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Has Apple tripped up with Safari?

Thursday, 14 June 2007 apple releases webdev

Apple has recently launched their flagship browser to Windows. Any good? Any point? Despite animosity for most things Apple, I’m excited to get my hands on the Apple browser… But for how long?

Apple this week announced and released their latest beta of their flagship browser, Safari… On Windows. The initial welcome of the news was a little sparse (as it would in a room full of Apple activists) but a little while later there were definitely a few people making positive sounds.

Regular readers will know my contempt for Apple fans and Apple software on Windows but please don’t see this as a negative because I was genuinely excited to see Safari coming to Windows, even if I did have a few doubts.

My problem with Apple software is that it tries to infest your computer. I’m not saying that in a malware sense but lets just say that Apple software comes from a very controlled environment. OSX is the mothership and it has everything built in that apps might need. Windows is fairly unfamiliar ground and for the software to feel right at home, it brings a lot of personal effects to keep it company.


Apple claim that Safari is “up to” two times faster than other browsers… I’ve got to say that’s certainly not my personal experience and other people have been publishing studies showing that Safari isn’t all that quick.

This one article published by Wired Magazine’s blog shows that Safari is slower than all three top browsers (IE, FF and Opera).

Sure you can misrepresent figures to show what you like but at the end of it, performance is possibly the last comparison I make when looking at browsers because it doesn’t matter to me if something takes a second longer if I can use it better once it’s there.

I’m just saying don’t be pulled in by Apple’s useless statistics on performance. They’re certainly not a viable or uncontested selling point.


So lets start this little look at Safari 3 with the most fundamental of application features: text rendering. Point of notice: Apple text is bold — all the time. Bold text is even bolder. Jeff over at Coding Horror has already taken a in-depth look at Apple’s rendering techniques and he has a great paraquote from a MS insider describing as Apple taking the text and just blurring it a little.

That’s a superb statement that I think anybody who uses ClearType (the MS antialiasing technology) will agree that Apple screen type is gallons less readable than average Windows text. I’m sure it’s just a OS-preference thing but why would you bring your rendering to another platform where they’re perfectly happy with (in our opinion) a superior display technology? Here’s a direct comparison:

Alternative rendering techniques

Graphically, it’s what you expect from Apple. Gradient + rounded corners. Interestingly enough, the window doesn’t leave a shadow (as you’ll see with pictures later on) which I thought was a bit of a funny thing to turn off. I thought OSX has shadows…


From the Safari website:

Now you can enjoy worry-free web browsing on any computer. Apple engineers designed Safari to be secure from day one.

Fire the engineers. Fire them all now. This is the one that’s going to be biting Apple in the arse for a long time. Barely a couple of hours after it was released, people were peeking and poking the browser for vulnerabilities… And getting results.

Yes, I know it’s beta. It may have a better patch release schedule than IE, though it may not… But seriously… Critical flaws found in under 2 hours? This is starting to point to a severe lack of ability to test applications properly before releasing them into the wild.

Windows is a completely different beast. You don’t have the inherent security levels that you took from BSD when you built OSX watching your back. That means you need to be a hundred times more vigilant when writing anything. The fact vulnerabilities are showing themselves so immediately is a clear sign that Apple just isn’t taking this seriously.

They should have had security consultants in detecting this stuff at pre-alpha level.

Stability, bugs and omissions

“Beta” software is that which is still undergoing testing and last minute changes. You usually stagger testing in stages so you can deal with feedback and get a new build that addresses as many of the previous versions bugs as possible.

The mistake that Apple seemed to have made is they’ve got so caught up in keeping leaks to a minimum that they can’t even tell their own employees to test the thing before squeeze it out over the heads of the unsuspecting and eager public.

The sheer range of stability is absolutely astounding. Some people (on both OSX and Windows) have constant repeatable crashing on several places and other have a fairly stable ride. I’ve only had a few crashes while using it but I’ve probably only been using it for two hours in total. That level of instability is way below what I’d expect by beta level.

There’s also this weird dual-monitor bug… Drag safari over… double click the header to maximise but it disappears! It actually vanishes into a 1px by 20px strip on the far right… Very, very odd.

