NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2007
Apple’s New Safari Browser for WINDOWS
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)


Apple recently released a free version of its Safari 3 browser for Windows. While this is the first public release of an Apple produced browser for Windows, many of us already have some Apple software on our computers. Many of us have viewed QuickTime videos on our computers, and QuickTime is a long standing Apple product.

One may ask why Apple would produce a browser for Windows, when there are other, well established Windows browsers available. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still has the vast majority of Windows browser market, followed in distant second by Firefox, and then Opera and Netscape. According to published reports, Apple sees Safari 3 for Windows as a marketing tool to better acquaint Windows users with Apple products, in the hopes that they would buy more Apple offerings, such as the new iPhone. The default startup page for Safari, which is easy to change, is an Apple marketing and support website.

I already have four browsers installed on my main computer, with Firefox being my primary browser, followed by Internet Explorer with occasional use, and Opera and Netscape which I only rarely use. There is no conflict or problem having more than one browser installed, as they do not interfere with each other. Despite what I already have installed, curiosity dictated that I download and install Safari 3. Clicking on the download link at http://www.apple.com/safari offered the choice of two Windows downloads, a 28 meg download of Safari with QuickTime for XP or Vista, or a smaller 8 meg download of just the Safari for XP and Vista. As may be already obvious, Safari for Windows will only run on computers with XP or Vista.

Apple has done a good job trying to create demand for Safari for Windows, by proximately posting relative performance information on the main Safari website. According to Apple, Safari can load web pages about twice as fast as Internet Explorer version 7, and 1.6 times faster than Firefox. Java scripts execute 2.8 times faster in Safari 3 than they do in Internet Explorer 7, and 1.6 times faster than Firefox. Application load time of Safari 3 is also faster than Internet Explorer or Firefox, while the much smaller Opera loads in about the same time as Safari 3. If Apple’s claimed performance advantage survives scrutiny of the trade media, then it may indeed have an edge in the highly competitive market.

I downloaded the full version of Safari 3 with QuickTime. And it installed smoothly with minimal effort. Upon loading Safari 3 the first time, it was immediately apparent that the look and feel of Safari is definitely Apple-esque. While the interface was clean and intuitive, it lacked some of the flair and color of Internet Explorer and Firefox, with a flat gray toolbar and border, which Apple calls “elegant”. The commands and structure of the toolbar are similar to other browsers, and required a “zero” learning curve. As is now universal in other recent browser releases, Safari 3 offers tabbed browsing, where multiple browser windows can be sequentially opened in a single application. Safari 3 is a full featured browser, with easy to use bookmarks, an integral pop-up blocker, integrated search function, auto-completion of forms, a built in RSS reader, and other features. One somewhat unique feature is “SnapBack”, which allows the user to quickly return to previously viewed web pages more efficiently than using the “back” button. An interesting privacy feature is the “Private Browsing” feature (found in the “Edit” menu), which turns off any saving or record of websites visited (history), searches made, cookies received, forms filled, and other current information. In terms of security, Safari 3 supports all of the major internet encryption standards, and proxy configurations. One feature I liked is that Safari 3 automatically imported the bookmarks from my other browsers, allowing me immediate access to the websites I typically visit using those other browsers.

Safari 3 allows the use of plug-ins, much like Firefox. Unlike the well established Firefox, with thousands of open source plug-ins available, the recently released Safari 3 only lists six plug-ins at its site at http://www.apple.com/safari/download/plugins.html. These six plug-ins offer features that may already be integrated into other browsers, such as an Acrobat PDF viewer, Java, Flash viewer, Real Player, QuickTime, and Windows Media Player. As Safari 3 gains popularity among Windows users, it is conceivable that more plug-ins may appear.

There is a potentially interesting feature built into Safari 3 that I personally do not yet feel comfortable with, but others may find very useful; this feature is “Bonjour for Windows”. Bonjour (http://www.apple.com/bonjour) allows the user to network computers, printers, and other smart devices through the Safari 3 browser. Bonjour uses the open standard IP protocol, and can connect items hard wired through an Ethernet cable, or wirelessly through an 802.11 system. One example that Apple lists is using Bonjour to automatically configure a printer by going to an appropriate Bonjour compatible website which provides the information to configure the printer. Apple lists printers from Brother, Canon, Epson, HP, Lexmark, and Xerox that are compatible with the Bonjour feature.

In using Safari 3 for Windows for a few days, I noticed some interesting usability features. One I especially liked was the feature that allows the size of the screen fonts to be instantly changed, which may improve readability of a web page. The feature in Safari 3 is identical to the same feature in Firefox, and uses the same command (CTRL +) to make the fonts larger, and “CTRL –“ to make them smaller. This feature in Safari 3 is superior and more flexible than the method used in Internet Explorer to change font sizes. In terms of readability, most web sites were easier to read in Safari 3 than in Internet Explorer 7. I did notice some minor negative difference between Safari and the others, and that was in terms of page formatting. One minor annoyance was displayed when viewing my weather page (http://www.beaumontweather.com) which is written in fairly pure HTML, the basic web page language. On Safari 3 some items that used the HTML “center” command did not appear centered, while the same items looked fine in Firefox or Internet Explorer. On some other pages, such as the starting page for a local TV station, some graphics do not appear to load at first, but this is usually rectified by reloading the page. Except for these anomalies, almost all other web pages I visited appeared correctly, and were very readable.

I found Safari 3 to be an attractive alternative to Internet Explorer, and may be of interest to those who might want to try something different in terms of a browser. It is clean and full featured, as is typical for Apple products. As another free browser, users may want to download it and try it.

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