Safari 3.1: Not Quite the Ultimate Browser

March 18th, 2008

After reports that Apple was readying a major update to its Safari browser, it finally made its debut on Tuesday morning. Version 3.1 promises greatly improved performance and compatibility plus support for video and audio tags in HTML5, CSS animations, and CSS Web fonts.

On the surface, I suspect your eyes will glaze over when it comes to the arcane labels identifying various Internet standards. What you’re most likely concerned with is how fast and accurately it renders pages. Here, Apple claims “Safari loads web pages 1.9 times faster than IE 7 and 1.7 times faster than Firefox 2. Safari also runs JavaScript up to six times faster than other browsers.”

Notice they don’t mention Firefox 3, which promises improved JavaScript rendering speeds, but even if they’re close, you’ll probably never notice a difference of any significance.

You can get the download direct from Apple’s site, or just check your Software Update preference panel on your Mac. In fact, it should even appear in the Windows version of Software Update if you have a prior version installed on that platform.

Since Safari consists of more than just a lone application and a handful of support files, you’ll also encounter a restart so that the WebKit, which provides rendering capability for a host of Mac applications, which also include Mail, will be installed as well. The Windows Vista installation, however, doesn’t require a restart, since WebKit isn’t made available system-wide apparently.

On first launch, you’ll see nothing different if you already have Safari 3 installed — and that applies to those of you using 10.4.11 or Leopard. Safari isn’t like Firefox in that regard, displaying a fancy introductory page instead of your chosen home page on the first run.

While I realize some reviewers will be busy running canned Web benchmarks or sitting down with their stopwatches, I don’t browse the Internet that way, and I’m sure most of you don’t either, but feel free to correct me. In any case, I have always been pleased with Safari’s near-instantaneous launch times, and all 3.1 does is make “instant” seem a bit shorter.

Rendering speeds seem a tad snappier as well, compared to the previous version. I did not find any obvious incompatibilities, but I’ll continue to look.

As to support for newer standards, that’s a mixed bag. You see, being able to use your favored font is fine if all or most of the other browsers on the planet also supported CSS Web fonts. However, they don’t, so you’re left with the same font choices you have now. However, embracing newer standards is a good thing, and I’m sure Mozilla can be depended upon to continue to update its compatibility quotient. As to Microsoft, only they know for sure. They claim that Internet Explorer 8 will adhere to standard with more fidelity than previous versions, but with Microsoft, you have to be skeptical of their claims until the finished product is available.

For most of you, Safari 3.1 will be your favorite browser, near world-class and you aren’t going to see any incentive to go elsewhere, unless you need to check your own sites for compatibility with different applications.

But Apple is still missing a few important features that ought to be considered for 3.2, 3.5, or whatever the next major release will be called. Chief among them is the ability to selectively control pop-up blocking. You see, there are some sites, such as Federal Express, that provide pop-up screens that you need to access when you’re preparing a shipment online. Sure, you can go to the Safari menu and disable blocking for that session, but since other browsers support the selective capability, I can’t see where Apple’s “keep it simple” approach is useful.

Another missing feature is phishing protection. Sure you can get that with third-party malware protection utilities, but this is a significant danger in the online world, one that doesn’t support a specific computing platform or user demographic. It’s quite easy to make a mistake and click on a link in an email that takes you to a fake site, instead of your bank or other online financial resource. Firefox has it. Internet Explorer has it, and it’s time for Apple, which is pushing the Windows version of Safari, to get with the program.

Of course, if you feel you need phishing protection and want to continue to use Safari and not invest in third-party software, you can do what I do, which is to use OpenDNS to handle your site access. It’s seamless, super-quick, and provides industry-standard phishing protection.

Other than my few quibbles, I hope to continue to spend most of my time in Safari, and I highly recommend the 3.1 update.

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10 Responses to “Safari 3.1: Not Quite the Ultimate Browser”

  1. Andrew says:

    So far so good, both on Mac and Windows. Safari 3 was already my primary browser on both platforms, and with very few exceptions I use it for all of my browsing.

    Those exceptions are exactly what Gene hit on, pop-up dependant sites like FedEX, which I use often, and a few other sites where I want my passwords remembered that always seem to work in FireFox but forget my stored password in Safari.

