First impressions: Apple Safari 4 beta

First impressions: Apple Safari 4 beta

Summary: Apple has released to public beta its Safari 4 web browser, and I thought I'd give it a hands-on spin to see what all the fuss is about. Here are my first impressions and review.

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Apple has released to public beta its Safari 4 web browser, and I thought I'd give it a hands-on spin to see what all the fuss is about. Here are my first impressions and review.

Installation

Quick and simple. The install file -- offered with and without a QuickTime bundle, thankfully -- is 25.5 MB. On install, three boxes are auto-checked: Desktop shortcuts, "Install Bonjour" and auto-update. I'm not a fan of auto-check tactics, so if you're trying to avoid installing Bonjour, for example, don't get too click-happy too soon.

Another note: Safari did not prompt me to import bookmarks from another browser. Thought that was an interesting omission.

The Look

It's slick. Not extraordinarily pretty, but Safari 4 does attempt to break up the monotony that is Windows with an updated interface that isn't a complete Mac knockoff like Safari's previous iteration (those who skin their PCs like Macs will be disappointed). I use the classic theme on Windows XP, and you can see in the screenshots that there is an attempt to bring current styling trends to older visuals.

The Homepage

On first load, Safari populates its Apple-style visual link layout with popular sites in lieu of having browsing history to use. When you click one of the visual links, there's a zoom/transparency transition to the new window, which is a nice touch. I wonder how that will react on slower machines.

One thing about the menu elements at the top -- the bookmarks start on by default, but I don't like to give screen real estate to that, so I turned it off. Google Chrome handles this problem by inserting your "pinned" bookmarks into the home page, in a bar-style format, just below the menus. Safari handles this problem slightly differently: instead of recreating the bookmarks bar, it allows you to "pin" (via the edit button on the bottom left of the page) certain visual links.

The Interface

One thing I notice, at least using XP's classic theme: the tab boundaries are pretty hard to differentiate. There's just not enough of a strong visual boundary between them, especially considering how narrow they are horizontally. Otherwise, the tabs are nice, but they automatically expand to fill the entire title bar (no transition) which I don't like. Some people don't like the fact that Google Chrome doesn't immediately auto-fill the tab space; I do, especially when there are only one or two tabs open in the window.

Another thing about the tabs: the "close" box is on the left side of each tab, not the right -- the location that other browsers usually put the favicon. I'm not against re-doing the formula for browser layout, but if you're transitioning from another browser or use another browser on a regular basis, the switch will wreak minor havoc on your productivity.

What's also interesting is how Safari deals with too many tabs. In this case, it gives you an ellipses and drop-down menu:

Finally, about those tabs: you can't just drag a tab out of the main window, like Chrome, from any point on the tab. You must grab it by the little three-line corner (which is hard to do quickly on a high-resolution, large display, I should add) and drag it out from there. I'm a big proponent of not playing target practice with regard to layout and design, and I fear the narrow tabs and menu elements might be a little harder to use.

Full-screen mode is solid. Since the top menu and title bar are narrow as it is, you get a nice amount of screen real estate to browse with. On the other hand...

...unlike Google Chrome, the status bar isn't a "pop-in" -- that is, it doesn't show up only when you need it, and instead is the old-style approach: on, or off. Safari installs with the status bar off by default (interesting decision, especially with regard to security), but for that reason I like to keep it on. On the other hand, the bar is very narrow and uses very small type, so it does make concessions for keeping it on all the time.

As a side note, the refresh button a little small for my taste. I ended up clicking the "RSS" element instead. Furthermore, the search bar that complements the address bar is nice, addressing one of the main complaints with Chrome. On the other hand, it doesn't seem to be multi-use, which means that I can't have Wikipedia or Weather.com as options for that bar like in Firefox 3.

The good news is the address bar takes all the good cues from Chrome, and provides a very useful autocomplete menu:

Finally: the download manager remains outside the main browser window, like Firefox 3, and is not integrated into the bottom like Chrome.

Here's how Safari handles the integrated RSS button (when applicable) in the address bar, by the way:

The Performance

I didn't do any hardcore testing (I'll leave that to ZDNet hardware guru Adrian Kingsley-Hughes), but Safari 4 beta was as quick as the quickest I've used (in this case, Chrome). Back in March, it was reported that Safari 4 was the first browser to score 100%, or 100/100, on the Acid3 test. That's a good sign, and I confirmed it testing it myself with the link below. (Chrome got 78/100, and the linktest failed; Firefox 3 managed 70/100.)

[test for yourself]

The Bottom Line...for now

If there's anything to be said about Apple Safari 4, it's that (on the PC, at least) it bridges the gap between Firefox and Google Chrome. What I mean by that is that it takes some of the innovative interface cues and styles of Chrome, but doesn't push it as far as Chrome does in the "experimentation" category.

For the moment, each browser retains its unique differentiating qualities, though: Chrome is still the most barebones and experimental of the bunch, Internet Explorer is still extremely integrated with Microsoft services, Firefox still retains its mod-happy plugins, multi-use bar and "Save and Quit" tab memory.

No longer chained by the Mac look, Safari 4 beta is somewhere in between, at least on a PC.

(Safari 4 beta on top of Google Chrome; note the interface differences)

Of course, these are just first impressions -- not the final judgment, especially for a browser that adapts to your browsing habits over time.

What do you think of Apple Safari 4 beta? [download]

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Browser, Google

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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60 comments
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  • I think it is innovative

    Putting the close button on the left instead of on the right is a brilliant move and just goes to show that once again, Apple is the most innovative company out there. Watch for them to patent this brilliant placement of the close button.
    NonZealot
    • Well, that's a bit old. Apple and Microsoft settled on the GUI long ago.

