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Apple Releases Safari 4 Beta

Apple posted a preview of its next Web browser this morning. The new Safari 4 Beta shows the Cupertino, Calif., company has been working to catch up to competitors -- and to make its browser an easier choice for Windows users.

Like the current Safari 3, version 4 is a free download for Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5 or Windows XP and Vista. (Note that the Windows installer invites you to accept a set of desktop shortcuts, plus Apple's automatic-networking Bonjour software and software-update utility.)

safari_mac.jpg

Most of Safari 4's new features aim to speed your way back to sites you frequently visit but haven't bothered to bookmark. It opens to a new "Top Sites" view that presents thumbnail views of the 12 sites you visit most often. (If you've never run Safari before, Apple fills this with its own picks, one of which may lose the company some points in my newsroom.)

Safari 4's address bar features an auto-complete function that's more helpful about suggesting sites matching the address you've begun to type; it shows which possible matches come from your history list and which ones reside in your bookmarks. But unlike competing browsers, this one doesn't suggest pages with titles matching your input.

You can also browse your history and bookmarks in the CoverFlow interface Apple bought from a third-party developer back in 2006; here, you flip through thumbnail images of the pages in each list.

Safari 4's Web search bar adds an auto-suggestion feature -- for example, typing "Rob Pegoraro" yielded a set of suggested results pointing to this blog, the contact-me page here and my Twitter page, among others.

The most obvious change in Safari 4, however, is its rearranged tabbed-browsing interface. The tabs representing individual pages open in Safari's window now appear atop the browser toolbars, not below them. On Windows, Safari 4 sensibly dumps the old version's Mac-lookalike appearance to use a standard Windows interface.

Finally, Apple promises faster Web performance and better compliance with Web standards in this release. In a morning of testing Safari 4 on Mac and Windows laptops, I've yet to see it load pages "almost 3 times faster" than competitors; at best, it loaded washingtonpost.com in three-quarters of the time Mozilla Firefox 3 needed in OS X 10.5. Apple's new browser does, however, seem to upgrade its support for Web standards, passing the complicated "Acid3" test with a score of 100 percent (Safari 3 only scores 76 percent on that test, and most other browsers do worse).

safari_vista.jpg

This preview release comes as Apple's browser has been looking increasingly irrelevant next to Firefox, Google's Chrome and Microsoft's almost-ready-to-ship Internet Explorer 8 (while only Firefox 3 is available for the Mac now, Chrome is coming to OS X too). This new release borrows heavily from those competitors, and in particular Chrome -- its Top Sites view and tabbed-browsing interface might as well have been photocopied from Google's browser.

In some respects, Apple might want to finish the job of flattery-through-imitation. Safari 4 still doesn't let you add search engines of your choice to its search bar, which is locked to Google in OS X and only permits a choice between Google and Yahoo in Windows. Safari 4 also lacks the multiple-process design of Chrome and IE 8, in which each page runs as a separate processing task to reduce the odds of one buggy site slowing down or locking up the entire browser.

We may yet see Apple add those features. In the meantime, those of you who have installed a copy of Safari 4 are welcome to share your impressions here. If your current default browser is a competing program, what aspects of Apple's latest might make you want to switch?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 24, 2009; 12:33 PM ET
Categories:  Mac , The Web , Windows  
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Comments

Guess I know what I'll be doing tonight.

BTW, Gene has joined the MacBorg...

Posted by: wiredog | February 24, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

It's about time they got rid of that OSX look which was horrible (and arrogant) in Windows. If Office looked like Office for Windows on my Mac I'd be annoyed too. Now they need to work on iTunes.

Safari is a little more relevant with version 4, but it really doesn't offer anything that I can't get elsewhere better. Cover flow and the Top Sites 3D reflective glass look is pointlessly flashy. It adds nothing to the usability of the browser.

4 is definitely an aesthetic improvement but it's almost identical to Chrome and doesn't do anything to make me want to switch from Firefox.

Posted by: scarper86 | February 24, 2009 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Safari 3 ran MSN's Hotmail without any problem.

The beta version of Safari 4 simply does not allow Hotmail to work.
It ignores clicks on delete, forward, etc. I use a MacBook Pro and an iMac 24 with the current version of Leopard OS X. Safari 4 refuses to work with the Hotmail site on either machine.

Posted by: frippcat | February 24, 2009 10:00 PM | Report abuse

I am using Safari 4 Beta right now. And I love it.

Posted by: g3rd80 | February 24, 2009 10:13 PM | Report abuse

More Bugs in the Beta. A handy feature of Safari 3 was the ability to go to "File" and chose to forward either a link to or the actual page you were viewing. Depending on the site you are visiting, Safari 4 refuses to permit the option of forwarding the actual page.

It works fine on the Washington Post website but refuses to work consistently on either My Yahoo or My Excite pages.

Posted by: frippcat | February 24, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Either you're blind or you haven't tested this browser much. IT'S THE FASTEST BROWSER I'VE EVER USED BAR NONE. If you are looking for speed, this is the new Standard.

Posted by: Bi1lMe | February 25, 2009 1:49 AM | Report abuse

Works nice but, Lordy, I had no idea there were so many ads on WaPo and other sites. Annoying flashy ones, too.

Think I'll be sticking with FireFox for a bit. Not as fast, but alot cleaner.

Posted by: wiredog | February 25, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

CNET benchmarks Appleā€™s Safari 4: Fastest browser on the planet. Period.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - 09:43 AM EST

"Proving itself a staggering 42 times faster at rendering JavaScript than IE 7, our benchmarks confirm Apple's Safari 4 browser, released in beta today, is the fastest browser on the planet. In fact, it beat Google's Chrome, Firefox 3, Opera 9.6 and even Mozilla's developmental Minefield browser," Nate Lanxon reports for Crave at CNET UK.

"We used the SunSpider suite of JavaScript tests to determine which browser was the quickest, and the Safari 4 beat every browser in terms of speed, on both a PC running Windows XP SP2, and a Mac running OS X 10.6 with all updates applied," Lanxon reports.

"We determined on a PC that Safari was a whopping 42 times faster than Internet Explorer 7, just over six times faster than Internet Explorer 8, 3.5 times faster than Firefox 3, and 1.2 times faster than Google Chrome," Lanxon reports. "On Mac OS X, Safari was four times faster than Firefox 3 and a depressing (for Opera) 7.5 times faster than Opera 9."

Posted by: Bi1lMe | February 25, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I'm happy to see Apple finally incorporate a clickable new tab option so one no longer has to use a keyboard combination to open a new one. I've been using Chrome exclusively in Windows and the new Safari edges closer. It's been a struggle to decide which default browser to use on my Macs. Safari is set, but I usually end up switching to Firefox because of the features I use the most. I'm feeling better about keeping Safari in it's current position. Smart moves on Apple's part.

Posted by: CafeBeouf | February 25, 2009 9:27 PM | Report abuse

CafeBeouf wrote:
"I'm happy to see Apple finally incorporate a clickable new tab option so one no longer has to use a keyboard combination to open a new one."

My copy of V3, and if memory serves V2, has that function. Just right click anywhere in the tab bar and choose "New Tab".

I don't see any compelling reason to upgrade to V4, just more glitz without improved functionality. I still use iCab (Mac only) because when I save a page it also saves the URL. No other browser that I am aware of can do that.


Posted by: joeham3 | February 26, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Do not load the new Safari. It does not work with Hotmail and then you can not reinstall Safari 3 as it is older. I made the mistake today and now have to officially switch everything to Firefox and abandon Safari for good.

Posted by: permutation28 | February 27, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

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