trusted Google and still don't. Probably never will. Apple is a smidge above Google.

Mark Wheadon

March 13, 2009 05:13 AM

Hi guys - should you feel the need to go back to Safari 3 then here's how:

http://www.markwheadon.com/blog/2009/02/how-to-back-out-of-safari-4beta/

Cheers,

Mark

Mark Wheadon

March 17, 2009 07:05 AM

There is now a workaround for the problem with wordpress' visual editor and Safari 4:

http://www.markwheadon.com/blog/2009/03/safari-4-and-wordpress-now-works/

Cheers,

Mark

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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