      Apple WAS the first to use the close button and it has always been on the left. When Microsoft copied Apple with the GUI elements (they settled it out of court eventually) MS put it on the right. You are just so used to Windows that you naturally think it is supposed to be on the right.
      No More Microsoft Software Ever!
      • So MS copied Apple except where they didn't?

        [i]When Microsoft copied Apple with the GUI elements ... MS put it on the right[/i]

        Do you realize how [b]ridiculous[/b] that statement sounds? You can't have it both ways.
        NonZealot
        • I know reading comprehension isn't your forte...

          [i]"Do you realize how ridiculous that statement sounds? You can't have
          it both ways."[/i]

          I know reading comprehension isn't your forte, so I'll clarify for you. He
          was pointing out that Microsoft copied the idea of the interface button
          itself, not its positions on the screen.
          olePigeon
          • I know exactly what he was getting at and it is still laughable!

            His statement basically boils down to: [i]MS copied Apple except in the places where MS didn't copy Apple.[/i]

            Quite frankly, the same could be said of 100% of all of Apple's products. [i]Apple copied Creative when it built the iPod except in the places where Apple didn't copy Creative.[/i]
            NonZealot
          • the poster...

            the poster never said any such thing that you are claiming... why make
            stuff up?
            doh123
          • All they have left

            To not acknowledge the enormous amount MS ripped off from Apple's
            GUI says much about the ignorance of the MS fanboy.

            Technologies build on others, but in IT the history of MS "licensing" of
            Apple's GUI technologies should be required reading as it gives great
            insight into what became our most abusive monopoly.
            Richard Flude
          • @Richard Flude Re: Microsoft

            And some more good reading:

            http://www.grokdoc.net/index.php/Dirty_Tricks_history
            Arm A. Geddon
          • It is all he has.

            If he had to state fact, his world would crumble.
            Bruizer
        • No Zealot you can't have it your way.

          If anything Windows is a backward OS, everything about it is
          backwards. I'll start with the start menu, it's on the bottom left, why?
          Well Microsoft couldn't put it up on the top left, because Apple had it
          on the top left for awhile. I'd continue to write, but this bull is old,
          stagnant, & boring.



          Why does this zealot continue to think in a backwards method, does it
          believe that if it continues to repeat everything it has said over & over,
          somehow it will be believable. Good grief you weirdo, you're making
          ZDNET look like a pile of cow dung. Disappear for awhile, like I made
          L.D. disappear for awhile back in the days.




          "In a world without walls & fences, who needs windows & gates?"



          Intellihence
          • Intellihence: The Start Menu in Windows...

            is not the same as the Mac top menu. The Mac top menu is just the menu of the active application. Switch to another app and its menu appears at the top.

            The Start menu in Windows, which most users put at the bottom of the screen, has shortcuts for frequently used applications, small icons used to access small applets, and buttons to switch to active apps. There's also a column on the left side that lets the user run other applications. It's usually kept on the bottom of the screen mostly because each application can have its own menu, usually at the top of the application's main window, but not necessarily at the top of the screen.

            The equivalent of Start on the Mac is the tray of icons for frequently used applications at the bottom of the screen. Since I don't use my wife's Mac very often I'm not sure whether those apps are all resident, or are just quick shortcuts as are used in Windows XP and Vista to start applications.
            gypkap@...
          • Actually he has it right

            What he said was that when Windows was developed there was Start
            button functionality in the upper left and he is correct. The Apple
            Menu used to be much more customizable than it is now (out of the
            box) and it had all the functionality of the Start button, and could have
            more. The statement is historically correct.

            You are correct that it no longer works that way as OS X changed it by
            moving that functionality to the Dock. It's one of the things that
            Apple did better in the original system software IMO. I use a system
            hack called FruitMenu http://www.unsanity.com to get that
            functionality back in the Apple Menu.

            If you didn't use Macs before 2000 you would have no reason to know
            how the original worked.
            use_what_works_4_U
    • You forgot to add "Worlds Most Innovative"

      I also love riling the Fanboi's who browse these blogs foaming at the mouth.
      Gnutella
    • Too complex a change very little gain

      Way too different to make it take the place of my FF 3.1 Beta 2 without more effort than it is worth. The Acid test for this version of FF is 93 and though it is also a tad slower than Safari, it is fast enough for now and sure to get faster when it comes out in the final release of 3.1 or 3.2.

      My major complaint is that I do not have control over enough things as I do with FF, and my favorite add-ons are not ported to it.
      alkolkin@...
    • Loads

      Loads Slower than firefox, and the browser freezes up frequently. Froze both first and second use then again after a restart in windows.
      aussieblnd@...
  • Don't know if this is to amazing.

    I must admit that these initial screen shots have not made
    me really interested in this browser. I prefer to use safari
    on my mac because of its bare bones interface and
    quickness when compared to FF. I don't really see how
    useful all of these new visual interface changes are, it
    seems like they are making the browser more complicated
    when it really doesn't need that.
    I will upgrade to it when it is officially released and give it
    more of a chance then but not I am not going to download
    the beta, sorry, not interested.
    ChrisOPeterson
    • On my Mac

      On my Mac I find Mindfield to be as fast if not faster then Safari (With more features)

      Mindfield is a Mac Intel optimised version of FF 3.

      tymiles
      • Minefield is the name of all their pre-release FF3 trunks...

        Not just Mac Intel. If anything Mozilla and Google put the devs who rode the short yellow bus to school on their Mac ports.

        Novelty OS' don't warrant the same resources.
        Gnutella
    • What?

      "Don't know if this is to amazing."

      To amazing? Since when is "amazing" a verb?
      dgurney
      • He wasn't misusing the adjective amazing.

        He was mis-spelling the adverb too, thereby making it a preposition.
        sjbinaz