At the start of 2003, you could download at least seven different Web browsers for Mac OS X, and most of them performed admirably in everyday use (“Battle of the Browsers;” Macworld, December 2002). In mid-2003, Apple released the first version of Safari, its homegrown Web browser for OS X 10.2 or later. Safari boasts dramatically better performance than the dominant browser on the Mac, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and it has improved the overall browsing experience.
Taking Safari for a Spin
Apple based Safari on the open-source KHTML rendering engine, which appears to be quite sprightly. For a real-world comparison, we clocked the loading times of five Web sites that we felt represented a wide range of Web technologies: CNN.com (www.cnn.com), ESPN (www.espn.com), Quicken (www.quicken.com), The Web Standards Project (www.webstandards.org), and the Explore section of the Adobe Studio site (http://studio.adobe.com/explore/) — the same sites we used in our last Web-browser shootout. Safari loaded pages faster than Internet Explorer in four out of five tests — in some cases, almost twice as fast. Another key factor in browser performance was how well pages displayed: Safari handled traditional HTML techniques and the more modern Cascading Style Sheets definitions equally well.
But Safari still has a few rough edges. Occasionally we ran into situations where Safari held on to cached data too long, putting up old versions of pages even after we’d clicked on the Reload button (for instance, when we were making edits to a Weblog). Our biggest complaint is that Safari sometimes yielded unexpected results with some sites that use login forms, such as banks or online ordering systems. Some users also report difficulties logging in to some sites that provide cookies for accessing personalized news content.
Occasionally, the blame rests as much on the institution as on the browser. For example, when we tried to log in to a Washington Mutual business account, we got an error message saying the server did not recognize Safari as a legitimate Web browser; however, this didn’t happen when we were accessing a personal account.
Improving the Browsing Experience
Safari has improved the experience of using a browser. One striking example is its bug-reporting feature (select Bug from the View menu to display the Bug button), which lets you easily send a bug report to the Safari development team. Also, Safari handles bookmarks elegantly and helpfully: clicking on a button near the Address field not only adds the current page to your bookmark list, but also prompts you to type a unique name and specify a location for it. These few seconds of housekeeping will prevent your bookmarks from becoming random lists of URLs.
Similarly, Safari’s SnapBack feature — which takes you to the first page you viewed in a window, or to the results page of a search performed with Safari’s Google search field — is a simple idea that eliminates the bother of clicking on the Back button dozens of times.
You can load multiple Web pages into one window via tabbed browsing, which is great for reducing screen clutter. With tabbed browsing enabled, you can also automatically load several of your bookmarked Web pages at once, thanks to an unobtrusive Open In Tabs command in the Bookmarks menu.
For our money, the best addition to Safari is an option that blocks unwanted pop-up windows. It’s extremely easy to switch on and off, via the Safari menu.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Safari entered a fairly crowded field of OS X Web browsers, but it has sprinted past the others in terms of performance and popularity. Although we can’t dismiss the possibility that its competitors may catch up in the future, Safari is currently the best browser for the Mac.