First Look: Safari 3 beta

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Apple kicked off its Worldwide Developers Conference with the release of a public beta of Safari 3.0; the finished version will be the bundled browser in Leopard when Mac OS X 10.5 ships in October.

But Leopard isn’t the only OS that this Safari update will run on—and I’m not just referring to Tiger. Apple CEO Steve Jobs also announced that Safari was joining the ranks of iTunes and QuickTime to become a cross-platform app that runs on Windows as well.

What follows is a quick look at some of the more compelling new features in Safari 3.0, which I’m running as a beta on OS X 10.4. I also took a quick detour into the land of XP, courtesy of both Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop, to see how well Safari works there.


During his keynote address to developers, Jobs discussed benchmark results that showed Safari to be the quickest of the “big three” browsers. (Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox are the other two.) In my limited time with Safari 3, it certainly seems fast. However, I was hard pressed to note any substantial loading time differences between Camino, Firefox, and Safari 3 on my MacBook Pro—they all handled my selection of test pages just fine.

Greatly improved find-on-page

I’ll admit to having a love/hate relationship with the Find function in most browsers—sure, it’s great to be able to find something on a page, but it’s nearly impossible to see those matches once they’re found. Most browsers simply highlight the matches, and, on a page full of text, that can make spotting the matches very hard.

In contrast, Safari 3 makes it really easy to spot the matches. When you press Command-F and enter your search term, Safari dims the current page, shows matches with a bright white background, and shows the currently selected match with a can’t-miss-it orange background:

This is a great improvement over the blind searching I do in the current version of Safari.

Draggable tabs

You can now drag-and-drop tabs to rearrange them.

You can also drag a tab out of the tab bar to create a new window containing that tab. There doesn’t seem to be a “put tab back” command, however. There is a new Merge All Windows command in the Window menu, though, which will do the trick for all open windows—it will place them all into one new tabbed window, and close the others as it does so.

Resizable text boxes

Don’t you hate those Web sites with tiny little fill-in forms? Seems many places don’t know that monitors are larger than 13 inches now, and that we can type more than 80 characters on a row. The new version of Safari takes care of that problem with its resizable text entry boxes.

This is a most useful feature, especially if you spend a lot of time working on Web forms.

Other new stuff

In addition to improvements in find, tabs, and text input boxes, there are some other enhancements in Safari 3. In the Bookmarks menu, there’s a new Add Bookmark For These n Tabs menu item, where “n” is the number of open tabs in your current window. Using this feature, you can surf around to a number of places, using Command-click to open each site in a new tab, and then save all those open pages in one step via this new menu item.

In the View menu, to go along with pre-existing options for increasing and decreasing the size of text on the page, there’s a new Make Text Normal Size option—useful if you’ve been going crazy with the other resizing options and lost track of your starting point, I guess!

What’s missing

The public beta of Safari on OS X 10.4 is missing Web Clip, the innovative Leopard technology that lets you turn any portion of a Web page into a customized widget. (Web Clip is among the changes to Dashboard in OS X 10.5; Steve Jobs demonstrated it during Monday’s keynote.) In my testing, the Safari beta was also missing the the PDF controller shown on Apple’s Leopard Safari features page. I could browse PDFs, but didn’t see any way to show a controller.

Safari on Windows

I ran Safari 3 beta under Parallels 3.0 and natively via the latest Boot Camp public beta—I used Windows XP Professional in both cases. Safari ran fine in both environments, and I had no issues with it of any sort. Other than a different menu font, Safari under Windows seems to look and act as does Safari on OS X:

So faithfully did Apple port Safari to Windows that a Mac-specific feature even made the journey: as with Apple’s Mac applications, Safari for Windows can only be resized by dragging the bottom right corner of the window. (In Windows, most applications have physical window borders, any of which can be dragged to resize the window in that direction.) I’m not sure how Windows users will feel about this “feature,” but I suspect a number of them will file it as a bug with Apple!

As with the Mac version of the Safari 3 beta, speed seemed fine, but I can’t state that it felt any faster (or slower) than the other browsers I tested (IE and Firefox). I’m still not certain exactly why Apple felt it necessary to release Safari for Windows, but if this experiment works, it will be good for Mac users; if Safari is used by more people, then there should eventually be fewer sites that won’t work with Safari.

Final thoughts

A full review will have to wait for the release version this fall, but at first glance, Safari 3 seems a solid upgrade. There may not be any earth-shattering new features (the preferences panels all appear to be identical, for instance), but what is new feels well thought-out and improves on Safari’s already strong performance.

[Senior editor Rob Griffiths runs the Mac OS X Hints Web site.]

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