Increasingly, Web browsers have become the conduit through which we interact with the world around us. It’s not just about reading Web pages any more—browsers now act as multi-functional tools for watching video, listening to audio, and chatting with our friends. Because of these greater demands, browsers are not only becoming more sophisticated but also more complex.
In this increasingly demanding atmosphere, Apple’s Safari 3.0.4 strikes an excellent balance between the need for increased functionality and the need to add new functions.
Safari already displays the toughest Web pages like greased lightening. Add to that its intuitive interface, with tabs and an easy-to-use bookmarking system, as well as seamless integration with OS X’s built-in Address Book so that URLs stored in address cards are in an easy to use drop-down menu. Subscribers to the $100-a-year .Mac service enjoy even more functionality, thanks to a feature that lets them keep bookmarks in sync among multiple computers.
Safari 3 adds to this solid foundation by refining existing features and adding new functionality that enhances how you use the Web. Refinements include the browser’s new inline searching, which highlights all matching search terms as you type, and new PDF controls, which allow you to display and control this popular document format directly in the browser window without having to open a new application.
Safari’s most striking new feature is Web Clip, an OS X 10.5-only addition. Web Clip allows you to select part of a Web page and instantly turn it into a Dashboard widget. For example, let’s say your favorite organization has a news headline section on its homepage. With Web Clip, all you have to do is “clip” the news box from that Web page by clicking the Web Clip button next to Safari’s address field, selecting the relevant section, and clicking on the Add button. Whenever you want to check headlines, all you have to do is switch to Dashboard to see your clipping. This may well be the future of how we interact with the Web.
One common complaint I hear about Safari is that the browser lacks customization beyond basic adjustments such as security, fonts, and which buttons show up in the Toolbar. Unlike Firefox and many other browsers, Safari does not allow users to use third-party add-ons to increase functionality or change the interface appearance, nor does it allow you to specify the default search engine in the toolbar, so you are stuck with Google.
These are fair complaints. Still, browsers that offer more add-ons and customization are also prone to crashing and interface clutter. Safari’s approach seems a fair trade off for simplicity and reliability.
Macworld’s buying advice
Mac users who need a streamlined Web browser for simply browsing the Web should use Safari 3. (So should their Windows counterparts, since Safari runs on both platforms.) Safari has all of the features that most Web surfers will ever need, it’s extremely fast, and it integrates seamlessly with other Mac applications. However, heavy-duty users like Web designers will likely want to explore alternatives that allow them to enhance the Web development capabilities of their browser with add-ons.
[Jason Cranford Teague is the Director of Web Design Standards for AOL Programming and the author of several books about computer design. Jason regularly rants about technology and culture on his blog.]