Browse Better

Do you wish there were an easier way to search sites other than Google? Do you long to read online PDFs without the hassle of downloading them first? You can do all this—and much more—by taking advantage of a diverse selection of Safari plug-ins. And like Apple’s browser, most of these add-ons cost absolutely nothing. Still not satisfied? Then check out “Beyond Safari” for browser alternatives.

1. The All-in-One Power Tool

Hao Li’s $10 Saft 7.0.1 (   ) is one of the few Safari plug-ins that you have to pay for. But considering everything this add-on can do, it’s nothing short of a bargain at its low price.

Saft is packed with features you may not have realized you wanted—but which you’ll likely discover you can’t do without. The program lets you search your bookmarks and page history, save a group of tabs to reuse later, use the Google search box to target other search engines, quickly export a Web page as a single-page PDF file, and a lot more.

Here’s another neat trick: you can set Saft to automatically access all the sites you had open when you quit Safari. This means that you won’t lose your research if you need to leave suddenly. Saft also adds an RSS (Rich Site Summary) reader to Safari for quickly accessing news feeds—something Apple won’t have ready until the next version of OS X (see screenshot).

2. The PDF Viewer

One of the main features I missed when I moved from Microsoft Internet Explorer to Safari was Explorer’s ability to display PDFs inside the browser. So I was thrilled to find Schubert IT’s PDF Browser Plugin 2.1 (free for noncommerical use), which makes the other program’s PDF feature look positively anemic.

With PDF Browser Plugin installed, you’ll no longer have to worry about accidentally clicking on a link to a PDF and then being doomed to wait for Acrobat Reader to launch. Instead, PDFs will open right in Safari. The plug-in also lets you print, save, resize, and otherwise tweak the PDFs you encoutner online.

3. Superior Searchers

Safari makes it easy to search Google—you simply type your search terms into the ever-present Google box and press return. But what if Google isn’t the search engine you want to use? If that’s the case, turn to one of three free plug-ins that let you specify your search destination: AcidSearch 0.23 (free), SafariKeywords 0.5 (free), or Sogudi 0.4.3 (free). All three plug-ins use keyword searches or pull-down menus to let you quickly search the sites of your choice via the address bar and the Google search box. For example, with Sogundi you can enter

mov Will Smith
to search the Internet Movie Database for all movies that feature Will Smith. The plug-ins also let you add your own custom search shortcuts.

4. The Safari Customizer

If you’re comfortable working in Terminal, you can already change much of Safari’s appearance and behavior. But if you aren’t, there’s Safari Enhancer 2.5.2 (free; donations accepted), a free utility that lets you easily make those same changes. Safari Enhancer lets you set custom link colors, choose whether links should be underlined, adjust the number of items in your history, deactivate the cache, and so on. And unlike most other utilities, Safari Enhancer is a stand-alone program. You simply make your choices and then close the application—which means you won’t have to worry about it causing instability as other plug-ins sometimes can.

5. The Web Developer’s Toolbox

If you design and build Web sites, you’ll appreciate SafariStand, by Hetima Computer (free). SafariStand includes some of the same tools you’ll find in Saft (such as exporting a page to PDF), as well as some unique features designed specifically for developers. For example, it supports syntax coloring, which color-codes a Web page’s source code to help you quickly scan for particular tags. It also lets you peek at a site’s cookies, CSS, and JavaScript files.

My favorite feature, however, will appeal to anyone who gets tired of squinting at tiny Web graphics. SafariStand lets you resize a site’s images in a new browser window. This is a wonderful way to work around developers who assume that everyone has great eyesight and a large monitor.

6. The Quick Fix

But what if you’re looking for something a little more specific? For example, maybe you need a one-click way to resize your browser window, or to turn selected text into a search term in the iTunes Music Store. In many cases, you can add small features like this to Safari via a bookmarklet —a tiny piece of JavaScript code that lives in Safari’s Bookmarks folder.

You can find many useful, prefabricated Safari bookmarklets on the Web. In fact, Apple has posted bookmarklets not only for the previously mentioned tasks but also for many others.

If you’re handy with JavaScript, you can also create your own Safari bookmarklets. I use my homegrown bookmarklets many times a day—for everything from relocating browser windows to posting items to my Weblog and checking a page for standards compliance. Here’s a tutorial on how to create these bookmarklets.

Find Your Own Favorites

These are a few of my favorite Safari add-ons, but it’s certainly not an exhaustive list. (And if you’re just looking to extend the powers already built into Safari, here’s a primer on some on the browser’s overlooked features.) There are many more available online. You can find these tools on shareware sites such as VersionTracker.com. It’s very likely that someone out there has created a plug-in for the exact feature you’ve been longing to have.

[ Dori Smith is a coauthor of JavaScript for the World Wide Web: Visual QuickStart Guide , fifth edition (Peachpit Press, 2004). ]

Saft’s customizable RSS sidebar lets you choose which headlines you want to read in your Safari browser.
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