An initial review of Apple’s Safari browser on Windows XP

[UPDATE:] I have posted part II of this review, with further good points, bad points, and Firefox comparisons.

I’ve been using Safari since the public beta became available on Monday. In that time I’ve had enough experiences to comment on.

First, you should know that my primary browser is Firefox 2.0.0.4, customized with the Adblock Plus and Tabbrowser Preferences extensions. I use a few other extensions as well, but these two are the most important to me by far. I also use the Modern Pinball theme since I found it the cleanest and most useful of the various themes way back when.

At home I also have Internet Explorer 7.0, and at work Internet Explorer 6.0. I use them only for sites that Firefox can’t seem to swallow (very few). IE 6 is almost useless to me otherwise because I’m lost without tabbed browsing, and IE 7 was a huge disappointment. Slow, and the UI is all screwed up. Bottom line is I’m a Firefox guy.

OK, so what have I discovered about Safari?

Good Things

  • The interface is very clean, much more so than my theme in Firefox. I like it that way. Safari is just less distracting, and I may make the rounds of Firefox themes (haven’t done it in a while) to see if I can get something even better than what I’m using.
  • Font display. There has been a lot of debate over this, and unfortunately I need to add to it. First, there’s a good article describing it here. Regardless of the approach, when I first launched Safari I felt the fonts were “fuzzy”. I used Safari’s Appearance preferences tab to change Font smoothing to Light (default is Medium) and that helped, though some blur was still there. My home page is Google Reader, and I proceeded to use Safari for my daily reads and deeds. After an evening of this, and into the next day, I switched to Firefox and much to my surprise I do not like the fonts. Put simply, they look “crude”. Heavily pixelated, as if there is no anti-aliasing at all. It really is a personal preference. Having seen the anti-aliasing Safari offers, I much prefer it. (Click on the picture above for a full-sized view.)
  • Speed. This thing is fast, no doubt about it. And it’s a beta, which makes me wonder if it’ll be even faster when released. Still, Firefox is no slouch, so I can’t say how much the difference will matter to me; there are other things to consider.
  • RSS feeds. Safari has a nice approach to this. When it detects a feed it puts up a blue RSS box in the address bar. Click it and it shows a page with the feed. If you then bookmark that page, Safari will update the feeds using preferences you specify. You can even put all your feeds into a folder on the bookmark bar and it will show how many unread articles are available. If I wasn’t already using Google Reader pretty heavily, I might be tempted to switch to Safari’s approach. I may even still do so but at this time I’m only playing with it a bit.
  • Private Browsing. Select this setting and everything you do (history, cookies, etc.) is forgotten when you are through. It makes it very easy to quickly switch to a “mind your own business” mode.
  • Draggable tabs. You can drag tabs to rearrange them in the tab bar. I have this feature in Firefox via the Tabbrowser Preferences extension. I love this, and it’s nice that Safari has it. Further, I can drag a tab outside the Safari browser to open it into its own window. Sweet! Also, if I have several windows open I can select Merge All Windows and combine them all as tabs in one window. Sweet, again!
  • Find. When you use the find command in Safari, the text dims and the found item is highlighted in orange. You can’t miss it, which in Firefox I sometimes do. I like the way Safari makes it very easy to spot your found item.

