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.)
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).
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?
February 24, 2009; 12:33 PM ET
Categories: Mac , The Web , Windows
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