[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 22.214.171.124, 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?
- 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.
- 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.