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6/18/2007
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Review: Safari 3.0 Beta Tries To Take On IE And Firefox

While not exactly a 98-pound weakling, Apple's new Windows browser doesn't yet have the heft to make it a real contender.

It's been a while since a new Web browser made headlines, but when Apple made the beta of its Safari 3.0 Beta browser available to Windows users, it raised a few eyebrows. It certainly caught my attention -- as a non-Mac user I thought this was a great opportunity to sample the simplicity and efficiency that my Apple-using friends have been touting for years.



Simplicity is part of the aesthetic of Safari.

(Click image to enlarge.)

Certainly, simplicity is part of the aesthetic of Safari. The slightly shaded metallic gray design offers a more Blade Runner feel than the corporate blues and tans of my Firefox browser. And there are a lot of nicely designed details: the way the Customize Toolbar window unfolds out from the address field like a window shade, for example. You want to add an URL or an RSS feed to your bookmarks? Hit the plus mark. You want to see your bookmarks? Click on the open book icon. It's so simple, it's almost sparse.

I also found that the look some of the Web sites I went to were improved, either to a greater or lesser extent. The main Google search page, for example, looks a bit more polished than its equivalent in Firefox: the buttons are more 3D in appearance, and the blue outlines around the fill-in fields make them stand out more. The appearance of the RSS feeds was also clean and easy to read.

Maybe A Bit Too Simple
On the other hand, you can take simplicity too far. This is, after all, an Apple app, and as a result, some Windows features that I've come to take for granted were missing. For example, there are no cursor-over tooltips, which heightened my learning curve a bit -- if you've got a mysterious button with a plus sign on it, and you don't know what it's for, an informational caption is a lot safer than simply clicking it to see what happens. (Help file? I don't need no stinkin' Help file....) In addition, when I wanted to customize the toolbar (to, for example, put a Home button on it), right-clicking on it got me bupkis -- I had to go the long way around: click on View and then Toolbars.

I also normally use right-clicking for opening links from my History and Bookmarks lists into new tabbed windows. However, that doesn't work with Safari. In fact, although you can set your Preferences to open a link in a tabbed window, or open a link in a new tab by hitting Ctrl-Click, it doesn't seem to work with Safari's Bookmarks Bar (the drop-down listing of bookmarks) or History list. (It also seemed to balk at Google's Docs & Spreadsheets documents.) If I were to adopt Safari as my default browser, this would be a real issue.

That being said, the Bookmarks Manager is very nicely organized, and wonderfully simple to handle. Click the open book icon on the toolbar, and you have an elegant and easy-to-navigate listing of all your bookmarks and RSS feeds. There are some features I'd like added -- for example, I tend to store a lot of my bookmarks in folders on my toolbar, and unlike Firefox, Safari doesn't let you drag and drop URLs into a toolbar folder. But all in all, I was impressed.

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