Err... Where did it go?

There are still rendering bugs but that’s only to be expected. Interestingly enough it passes the Acid2 test with flying colours… But as Opera proves in itself, passing that array of positional tests is hardly a universal benchmark for CSS formatting on the whole.

Most of my problems with the browser come at a usability level. There are things that they’ve turned off or haven’t implemented in this version which just make using the browser painful.

As you might expect from an OSX app, you have the world most annoying window-frames. I know they’re only 1px wide but I’m pretty accurate so if you gave me the choice, I, for one, would be able to use them to resize windows… Here’s a visual depiction of me trying desperately to resize:

Where are the resize handles?!

Having to dive to the bottom right corner every time I want to resize is not just damned annoying, it’s thoroughly inconsistent with the rest of Windows.

Do OSX users use middle click? I certainly do… There’s a lot to be said for middle clicking and letting a long page autoscroll so you can read it all without having to scroll down more lines. Middle click does nothing for me.

How about control+mousewheel-up or control+mousewheel-down? Something I do on a very regular basis is change the font size so I can sit back and read. I do this using the wheel… Again… no such love in Safari.

These sorts of petty omissions are amongst some of the first features I would put in something. They are basic functions of many applications and overlooking them as Apple seem to have is revolting.

Perhaps I’m just a power user for using two peripherals at the same… Either way, these sorts of features can’t be missing from the final version or nobody will use it. They’re fundamental features.

There’s also a lack of a plug-in framework at the moment and, obviously, therefore a lack of plug-ins. I wouldn’t say my install of Firefox 2 is totally pimped out by plugins but I have it made it my own… I’m uncomfortable doing certain things without my plug-ins…

I’ve got the Web Developer toolbar for giving me technical information about pages and helping me optimise pages, Firebug for detailed manipulation of webpages to debug the design and javascript. Adblock Plus keeps annoying adverts and scripts off my computer and really makes viewing websites so much more enjoyable. Colourful tabs makes the tab bar more usable. Finally, I’ve got Stumble Upon for unmitigated procrastination.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve used the in-line spell-checker in Firefox 2. It’s not perfect (grammar checking would be a nice addition) but going without it certainly means there are going to be more typos.

Possible uses

So security is shot, text looks dodgy, there are bugs galore, many features that are largely fundamental are missing, there aren’t any plug-ins that make other browsers so powerful, the interface is annoying and inconsistent with what Windows users expect and the speed of this thing is vastly debatable… So why would anybody want to use Safari?

Well I was first enthusiastic about being able to use Safari so I could test designs and make sure they work. Older versions of Safari have been pretty good on the CSS front but have a few lapses that can make all the difference. Version 3 of Safari fixes some but introduces some more… It’s completely inconsistent with Safari 2.x and that makes it useless for mainstream Mac user testing.

Other people have said the whole reason for releasing this to Windows users is so they can develop safari modifications that work with the iPhone. While I can see the logic there, how does releasing something in this state signify any commitment to your developers?

They’ve called it a beta but it’s clear to me that it’s nowhere near that state of readiness. There has been a massively low amount of testing happen before the public release or the testing happened but its results were just discarded.

I think a lot of security experts are assuming that we’re going to see some form of bundling going on where iTunes downloads include Safari… Therefore there’s a lot of emphasis on hacking the hell out of it so if there is any sort of measurable Windows Safari membership, they’ll soon become part of a botnet.

The worst case scenario for Apple is that these security bods find cross-platform hacks in Safari and we’ll see how long Apple fanboys can keep holding IE’s face in the mud.

If you can get good use from this, I wish you the best of luck… Personally, I can’t see any use for it whatsoever — it doesn’t do anything that another browser does and what it does do, it does worse than them.

“Safari” is Swahili for “trip”. I can’t help but feel that’s what best described this. A massive safari-up for Apple because they’ve released this saying it’s in a late stage of production and its nowhere near ready or even safe. They need to adopt a better system of testing things internally… That requires Jobs to actually trust his minions a little.

Anyway… Thanks, Steve… But no thanks.