  2. Dana Sutton says:

    Several comments: 1.) the speed with which a page comes up in any given browser is dependent on other factors (such as the speed of the server you are addressing and that of your ISP service) so it’s difficult or more like impossible to assess the speed of your browser in a real-life situation; 2.) the other day, in connection with Gene’s piece on Firefox, I wrote about how Safari (together with other WebKit-based browsers like OmniWeb) is the only one that displays text with full accuracy, especially when Unicode is involved. Presumably is because Safari and its WebKit friends are the only ones that adhere to standards with absolute fidelity (more accurately, they do so when Web site designers adhere to these standards with equal fidelity, plenty don’t). 3.) I also use Safari as my primary browser, but it’s impossible for me to use it as my only one, for a variety of reasons having to do with sites that aren’t Safari-friendly. For example, for downloading PDF files from certain sites I have to use Firefox. This is probably the experience of many Mac users, and I bet it’s s. o. p. to have two or more in our Application folders. We still haven’t arrived at the point where a user can rely on Safari or any other single one for all purposes.

  3. Andy Carolan says:

    I like the Safari interface, and yes, the new release does appear to be even faster than its predecessor. The only reason that it hasnt taken the spot of my primary browser (currently Firefox 2) is the few limitations and incompatibilities with a minority of sites. that said, it still provides a far better browsing experience than IE.

  4. Oliver says:

    Just want to comment on the 2 “missing features”. First off, the problem is FedEx, not Safari. As a web designer I have plenty of websites that use pop-up windows and Safari has NEVER blocked any of them. Safari seems to know the difference between a user initiated pop-up and a malicious ad. Apparently the FedEx web designers don’t know what they are doing. Second, phishing?!! C’mon now, if you own a computer and manage any type of financial business online, you should know better than to click on links from emails! This is a problem of ignorance and stupidity.

  5. Maybe it is the fault of Federal Express. But you can’t change all the sites that have problems of this sort. That’s why selective pop-up blocking is useful.

    While I agree with you about phishing, in part, it’s not stupidity that results in people being taken in. Not everyone is as Internet-savvy as you — and me. 😀


  6. Neal MacQuarrie says:

    I agree with this review on the blocking. I use this feature in firefox a good amount. One other thing I’d like to see in Safari is the ability to have live bookmards like firefox. I find the Safari inplementaion of RSS feeds to be cumbersome. Much easier to just click on bookmarks and quickly glance the headlines for something of interest. Until this changes Firefox will continue to be my browser of choice.

  7. Terrin says:

    I do not know why Apple would consider the Beta Version of Firefox 3. It isn’t a released product. With that said, I have been using Firefox 3 (Beta 4) over Safari. Three things, however, make me miss Safari. First, Firefox 3’s scrolling compared to Safari can be very slow. Second, Firefox 3’s printing often only prints what you see on screen as opposed to the whole section. Third, Firefox 3’s PDF support doesn’t seem to allow you to easily view PDFs in the browser. There are plugins, but I can’t get them to work. Safari handles all those things very well.

    On the other hand, Safari’s keychain support is very unreliable. So much so, that I am willing to forgive some of Firefox3 ‘s other shortcomings. I have to sign onto a lot of websites where Firefox 3 immediately asks me if I want to remember the password and username. Often Safari doesn’t. Even when it does, it sometimes doesn’t’ actually remember them.

    I think Apple has to be diligent in revising Safari because Firefox 3 is a really good browser. By the way, I hated Firefox 2.

  8. javaholic says:

    The world’s fastest browser? Well, so far I’m not really seeing anything spectacular with Safari 3.1. I mean, it seems fine, but I’m on a Macbook Pro using Camino 1.5.5 and I’m finding some things, like scrolling with arrow keys, the speed of rendering on comparable sites and particularly opening tab collections, faster with Camino. But maybe I’m just a little jaded. 🙂

  9. Ilgaz says:

    “First, Firefox 3’s scrolling compared to Safari can be very slow. Second, Firefox 3’s printing often only prints what you see on screen as opposed to the whole section. Third, Firefox 3’s PDF support doesn’t seem to allow you to easily view PDFs in the browser”

    These are all related to the fact that Firefox still runs “on an island” at the ocean of OS X. Industries best/only PDF support (at core OS level) is ignored, industries fastest 2d acceleration ignored, industries best printing which makes a cheap inkjet like a actual postscript printer is ignored.

    Opera 9.26, not even 9.5 beta is a better behaving OS X application than Firefox thanks to the framework it is based on (Trolltech Qt).

    What bothered me about Firefox is their reason not to support colorsync while Apple was there to support. “We don’t think it is needed.” After years, they finally figured they aren’t coding a program only for themselves and added it. Now another year or more must pass to use native text rendering and printing (which are both related to your issue) of OS X.

  10. Örgü Modelleri says:

    css Font examples , Properties , Attribute – – //

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