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Apple's other WWDC news: Safari 5

Apple didn't even bother to mention one of its biggest news items in the keynote that opened its Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday morning: the arrival of its new Safari 5 Web browser.

Safari 5, a free download for Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6 or Windows XP, Vista and 7 that comes a year after Safari 4 shipped, belatedly catches up with the competition in some ways but jumps past it in one aspect.


Its most obvious benefit, address auto-completion that remembers page titles as well as addresses--so you can now return to this blog's home page by typing "fast" instead of "voices"--appeared in Mozilla Firefox two years ago. The Mac version's overdue addition of a choice of built-in search engines (its search box is no longer locked to Google and can now be switched among Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing) still falls short of the options Firefox and Microsoft's Windows-only Internet Explorer offer. And in finally providing an official, supported way for developers to write add-on extensions, Safari is years behind almost every other browser but Google's Chrome.

Safari 5's new Reader mode, however, doesn't have too many parallels elsewhere. You'll see this option surface, in the form of a "Reader" button in the address bar, if you're on a page that Safari thinks contains an article. (It can be wrong in that guess; the Reader button appears on Slate's home page.) Click that button to see the text of the story and any illustrations set off in black text on a white background, with everything else on the page--including all the ads--pushed to a dimmed and easily ignored background, as you can see in the screengrab above.

Something tells me that management at news sites, this one included, may not appreciate this feature all that much--though if it persuades users to stop running browsing tools that block advertisements all the time, I suppose it would be an upgrade over current conditions. I've asked The Post's PR department for comment and will update this post when they get back to me.

Apple claims that Safari 5 includes a variety of performance tweaks to speed up its page loading and multimedia performance, but I just haven't had enough time with this release to tell you if it's actually snappier. In tests with a common JavaScript benchmarking tool called SunSpider on a Windows 7 laptop, Chrome was fastest, at 512.6 milliseconds averaged over two tests; followed by Opera at 599.9 ms; and then Safari at 649.5 ms. (Firefox and Internet Explorer were dramatically slower, at 1102 ms and a woeful 5071.6 ms.) Safari 5 did, however, speed past its predecessor in a separate test in Mac OS X 10.6, clocking in at 300.3 ms compared with Safari 4's 381.2 ms.

The Cupertino, Calif., company also brags about Safari 5's support for HTML5 Web standards. But although it does a fine job of showing off how Web coding alone--without any plug-ins--can allow sophisticated graphic effects on pages, Safari 5 doesn't support the new, open-source WebM multimedia format that Google helped launch last month. Firefox, Chrome and Opera are all moving to include that free format in their browsers, but Apple, along with Microsoft, is instead sticking with a far more established, but potentially costly standard called H264.

Finally, Apple's new browser features a wide range of security updates that addresses cross-site-scripting attacks and other vulnerabilities. So if you were looking for any other reason to upgrade from Safari 4 to 5, that ought to convince you.

If you've gone ahead with that installation, let me know in the comments how Safari 5 is working out. And if you use another browser--especially in Windows, where Safari has historically been a poor fit--tell me if the new release has you any more inclined to switch.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 8, 2010; 1:10 PM ET
Categories:  The Web  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Apple introduces new iPhone 4
Next: Microsoft debuts free, Web-based versions of Office apps


I like the new Reader feature. Can't say that it seems much different in terms of speed, but I think that the first visits to the websites I visit most seem slower (as it updates the cache). Subsequent visits are then speedy.

Posted by: jkh1970 | June 8, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

At one time I used Safari...but I no longer want to or need to. My problem with Apple is they want to manage my Windows PC just the way they want to manage everything else. If/when you install Safari, you get other Apple software installed...whether you want it or not. And it starts everytime you boot....whether you want it to or not. And if you eliminate it from startup, they also have implement a scheduled started reimplement automatic startup...whether you want it to or not.

With other better options, such as Chrome and Opera, why would I want to let Apple take over "managing" my PC for me??

Bonjour....the control freaks at Apple..well, if you're a fan boy, you deserve what you get.

Posted by: eeterrific | June 8, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

ya, all those "components" that Apple installs... like you know, every other program does.. it's so bad...

for you it's much better to install Flash on your windows PC, where even MSFT says that Flash is the number one cause of browser crashes and slow downs...

so as you say, you do deserve what you get... have fun with that.

Posted by: honkj | June 8, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

@ eeterrific

While I can see why you would find that behavior annoying, it reminds me of when I was a system admin for a bunch of Windows machines several years ago. Trying to kill Outlook Express took herculean effort. Anything less, and Microsoft would kindly put it back on the desktop for you.

Posted by: jkh1970 | June 8, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I use Safari almost exclusively because it is still the only browser that supports full multitouch on my MacBook Air. With the Air available for two years now, and, other Mac laptops moving to full multitouch trackpads, you would think other browser developers would have included full multitouch support by now. If I want to do something as simple as use my fingers to increase and decrease page size, I need Safari. I communicated with Mozilla about Firefox lacking most multitouch options a year ago, but there hasn't been any change in Firefox.

