03:44 PM

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.

Privacy And SnapBack
There are other features that I found very inviting. For example, a private browsing feature stops Safari from recording the URL to your History list, automatically removes file listings from your Download box, and protects your privacy in other ways. I'd find this type of feature especially useful in, say, the press room of a trade show (assuming Safari was installed on their systems). However, it would be nice if there was some indication on the browser (aside from the checkmark on the drop-down menu) that private browsing is turned on.

The Bookmarks Manager is well designed and easy to use.

(Click image to enlarge.)

I thought the SnapBack feature was a pretty nifty idea, but I'm afraid it's so Mac that I can't figure out how it works -- at least, not completely. Snapback lets you jump back to a Web page or a search that you were previously on, thus saving you from all that clicking on the "back" arrow. It works well on the search box -- for example, I could do a Google search, click on a few links, click on the orange arrow in the search box and I was immediately back to my original search page. A great timesaver -- however, Snapback only works on selected Web pages (which ones, I haven't figured out yet). While I really appreciate the ability to do a search and then jump back to that search whenever I need to, I'll have to let the rest of the feature go until it becomes a bit more predictable.

Apple may also want to make things a bit easier for those who do want to move to Safari from another browser. It's not all that simply to importing bookmarks from another browser -- if you want to get your current bookmarks into Safari, you need to either find the file from the browser in question (an exercise that a lot of less technically-adept users won't be able to handle), or create an export file in your other browser and use that for the import.

Finally, one of the main selling points of Safari is that it's supposed to be much faster than rival Windows-based browsers -- in fact, as I wrote this, Apple had a chart on its download page showing how much faster Safari is. That may be, but in the real world, there are many factors that determine how fast a page loads: the makeup of the page, whether it's optimized for your browser, what the traffic is on your network at that moment, etc. I ran several sites on both Firefox and Safari, and while there were some in which Safari came in 3-5 seconds faster, in the end, it didn't make that much of a difference.

So would I switch from Firefox (my current browser) to Safari? No -- there just isn't enough there to make it that much more attractive. Would I be terribly unhappy if my boss told me that Safari was going to be my browser from now on? No -- I could certainly live with it.

Apple is claiming more than one million copies of Safari 3 Beta has been downloaded as of Friday, June 15. It's still to be determined how many of those who download the browser will actually use it as their default application. While it has some potential, I imagine that this beta will have to be tweaked quite a bit more before it can claim to rival its more popular Windows-based peers.

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