Initial impressions of Safari 4

26 02 2009

Apple released the Public Beta of version 4 of its Safari web browser on Tuesday. I like the new user interface. The tabs are now on the very top of the window. There is also a Cover Flow-like feature that will allow you to flip through previews of your bookmarks and history. There are a few things that I am not crazy about, too.

Safari 4 screenshotOne of the “features” that I am not too happy about are the tabs. I think that it is interesting to have the tabs on the top of the window, rather than having them below the address and bookmark bars. This is not necessarily something that I disapprove of, but it creates some confusion when working the UI. If I wanted to move a Safari browser window around in an earlier version, it is clear where I should click and drag: on the top bar of the window. With the tabs on top, the place to click becomes ambiguous. If I click on a given point within a tab, it could either allow to move that tab or move the entire window. I found that if I wanted to move a tab and one tab alone, that tab must be selected and then I must grab the handle on the right edge of that tab. I suppose Apple could change this, but since they seem to know what is best for everybody, they will not change it and try to pass it off as a feature, rather than a bug.

Something else that is not as terrible, but a little disconcerting, is the Stop/Refresh button. Now, it is no longer a “button,” in the traditional sense. It has been placed within the address bar, similar in style to the iPhone’s interface for its built in Safari browser. This was not as grievous a change as the tabs, but it can take some getting used to. If I had a say in the interface design, I would put the Stop/Refresh button back on the left-hand side of the address bar, where it is closer to the other controls. It is now isolated from the other buttons that I would typically use, such as Back, Forward, and Home. I realize that Apple is trying to mix design cues from its iPhone and Mac interfaces. I think that they are still figuring out what should go where and whether any of the iPhone UI design elements should be brought over to the Mac.

WP-screenshotThere is one bug that I found in the course of writing this blog post. When I tried to insert a link in WordPress.com, I highlighted the desired text and clicked on the “Hyperlink” button. It partially displayed the hyperlink dialog, grayed out the rest, and that particular tab became useless. I had to close that tab and reopen my draft. It was a minor inconvenience and expected for beta software, but the typical web user may not be as understanding. I suspect it has something to do with the new Nitro JavaScript engine that Apple has used.

As for speed, Safari 4 is blindingly fast. It’s noticeably faster on my old MacBook, which is running 10.4.11 on a 2.0 GHz Core Duo processor with 2 GB of RAM. As Apple has pointed out, and as I have confirmed for myself, Safari 4 has scored 100 out of 100 on the Acid3 Test. The Acid3 Test is a web standards-compliance test. Go test your own browser for yourself and see how it stacks up. To my knowledge, WebKit and Safari 4 are the only two available browsers with a perfect score on the Acid3 Test.

Overall, this is a great new version of Safari, but it could still use some work and is not quite ready for primetime.

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