I Give Apples New Safari 4 Beta a Spin

Apple announced today the launch of their [Safari 4 beta program](http://www.apple.com/safari/ “Apple – Safari – Introducing Safari 4 – See the web in a whole new way”) that claims to lead the way with innovation. I had to test this claim so I immediately downloaded it and gave it a spin. Here are my findings:

* On initial launch you are presented with the “Top Sites” window in which it appears that Safari scours your history for the most frequently visited sites in your recent cache and then throws up their thumbnails in a Core Animation like black gallery for you to pick from. Selecting the edit button allows you to remove items and make others sticky. I presume you can also add others that might actually be more indicative of your “Top Sites”. Again, in true Apple form, Apple seems to be hinging the success of a product on visual wow factor, but admittedly I could see myself making use of this.
* My next reaction was when I created a new tab and found that, a la Google Chrome, the tabs are on top. Why? While I will most certainly get used to it, what is the actual reason for this? I can’t find and difference in their functionality apart from the fact that you can only drag them about from their corner. Aside from that you can still drag them, move them from window to window, create a new window with each tab… there is one option I hadn’t noticed in previous version, “Add bookmark for these X tabs”. Is that new?
* Coverflow in Safari… there have been a few plugins to address this in the past. I guess they are history now. Do I need Cover Flow in Safari? I don’t need it iTunes or Finder so I probably won’t use it here either. But that said, it must be a popular enough technology if they keep throwing it in to their software.
* History search. Now *that* I like! I have always found searching the the history in the bookmarks folder to be painful and unproductive. This history search is insanely fast and (in Cover Flow form) even shows you screen shots of the sites that match your search terms.
* It claims to be faster, using the Nitro Engine. It could be but browsers and web technology today is getting so fast I would be hard pressed to notice the difference. It does seem to be faster overall but am I reacting to the guts of a finely tuned OS X Cocoa application or the page load? One note I will make about making browsers faster (and Safari 3 is already guilty of this), they cache things… unnaturally so which can make web development a nightmare. Safari 3 already caches it’s javascript and images in ways that cause web developers to have to reset their browsers all too often just to get an accurate response on their new projects. And faster also means pre-load, again which Safari 3 is bad for. Safari 3 will scour your main CSS file in search of things to load (like background images), whether or not that _thing_ is actually needed or even being used. I hope Safari 4 handles this a little better.
* The newish developer tools are nice (if your weren’t already playing with them in webkit), but I don’t know… it’s still not FireBug. You still can’t select code in the element window! How good is debuggin if I can’t edit what’s there or even copy and past it to a text editor? Seriously? As far as developer tools, these will give a glimpse into how your page is working, but they’re not much good for anything else.
* The full page zoom could be useful (hopefully not for a few years for me yet), but wow does it ever slow things down. Zoom in once and try page scrolling… not so fast now.
* I love, love, love the new address bar! If I am going to interface with browser in any way, it’s through the address bar so this improvement is quite welcome. Basically when you start typing in the address bar you are presented with much the same information your were before, but it’s clearly defined in two categories; history and bookmarks. In both cases it presents you with the site title followed by the URL which makes it very easy to get your bearings.
* The search field is now really slick too. It’s along the lines of Inquisitor, offering you suggestions and previous search queries. Very nice!
* CSS Animation, CSS Effects, CSS 3 Web Fonts… just more things to tease us web developers with. Stuff we won’t be able to use in the real world until all other browsers catch up. We can always dream though…

Overall, I think this is two things combined; a promising look at where web browsers should be and a sobering reminder of how much waiting for other browsers to get there will suck.

 

Adam Merrifield

 

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