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Apple Reignites Browser War With Safari for Windows

Apple hopes that iPhone sales and Windows compatibility, not to mention faster performance on benchmarking tests, will boost Safari adoption by Windows users.

Windows may be the punch line for Steve Jobs' jokes, but the world's most popular operating system is getting serious and perhaps unwelcome support from Apple.

Monday at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2007 in San Francisco, Apple's CEO said that his company's Safari Web browser now works under Windows.

In a related announcement, Jobs said that developers will be able to build third-party applications for Apple's forthcoming iPhone by creating software that runs in a browser. The iPhone's browser, of course, is Safari.

Citing Apple's experience serving over half a billion iTunes downloads to Windows users, Jobs said he expected Windows users would welcome Safari's superior performance.

To prove his point, Jobs ran a performance comparison between Safari Public Beta 3 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 using VeriTest's iBench Version 5.0. Safari loaded Web pages in half the time it took Internet Explorer.

The Safari 3 Public Beta is available for download now on Mac OS X 10.4.9 (Tiger) and Windows XP. With the release of Mac OS X 10.5 in October, Safari 3 will run on the new Mac OS, Windows XP, and Windows Vista. Apple's effort to broaden Safari's distribution may come at Microsoft's expense, but Timothy Wood, a conference attendee and the founder and director of software development for The Omni Group, saw the move as an effort to counter Firefox's popularity. "I think they're going up against Firefox," he said.

It is worth noting that Google, which has become closer to Apple since Google CEO Eric Schmidt joined Apple's board of directors, has strong ties to the Firefox developer community and a significant interest in the vitality of Firefox.

In the iBench test, Safari loaded Web pages up in nearly half the amount of time the same job took Firefox 2.

According to Jobs, there are 18 million Safari users. Safari accounts for a 5% share of the browser market while Internet Explorer has 78%, Firefox has 15%, and other browsers like Opera and The Omni Group's OmniWeb compose the remaining 2%.

Ethan Schoonover, a conference attendee and developer who blogs at kinkless.com, said he expected that the addition of Windows support would help Safari make inroads in enterprise environments where many IT managers remain wary of open source projects like Firefox.

But it seems likely that sales of iPhones will boost Safari's adoption more than the browser's newfound corporate appeal. If Apple sells 10 million iPhones in a year as projected, Safari's installed base will rise by over 50%, not including Windows users who decide to install it on their PCs.

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