Bad Things

  • Blogger compatibility. As I’m sure you can tell, my blog is via Blogger. I’ve used Safari for pretty much all aspects of blogging and found one deficiency, but it’s a big one. My posts begin with a picture, yet the dialog box to upload them will not open in Safari. When I click the Picture button I get nothing; Safari simply says there was an error. For this reason, I must start new posts in Firefox (at least upload the graphic). All other maintenance of the blog has been fine in Safari, and it even fixes a problem in the comments page with Firefox that overlaps text when I’m in edit mode.
  • Why does this thing underline all links? God, that is so 1998! I hate that. Anyone know how to turn it off? I see no option to do so. Ugh!
  • Speaking of options, compared to Firefox it’s not as customizable. Notably, the toolbar customization is more extensive in Firefox.
  • I have configured Safari so a control-click (my middle mouse button) opens links in new tabs, which is great. But that only applies to links on a page, not bookmarks. I cannot seem to launch a bookmark into a new tab. That’s insane! I can do so with Firefox (because of Tabbrowser Preferences) but the inability to do so in Safari is a huge frustration. I have to open a new tab and then open the bookmark, very clumsy, and counter to how I work: I want to open a bookmark so I just go there. If I had my way a new tab would stay as is until I close it or explicitly open (shift-click?) a link to reuse it. Bottom line is every time I open something I want it in a new tab; I’ll deal with the others myself thank you very much. Tabbrowser Preferences is a Godsend for Firefox because I can direct pretty much everything (even Google searches) into a new tab. Safari is killing me with this limitation. Why does a tabbed interface not allow for these kinds of preferences right off the bat?
  • Stability. I list this here because it has crashed a few times, but to be honest if it wasn’t reasonably stable I wouldn’t be using it as my current browser. It’s beta, and I expect a little instability in order to continue using it to see how I like it. Further, I will not address security issues I’ve seen discussed because I expect those as well (Firefox had plenty when it was in beta).

Conclusion (so far).

If you’re running IE (6 or 7) I cannot imagine anyone not being more impressed with Safari, but I’d say the same thing about Firefox as well.

If I was comparing Safari with Firefox proper, it would be relatively close at this point. If only because of the issue related to Blogger, Safari would come in second, but assuming that is worked out (as well as general stability issues) it could very well take the lead. Of course, those “ifs” will not be affirmed (or not) for a while, depending on how long the beta lasts.

The reality, however, is that you don’t compare Safari to Firefox proper, but rather to Firefox with any add-ons you’ve found that customize it for your personal work habits. It’s easy to take for granted Firefox showing very few ads to me thanks to Adblock Plus, and it’s certainly not Safari’s (or any other browser’s) fault that it does show them. Still, they aren’t there with my Firefox, and that’s a big benefit. Further, the way I use tabs in Firefox due to the tabbed extension blows away what I can do in Safari.

You could argue it isn’t fair to compare Safari with a browser getting help from third-parties, but I would contend that those add-ons are part and parcel of what makes Firefox so popular. To be sure, it’s a little more work looking for them, keeping them updated, etc., and you have the added risk of bugs, but it’s a choice we make.

If you run Firefox with no extensions, or minor ones (i.e., ones you could likely learn to live without), then give Safari a try, even if you wait for the general release to avoid the beta. You just might be tempted to switch. However, if you use extensions that add major functionality that Safari does not include, then you may have a hard time leaving those behind even if you like what Safari has to offer.

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14 thoughts on “An initial review of Apple’s Safari browser on Windows XP

  1. Thanks for the comment re: a style sheet to remove the underlines. I created a .css file with this one line in it:

    a { text-decoration: none }

    And then chose it in Safari’s advanced settings. But it had no effect.

  2. On Mac OS, you can create a style sheet to disable the underlines. Just add the single line:

    a { text-decoration: none }

    You can choose the style sheet in Safari’s advanced preferences. I would guess Safari for Windows works identically in this respect.

  3. Yes, I’m on the new Blogger. What I’ve learned is that sometimes (not always) it takes a second click on the button to work.

    Only other issue I have with Blogger/Safari is that my “quotes” button does not work. I get a dialog saying it could not do it, “TypeError: Undefined value” whatever that means.

  4. Have you switched to the new blogger yet? I didn’t have the “picture” upload problem once I switched over.

  5. Keep in mind this is a review of Safari on Windows, so there is no Command or Option key. Generally I assume Control and Alt, respectively, are used instead.

