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Browser Bits: Safari 4 Exits Beta, Firefox 3.5 Near Release

Apple made a lot of news yesterday, but only one of the new products announced yesterday was immediately available for use after its keynote: Safari 4, the latest version of the browser it first shipped on the Mac and then released for Windows a few years ago.

safari_4.jpg

The final release of Safari 4 -- a free download for Windows XP or Vista and Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5 -- offers the same basic features as the beta release Apple offered this winter. As before, Mac and Windows users each can benefit from a flashy-but-useful "Top Sites" page that lists thumbnail images of the pages you visit most often (with star icons on pages that have changed since your last visit). And Windows users can enjoy an interface that no longer strives to be a pixel-for-pixel copy of the Mac edition.

But in the shipping release of Safari 4, Apple scrapped the rearranged browser-tabs interface of the beta, which put each open page's name at the very top of the window, for a more conventional layout in which tabs drop down from the main menu bar.

Aside from a brief bout of crashing on a Mac (which stopped after I updated Adobe's Flash plug-in -- not that the update necessarily had anything to do with that), Safari 4 seems fast and stable in both Mac OS X 10.5 and Windows Vista, the two operating systems on which I've installed it so far. Which is about what I'd expect from a non-beta, "final" browser.

The most popular alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer -- Mozilla Firefox -- s about to exit its own beta testing. You can now download a "preview" release of Firefox 3.5 for Win 2000, XP or Vista and Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5.

firefox_3_5.jpg

Mozilla 3.5 looks at first much like the current Mozilla 3.0, without any significant tweaks to its interface -- although the Mozilla developers have been working on some interesting concepts for the browser's blank new-tab page, they don't show up here. Its one major new, user-focused feature is a "private browsing" mode that, like similar options in Safari, Internet Explorer 8 and Google's Chrome, erases the browser's record of your visits once you exit that mode.

(For your reference, I reviewed IE 8 in March and covered Chrome, along with a preview of IE 8, last fall.)

Firefox 3.5 will also include many developer-oriented features that should ultimately help users.

It's interesting to compare the new Safari and Firefox releases to see which features each browser does better than the others. Here's a short list:

* Web search: No contest, Firefox is better -- its search form lets you add search engines of your choice instead of limiting you to a duopoly of Google and Yahoo.

* Tabbed browsing: Safari's interface not only looks a little cleaner, it also takes up significantly less space than Firefox's.

* RSS: Both browsers preview the news feeds many Web sites offer for their content with one click, but Safari also lets you search and sort through the contents of a site's RSS feed.

* Security: Firefox has historically been updated faster to address security flaws than Safari. Safari is also too subtle about indicating when a site uses encryption to protect data you send to it; you have to look in the top right corner of its window for a gray lock icon, while Mozilla plants that lock icon in its address bar.

* Standards compliance: Both Firefox and Safari destroy Internet Explorer on this aspect, but Safari ranked higher on a tricky test of a browser's ability to render complicated Web code properly, the so-called Acid3 test: Safari earned a score of 100 (out of 100), while Firefox fell just short at 93 of 100.

Have you spent any time in Safari 4 and Firefox 3.5? How do you rank those two?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 9, 2009; 2:16 PM ET
Categories:  The Web  
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Comments

I used Firefox when I still had a PC, but as a Mac user I prefer Camino. Still, I really like the security extras you can use with Firefox and I use it regularly. But it still loads more slowly than Safari 4. Safari is definitely faster now, and has a nicer interface. I'm more likely to actually use it now than before. I wish all browsers had the search engine flexibility that Firefox has--I love being able to customize that, because I rarely use Google and I NEVER use Yahoo, ever.

Posted by: krazykat23 | June 9, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

In an effort to simplify my life I have quit installing betas. I will wait for the 3.5 release. I use Firefox 3.0. I also keep Explorer for those sites that don't do so well in Firefox, especially when performing transactions such as purchases, etc. But, I haven't had a problem with than in a long time. The Firefox add ins are also great. I sense there are not so many -- or maybe none -- for Safari.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | June 10, 2009 6:09 AM | Report abuse

Unlike most users, I rely heavily on OS X Services. Safari can access Services, whereas Firefox cannot. That being the case, Firefox has never been a viable alternative for me. Whenever I use Firefox, I feel like I'm wearing a straitjacket.

Posted by: psknight | June 10, 2009 6:42 AM | Report abuse

On my PC I have IE, Opera, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. I use Firefox about 99% of the time.

Chrome and Safari do have some advantages over firefox, but the ability to customize firefox via extensions is very highly developed. Firefox, tweaked with my favorite add ons, is so superior, that other than a slight advantage in downloading/rendering speed, the other browsers are far too limited.

I have firefox tweaked up with adblock plus, no script, customizegoogle, tabscope, tabmixplus, foxtab, fission, FireFTP, Session Manager, Fox Clocks, AutoCopy, Download helper, and a few others.

Chrome, Safari, Opera, just can't touch this.

