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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Safari 4: Is It Time To Switch From Firefox?

scompasssSteve Jobs once said that Microsoft’s products lack “taste”. At the moment, it started a war between Windows and Mac fanboys. But to many people, that statement was justified – OS X was considerably ahead of Windows from a design and usability standpoint.

Today, you can see that Microsoft has decided to give a lot more attention to the design of its products. Windows 7 is a testament to that endeavor. It does sadden me that the majority of the UI improvements are derivations or adaptations instead of innovations.

Safari 4 hasn’t suffered radical changes since the beta version – except maybe for the tabs issue which generated a considerable amount of uproar – but it did a fantastic job of polishing rough edges. Safari 4 is fast, usable and has taste.

Let’s dig in a little deeper, shall we?

Unlike earlier versions of Safari for Windows, this iteration integrates beautifully with the default themes in Windows XP, Vista and even Windows 7. Whether we believe that “the new Nitro JavaScript engine that executes JavaScript nearly eight times faster than IE 8 and more than four times faster than Firefox 3” or that it “loads HTML web pages more than three times faster than IE 8 and three times faster than Firefox 3” is up to each one of us and the guys who benchmark milliseconds. It does however feel faster than Firefox and IE8 and about the same as Chrome 2.04.

For many of you running Windows 7 , Safari 4 has another surprise – it works with the Aero Peek feature the same way IE8 does. The latest stable version of Firefox 3 does not support this capability.


As for the Top Sites view, I can’t really decide what to think about it. It’s not particularly useful – like the integration with Aero Peek – but it does look good and does not impede my usual browsing habits. Use it for a couple of hours, maybe a day, and the most visited websites will be nicely presented when you open a new tab. And, believe it or not, this Minority Report style interface doesn’t take any longer to load than a new blank tab in Firefox. What is useful is the Cover Flow view for History – it makes finding websites a snap for people with good visual memory.


Another aspect that persuaded me to switch to Safari was the layout of the interface elements – compact, streamlined, bare bones – modifications that I did myself in Firefox. Even the menu bar is hidden to save space. However, I didn’t manage to convince the bookmark list to stay on the side in Safari, a perk for wide screen displays.

Thanks to an AdBlock list and a CSS file designed for Opera by Fanboy you can now disable most of ads. All you have to do is download Element Hider CSS file and go to Preferences -> Advanced -> Style Sheet –> Other. Select the CSS file you just downloaded.

The only thing that’s missing from Safari right now is an add-on similar to NoScript. At that point, Safari is just an upgraded version of Firefox (without getting into a technical discussion about the different rendering engines, Gecko versus WebKit).

All the graphical candy takes a toll on the system memory. While I can’t say it’s a memory leak or something else, Safari with 4 tabs open consumed about 200MB of memory repeatedly. Firefox isn’t far behind with a jump from 90Mb to 160MB – one hour staying in idle mode.

Tell us in the comments what browser you use, why you like it and of course, your impressions on Safari 4.

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