Safari 3 beta impressions

As I noted the other day in Safari now officially available for Windows, Apple has released a public beta of Safari 3 for Mac OS X and Windows.

I've been using the beta since then, both in my primary working environment, which is Mac OS X, and on Windows XP, which I use for browser testing. Here are my impressions so far.

New features

Safari 3 contains a number of new features that are either useful to the casual web surfer, great tools for web developers, or more or less eye candy. Here's what I've noticed so far:

  • Clickable form labels. A long overdue feature that has been in most other browsers forever is that you can click on a form controls associated label text to activate the control. This is most useful for radio buttons and checkboxes since it makes the clickable area much larger. It does require that forms have been marked up correctly though.
  • Web Inspector. Not as powerful as the Firebug extension for Firefox is, but still very useful for troubleshooting and bughunting, is the Web Inspector. It has been available in WebKit nightly builds for a long time, but now it's included in Safari as well. Here's a screenshot:

    The Web Inspector provides information about the DOM and styling of HTML elements.

    The Web Inspector is not available in the Windows version. Maybe that is planned for a future release.

  • Reset font size. After using Cmd-+ to increase text size, you can now press Cmd-0 to reset it to 100%.
  • Tab reordering. Got your tabs in the wrong order? Rearrange them by dragging.
  • Save As... You can now choose where to save images or web pages that you save by right-clicking.
  • Inline Find. Safari now has a search feature similar to the one in Firefox, except sexier.
  • Resizable textareas. Need a bigger box to type your comment? No problem. Just grab the lower right corner and resize it until you have enough room for whatever you are typing. I love love love this feature!
  • Form saver. Not sure what to call this one, but if you're on a page that contains a form and start typing into a text input, the window's close button gets a dot in it to indicate that content on the page has changed, just like when you're editing any kind of document in Mac OS X. When you try to close a tab or window with changed form content, a dialog is displayed that asks you to confirm if you really want to close the tab or window. Excellent. However, it would be even better if it also worked with the back and forward buttons and when following links from the page.
  • Location field searching. Well, almost. I can't count the number of times I've accidentally typed a search string into the location field instead of the search field. It happens because when I quickly want to search for something, I open a new tab and hit the tab key to place focus in the search field. Well, sometimes I half-miss the tab key and type my search string in the location field, hit enter and get told that "Safari can't find the server". In Safari 3, the error page also contains a search field with the text you typed pre-entered, so you just have to hit enter again to perform the Google search. Nothing revolutionary, but it will save me a couple of seconds here and there.
  • More styling options for form controls. Unfortunately Safari 3 allows more styling of form controls with CSS. I say unfortunately because Safari has been something of a haven for those of us who don't like having our Web browsing experience interrupted by badly styled form controls. How about giving users the option to disallow styling of form controls?

I'm sure there's more.

Incompatibilities and problems

I have only found two problems with the Mac OS X version of Safari 3 beta:

  • Extensions break. If you use any extensions to Safari, they may stop working. This is probably only a temporary problem which will go away as soon as the extension developers have made updates available. The extensions I had to remove were SafariStand, Safari Tidy, Taboo, and SafariSource. Inquisitor works though.
  • Closing windows can be difficult. Windows have to be closed by JavaScript. Clicking the close button in the upper left corner of the window or pressing Cmd-W does not work. You have to type javascript:window.close() into the location field in order to close a window. This only seems to be a problem in the Mac version.

Considering that we're talking about beta software it's likely that there are other problems, but these are the only ones I have noticed.

Making Safari for Windows work

As I noted in my original post about Safari 3, I had some trouble launching the beta on Windows XP. Or rather it wouldn't launch at all, but immediately quit with a message saying that Safari had encountered a problem and had to close.

After reading the Apple support forums for a while I found the solution in the thread Safari 3 crashes everytime it opens: create a new Windows account. Once I did that, Safari launched without any problems.

The reason for me having to create a new Windows account is, from what I have read and which sounds quite likely, that I was using an account whose name contained a non-ascii character. I have encountered similar localisation (or lack of it) slip-ups many times over the years, from many different software vendors. Don't they know that there are over six billion people in this world whose native language is not English?

Others have reported problems with missing text in Safari for Windows. That didn't happen to me, but I'm running a really clean copy of Windows XP since I only use it for browser testing. After looking around some more in Apple's support forum it seems likely that the missing text is caused by font problems, as discussed in Safari 3 Beta for Windows - app text not showing.

Safari for Windows impressions

Once I managed to get Safari up and running on Windows, I was very surprised to see that Apple had ported much more than just the rendering engine to Windows. Safari includes most of the Mac OS X look, including scrollbars, form controls, Lucida Grande (the Mac OS X system font), and even the text anti-aliasing that Mac OS X uses.

I can understand if all of that comes as a bit of a shock to Windows users trying out Safari. Personally I would have preferred to see Safari respect windows GUI guidelines and conventions. I think it would have made it easier for Safari to be accepted by many Windows users.

When looking at how Safari for Windows renders Web pages, I didn't encounter any problems at all. As far as I can tell from my testing, it displays Web sites exactly the same as the Mac OS X version. And that's what I expected, since as far as I understand they both use the same (or almost same) version of WebKit. By the way, WebKit Nightly Builds are now available for both Mac and Windows.

Safari for Windows is also very, very fast, just like Apple boasts on their website.

If I used Windows on a regular basis, Safari would no doubt be my browser of choice.

A great release with unfortunate lack of i18n QA

Overall I find Safari 3 beta to be a stable release. The Mac OS X version has worked very well for me so far. Once I removed the incompatible extensions Safari has not crashed or otherwise malfunctioned.

The Windows release is the biggest news about Safari 3, and what everyone is talking about. With that in mind, it's very unfortunate that Apple fell into the trap that so many companies in English-speaking countries do – forgetting to QA on non-English language systems.

I hope they will get the problems fixed ASAP so more people can give Safari a try. It really is a very good browser.

Posted on June 14, 2007 in Browsers, Mac