Posted by: harbir1 | June 10, 2009 7:21 AM | Report abuse


I have been getting more and more frustrated with Firefox as time goes on. It seems to have some serious resource leak issues, and if I leave a browser open overnight, it will crash by morning having exhausted all of virtual memory. By blocking certain scripts I can eliminate most of the leak, but now it is starting to appear that it is also leaking GDI objects, which is hurting performance as well..

I was thinking of trying Google Chrome or something else to see if it happens to be more stable.

Posted by: jackrussell252521 | June 10, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Unmentioned here is that Google's Chrome has been released for Macintosh and Linux, but from the story links at www.macsurfer.com, it doesn't appear to be ready for use.

Posted by: edlharris | June 10, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Valuable and useful as these two browsers can be, the fact is that the Mac only browser OmniWeb, now based on Apple's WebKit engine, is as fast as Safari 4, scores 100/100 on the Acid 3 test, and can be modified on a site by site basis. I continue to use Firefox for its security extensions when visiting doubtful sites, but for flexibility OmniWeb is miles ahead of Safari. Are Firefox and Safari the most "popular" alternatives to IE because they are better, or because industry reviewers continue to ignore other more competitive alternative browsers?

Posted by: jonthom | June 10, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

"Standards compliance: Both Firefox and Safari destroy Internet Explorer on this aspect, but Safari ranked higher on a tricky test of a browser's ability to render complicated Web code properly, the so-called Acid3 test: Safari earned a score of 100 (out of 100), while Firefox fell just short at 93 of 100."

That line is very telling. It is why web developers and web application developers like me absolutely hate IE. It is a necessary evil.

I have Chrome, Opera, Safari, IE, and Firefox installed on my PC, while I have Safari and Firefox on my Mac. I use Firefox 90% of the time on both. There are some sites and web apps, particularly for work, that take a long time to render or don't render at all on Safari. Firefox still seems to have a slight edge in speed. The developer tools for each are comparable. One thing about IE that I really like is their developer toolbar. However, where FF wins is the ability to tweak CSS right debug javascript in the same browser window during development. I can see the effect immediately in the browser. After I get it just right, I can change the code. Safari opens a new window for it's developer tools, so it's a bit more cumbersome.

Since Chrome and Safari are both built on the webkit platform, there's not too much difference as far as I can tell with the exception of Incognito browsing in Chrome.

Posted by: kwbinMD | June 10, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I've used all of these browsers. When you stack up Safari next to Firefox, it just doesn't compare. I see all the naysayers spatting on Firefox as if it's some stepchild browser, but the facts are people get different experiences from browsers based on how they use them and the content they handle.

In my experience, Firefox runs circles around the other browsers when you use the net the way I do. I have loads of music I either upload, download, paste to sites from ftp's and other sources, blogs and personal webpages and IE was a nightmare in that regard! Firefox has worked perfect for me from day one...though I will admit they had to work on a patch or two along the way to keep it from crashing at times, but that has been taken care of. IE has locked up me so many times I don't even open the friggin thing anymore and because of total integration to a Windows OS, that makes it even worse. Firefox and Opera were the only browsers that didn't give me that hassle. Chrome seems to utilitarian and not personal enough, and Safari seems to me a blend of Firefox, Opera and Cooliris. It's ok, but nothing to get excited about...just another cool looking browser that does that same things the others do unless you're an ubergeek. the average browser user won't know anything real computer geeks know, so leave it to the majority, and Firefox wins.

Firefox runs alot more efficient to me, tons of custom features allowing you to tweak it just as you'd like...unlike other browsers who claim to do it all...and it's fun actually.

When I can go to YouTube, Soundclick, news sites and other places that have media I'd like to watch again without going back to the site to retrieve the media, Firefox smashes the competition!

Firefox gets, has and wins my vote on the browser war.

Posted by: cbmuzik | June 10, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

For users of older computers like me, the single most improtant feature of any browser is how much resources it uses while running. Resource/RAM efficiency is by far the most important feature. Browsers that are resource hogs are virtually unusable. Your article didn't even mention the resource-usage of these new browsers.

Posted by: lucyisadog2000 | June 10, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Safari's perfect score on the Acid 3 test is impressive: that script does some godawful stuff. The new version also has a lovely script engine, running all of the Chrome Experiments about as well as Chrome 2.

Firefox is fine--pokier in Javascript but acceptable--; but *Firebug* makes it special. Easier to use and more informative than Safari's Web Inspector, it makes a developer's life vastly easier. The browser of choice for workaday concerns, whether a developer or a user.

IE remains a nightmare of unpredictability, and IE8 is *worse* than IE7: scores of pages that render acceptably in IE7 blow up in IE8; "compatibility mode" is inscrutable; having to jigger doctypes is an insult.

Posted by: aagnot | June 10, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Wasn't the next version of Firefox supposed to run JavaScript and AJAX stuff a lot faster? Did it turn out to actually do so? Just curious -- that's the biggest reason I was looking forward to it.

Posted by: bcamarda2 | June 10, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I've been using Safari 4 for my Mac. I love it, its much faster than the previous version. The top sites and scrolling history are great additions to the browser.