    I have the appropriate Preferences checked, and a middle-click (which I have mapped to Ctrl-click) does open links on pages in new tabs. But not bookmarks. In the Bookmarks menu (or a folder from the Bookmark Bar) I have tried Ctrl-click, Alt-click, and even Shift-click, and get nothing. Further, even a right-click yields nothing (i.e., no context menu).

  6. CMD-click also works on the back button, links and often works on submit buttons, etc. … i.e., it’s pretty consistent. While Mac users learn to expect such things, we’re still sometimes surprised that such-‘n-such works, but then you think “well, it’s consistent with other behaviors/interfaces, so I guess it makes sense” … and thereafter it becomes an expectation. #;-)

  7. I would like to second what Nick said. Command-clicking any link, including bookmarks in the bookmarks bar, should open the link in a new tab.

    However, your Tab prefs need to be checked properly in Safari’s Preferences.

    I couldn’t tell you what the default settings are, since a lot of my Safari 2 prefs seem to have transferred over automatically to Safari 3b.

    Checking “⌘-click opens a link in a new tab” will ensure that even bookmarks open up in a tab when you Command-click on them.

    “Select tabs and windows as they are created” is another pref you’ll want to adjust. Make sure this line is NOT checked for your tabs to open up in the background, that is, to prevent Safari from focusing immediately on the new tab.

    Make sure that preference IS checked if the tabbed link is what you wish to see right away, all the time.

    Having all links always open in tabs by default, at this point, is the jurisdiction of plug-ins, most of which I expect will be updated for Safari 3 even while it’s still in beta testing.

  8. “If you run Firefox with no extensions, or minor ones (i.e., ones you could likely learn to live without), then give Safari a try…” Thanks for saying this! You’re the first one who’s open enough to consider users who have simple browsing needs.

    I guess I’m lucky with my installs. Safari 3 is working well on both Windows XP (a separate PC) and on OS X (MacBook Pro). I’ve been happy so much so that Safari 3 is now my default browser on both machines.

    I’ve done Javascript tests on several browsers. Just click my name to go to my webpage where I posted graphs of the results: for Windows and for OS X. In both cases, Safari emerged the fastest by wide margins.

    Our results will vary since we all have unique machines. 🙂

    Our results will vary because all of our respective machines are unique.

  9. what about freeware. For those of us who ethically believe in the public domain Firefox is the only choice

  10. I’m running OSX 10.4.9 on both a PPC G4 desktop Mac and a PowerBook G4. I have Virtual PC v7 on both machines to run Windows XP Pro. Yes I know its slooooooow but on occasion I must utilize it. I downloaded Safari 3.0 beta for “windows” on both machines. The installer ran and loaded (Win) Safari with no problem.
    I then started it on my desktop machine – Safari “title bar” appeared for an instant – then crashed on startup – with windows error/message asking me if Id like tor report it to microsoft!!!
    I then started it on my powerbook – (same exact thing) – Safari “title bar” appeared for an instant – then crashed on startup – with windows error/message asking me if Id like tor report it to microsoft!!!
    Removed Safari on both machines via add/remove control panel, – downloaded new safari 3 (windows app) to the windows desktop, reloaded & restarted – same results both machines – crash on launch. Has anyone else tried this setup???

  11. Yea, I find the point that you can’t open the bookmarks, or the back button in a new tab, something you can certainly do in Firefox 2 to be very inconvenient. I think the browser has a lot of potential though.

  12. I agree with you about comparing it to Firefox with extensions. Ffox is just much more useful in that sense, particularly in a Windows environment. In OS X, it’s a push. Ffox doesn’t integrate very nicely, and very much feels like a Windows program in a Mac world.

    Also, curious that you can’t open bookmarks in a new tab. It’s a luxury (via -click) that we Mac users have enjoyed since Safari 2.

  13. While the probably don’t yet exist or work for Safari 3, there are a decent number of extensions for safari 2 on the mac. Ad-blocker and many of the new features like the close window warning have been avaliable plug-ins for a while.

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