Safari 1.0 Beta

  • Editors' rating
    7.0 Very good

Pros

  • Fast
  • includes a pop-up blocker
  • simple interface
  • integrated Google toolbar
  • easy bookmark management.

Cons

  • Lacks advanced security or customisation settings
  • no automatic data completion
  • no way to customise default toolbar search engine.

Why build a new browser? That's the question on everyone's lips since Apple released Safari 1.0 Beta in January. The OS X-only browser shares its open-source foundations with Konqueror, a standalone browser and the file manager for the Linux KDE Desktop Environment. Apple says it improved on the tiny Konqueror kernel to meet its goal -- a lightning-fast browser. Even in beta, we found Safari acceptably fast. But Safari lacks compelling innovations and doesn't offer the advanced customisation or security features of Internet Explorer for Mac, Opera or even open-source Chimera. Try Safari if you're really sick of Internet Explorer (it's free, after all), but we're hoping Apple fattens Safari up a bit before it feeds this browser to the lions.

Setup & interface
Safari is a tiny 3MB download that installs easily but strangely, deposits itself on your OS X desktop like a mounted drive rather than in the Applications folder. When you first open the browser, it automatically imports your IE favourites and some settings, including the home page, but Safari also sets itself as your default browser without asking. How rude! The browser's spartan toolbar features only forward, back, home and refresh buttons, as well as a plus-sign button that adds the current URL to your bookmarks or acts as a stop button while a page is loading. Apple integrates a Google search field into the Safari toolbar (a nice feature since Google's own toolbar isn't compatible with IE for Mac), but you can only search Google from that field. We prefer Opera's drop-down menu of search choices. Bookmarks are in a tiny toolbar below the address bar, and that's all you'll find -- Safari really maximises page space.

Features
Apple says Safari's speed is its main feature -- and indeed, this browser offers few additional tools. Most notably, Safari lacks any advanced security settings. You can block third-party cookies and some Web scripts, but you can't, say, enter specific Web sites from which to accept or reject cookies, as you can with both Opera for Mac and IE. You also won't find any controls for passwords, certificate authentication or encryption (beyond asking for a prompt when you're sending an insecure form). Those are standard security and privacy features in Opera, IE, Chimera and almost any other browser for Mac or PC. Actually, you won't find any advanced settings in Safari -- you can't specify your cache size or determine the length of your history, for example. Safari also lacks autofill or autocomplete (tools that remember previously typed information, such as your name, address or address-bar URLs) -- a major pain if you frequently fill in forms -- and it doesn't integrate with Apple's own Keychain password manager the way Chimera does. Safari does, thankfully, include a pop-up blocker that, like all such browser tools, stops ads as well as some legitimate pop-ups. Happily, Safari makes it incredibly easy to toggle the feature on and off; simply press Command+K or click the Safari menu and choose 'Block pop-up windows'. Possibly Safari's only true innovation is the SnapBack button found in both the address bar and the Google toolbar. When you surf deeply into a Web site or search results, the orange button appears at the right of the search or URL field. Click it, and you'll pop back to the last URL you typed or to your list of Google search results. It's handy but not life-changing -- IE lets you click and hold the back button to bring up a short history of visited sites, with much the same effect. Safari does simplify bookmark management, however. You can drag a bookmark onto the Safari bookmarks bar, as in IE, but Safari lets you rename the Web page so that it's easier for you to remember. You can also click the plus button next to the address bar to add a bookmark. A book-shaped button opens a new page where you can easily drag, drop and rearrange your bookmarks, and even access your address book. Annoyingly, this page always opens over your current Web page. We'd much prefer a bookmarks pane like that in IE or even a new window.

Performance
As for Apple's claims of cheetah-like speed, we found Safari occasionally blazingly fast but inconsistent. ZDNet doesn't apply formal testing to beta software, but in anecdotal use and informal tests, we found that Safari loaded most graphics-heavy pages (such as Shockwave.com or even Apple.com) faster than Internet Explorer for Mac. However, we found Safari's launch time about on a par with IE and only slightly faster than Chimera (the free version of Opera for Mac forces you to view a start-up dialogue, delaying its overall launch time). The browser never crashed during testing, but did occasionally stall when rendering pages. We encountered only minor bugs, usually related to JavaScript errors, but Safari performed well overall.

Service & support
Apple doesn't offer any formal support for Safari -- that is, you won't get free telephone or email support (not unusual for free and beta software). However, we did find a fair amount of helpful information in Apple's online knowledge base, which is impressive, given Safari's beta status.

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