Posted by: sjxylib | June 10, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

The notion that Firefox 3.5 "is about to exit its own beta testing" is something of an overstatement. The "preview release" -- beta 4 -- will be succeeded by a "release candidate" before the production version of Firefox 3.5.

As a Windows user, I welcome the redesign of the Safari 4 interface to be less Mac-like.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | June 10, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

@harbir1

you may want to try deeperweb as well for your Google searches
cheers

Posted by: rinat1 | June 10, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

jonthom: To judge from yesterday's election results in Virginia, newspaper endorsements can still make a difference. But I'm not sure that's what's holding back OmniWeb. On one hand, that browser's feature set and marketing all say "power users only" to me; on the other hand, it wasn't free until the end of February.

lucyisadog2000: That's an excellent question. According to the Task Manager on the Vista Home Premium computer to my right, on which I've got each browser open to the Post's home page, Firefox uses 36 MB and Safari uses 68 MB. Yes, I should have mentioned that.

bcamarda2: The new JavaScript engine you're talking about is called TraceMonkey, and it's in Firefox 3.5. Steven Vaughan-Nichols tested it for Computerworld and found that it was only about half as fast as Chrome.

- RP

Posted by: robpegoraro | June 10, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I've been running the FF 3.5 betas for at least four or five months. The browser is excellent, and the page load times are much faster than 3.0.

the new javascript engine is as good as advertised, and well worth the upgrade for just about any user. The Preview or beta tag is nothing to be worried about at this point, as FF 3.5 is running great on my machine and I've not seen any problems or beta issues.

Posted by: grenet | June 10, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I just tried to install Safari 4, and it was a nightmare that took me nearly two hours to fix. (And I'm an IT professional who specializes in Mac desktop support.) All kinds of malfunctions, sites that didn't function properly, e.g., can't click on the tab or use keyboard shortcuts to get to the tab... all kinds of stuff. A bit of Googling reveals that others have had problems with this as well.

I've got everything just about back to normal under Safari 3, but it wasn't fun to fix. To be fair, I would have to assume that problems like this are unusual and probably have something to do with my browser plugins. Regardless, I have to stick with Safari 3 for the foreseeable future. Maybe I can try again after an upgrade to Snow Leopard.

Oh, and in case anyone needs a moral to this story -- be sure to keep your machine backed up religiously! It turns out I didn't actually need my backups to fix this problem, but I was definitely glad to have had the option.

Posted by: psknight | June 10, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I think that the Safari speed dial is brilliant in terms of graphics - super shiny. However, I'm sticking with my Firefox and my New Tab King for Firefox extensio (from http://www.newtabking.com) - much more useful to get myself to the next place from my most recent ones.

--shelly

Posted by: shellylennon | June 10, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Because I have all my banking, stock/investment, business data on my computer I use a Mac. Security is my #1 concern.

That being said I had preferred FF v1,2 until I ran into problems with v3.0, so I went to using Safari v3. Trying the new Safari v4 I found that it takes more memory and it uses a sister application to run the thumbnails and keep them up to date (Opera has had thumbnails for years), so I'm back to Safari v3.

For those that believe Macs are more expensive... do you ever consider resale when you buy something? I just sold a 4 year old Mac Mini for $320 that I paid $500 for. What would be the resale value of a 4 year old $500 PC? About $100. Mac resale % is even higher for their notebooks.

Now if Macs ever end up with the barrage of security problems Windows has then I'll look into Linux or whatever else is available at the time.


Posted by: kkrimmer | June 10, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

I installed Safari 4 on my increasingly-aged PowerBook G4 (using Tiger) without any issues. It runs well. Is the history "cover-flow" new, or just something I hadn't noticed before?

For searching: Glims is one plug-in that can let you expand the search box in Safari; AcidSearch used to do the same thing, but it doesn't seem to be available for Safari 4. Inquisitor also does the same thing, but I couldn't get it to install for some reason.

Glims was quite easy to install and you can set it up to search on any website: like on Firefox, just toggle from one engine to another. For my purposes, that remedies the only significant disadvantage of Safari when compared to Firefox.

What I use: Safari on my Mac at home; Firefox on my PC at work; Portable Firefox on the computers in all the classrooms at my university (in Taiwan; most of those computers still use IE6!). And occasionally IE, because a lot of corporate websites in Asia seem suited only to IE - which is a royal pain.

Posted by: lostinasia | June 10, 2009 11:14 PM | Report abuse

I must wonder about the ages of the Macs most users who have commented favoring Firefox, Chrome or OmniWeb have. As a user of a computer with a multitouch trackpad since I got my first MacBook Air in February of 2008, I have come to rely on Safari more than I did previously. It is the only browser that supports multitouch.

Firefox, in addition to being slow as molasses, is barely useable on Apple's multitouch laptops. One must 'forget' what has become one's normal way of interacting with the computer. OmniWeb, which someone is promoting, is much worse. No longer in development apparently, it renders pages badly in comparison to Safari and Firefox. OmniWeb also does not support most of multitouch.

I think users of Apple laptops will increasingly to do most of their browsing on Safari. Again, Apple is matching its software to its hardware.

Posted by: query0 | June 11, 2009 6:43 AM | Report abuse

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