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.
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.
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.
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?
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