Posted by: query0 | June 8, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I switched to Apple Mac's three years ago, and at first I loved Safari. It was fast. I also installed Pith Helmet to get rid of the constant "in your face" distracting advertisements. Unfortunately Apple with each frequent upgrade of Safari, had the goal of breaking Pith Helmet's Ad-Blocker support. The advertising industry has broken and diminish the wonderful experience of the browsing experience and made it into a horrid experience.

I would not mind ad's, if done tastefully, but ad's have gotten so bad that with my former computer, the ad's would lock up my browser. I distinctly remember one Air Canada Air with an airplane flying across the screen that took forever to load, prevented everything else from loading, and basically locked up my browser so that it was unusable. By the way, I will never fly Air Canada because I vote with my feet. Company's that post distracting "In-your-face" ads are added to my list of company's that don't get my business.

Web sites that abuse their customers, get completely blocked. I open new windows in a new tab, and close any tabs that hijack my browser and take me somewhere else showing an ad or a pop-up. Click--you are deleted and I don't come back.

The same sort of thing in Television has made millions of people switch to renting movies, watching NetFlix, or using a TiVo to block the enormously time consuming advertisements which in some cases occupy 50% of programming time. It has gotten so bad that TV shows repeat cuts of their material two or even three times to fit a 30 minute program in 60 minutes. This trend is only getting worse. A consumer has no choice but to find other options.

Since Apple refuses to support Ad-Blocking, they have lost me and millions of other people to Firefox, which does allow Ad-blocking plug-ins that once again make the Internet a pleasant place to be. Web sites lose too because they lose ad revenue--all because advertisement have gotten way out of control.

So, you can understand why I feel the announcement of a new Safari is both laughable, and irrelevant. Who cares? The only people to use Safari are the people who don't know any better. If Apple would stop breaking Pith Helmet with each release, people might use Safari. They won't so they will continue to drive people away from Safari.

The bottom line is people are customers not patsies to be abused.

If every advertiser evaluated the best way to reach their customers is to avoid slapping them in the face--they would develop their business instead "unknowingly" of driving customers away.

If every web browser allowed and supported Ad-Blocking plug-ins, perhaps webmasters would say no to over-the-top advertisements.

By the way, Steve Jobs uses Firefox with Ad Block Plus--he is no fool.

Posted by: doubleecho | June 8, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

@ doubleecho

Your post contains many criticisms relevant to old versions of Safari. Ironically, the new version probably fixes those complaints. It is the first version that has an official extension API for plug-ins like AdBlock. Already, a bunch of new Safari plug-ins are making the rounds. Some of them are really cool.

Posted by: jkh1970 | June 8, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Like the first commentator, I thought Safari 5 was initially slower too. The reader function is nice, but mostly the changes to the new browser are invisible to me. I do use the made for Apple version of Chrome, and Opera, and also run these browsers under WinXP in a Parallels partition too. I have not done the Safari upgrade in the Windows partitions on any of my machines.

In OS X,6, and WinXP both, I like the speed of Chrome the best, but notwithstanding the security breaches, and slow load time, I've liked the feature set of IE 6-8. Firefox has become my least favorite browser. Too many add-ons have made it fat and slow.

I recently had done a hard drive upgrade in my primary laptop, with a clean system install (2 wks ago) and but had noticed prior to the upgrade, that Safari 4 had gotten "buggy" (in the OS10.6 partition) and was failing to load multiple tabs. During that time my Opera, and Chrome browsers were still stable, ie probably not a network problem.

I made the switch over to Apple products in 2008, converting my office (24" imac) , my personal laptops, 15" MBPro, and a MBAir, an, iphone, Airport Extreme, time capsule, mobileme, and x 6 airport express units for stereo speakers, and printers, and a couple Apple Tvs, and replaced my mp3 players with ipods.

In short, I've got the whole apple experience going here. I was not particularly an apple fan, but bought all in the same family in hopes that all my components would "play nice" together. Most of the time they do. Biggest gripes are when the router drops a signal, and my whole wireless world lags. That's as much deficit in my DSL as anything.

Summary: I suspect that for most of us the Safari 5 upgrade will be a non-event. But Apple seems to have the corner on providing a consistently smooth user experience.

Posted by: jjmfe | June 8, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Here's a link to a page with a variety of Safari extensions created in the 24 hours since the announcement:

Posted by: jkh1970 | June 8, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

I use Safari (Mac G5) almost exclusively, FF the rest for sharing Web page development and testing, and version 5 is nice with the reader view, replacing the print or print view option, and is useful for Websites which don't offer a that option. Now if they can fix the Websites which don't over a "single page" view of multi-page articles, but at least now I can get clean pages from these Websites.

Posted by: wsrphoto | June 9, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Safari 5 still doesn't display colors properly on wide gamut displays (such as my NEC 26wuxi2). FireFox has no problem with this.

Posted by: mstan1 | June 9, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I think the Reader feature is a nice thing, but (to me) it's still the slowest browser on my system.

Posted by: timmdrumm | June 10, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

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