One week of Safari

January 2, 2008

One week ago ((Not including my one week of computerlessness for visiting family.)), I decided to give Safari 3 a shot at becoming my primary browser, as I had planned. As great as Firefox 3 is, a lot of people love Safari a lot, and Firefox does have some rough edges. I was able to enjoy enjoy some of its unique features, but two main things kept me from being able to ditch Firefox.

Obviously the big win for Safari is its aesthetics. The theme is consistent with itself and the operating system. For example, Safari gets OS X 10.5’s context menus with their (shoddily) rounded corners and (beautifully) blurred transparent background.

Safari’s Find feature is great, although it is missing one thing from Firefox. When your term is not being found, Firefox’s search field turns red and has an audio cue with each keypress, whereas Safari just puts up a little grey label “Not found”. This makes the Firefox one a bit quicker to use, if less zen-like.

Overall, Safari was more stable than Firefox, although its lack of Tab Restore meant that when things did go bad, they went really bad. The speed was good ((One of the design issues people mention about Antipode is that scrolling with the transparent footer eats CPU cycles. In my test, Safari took less CPU to scroll with the mouse wheel than Firefox did, but way more than Firefox when scrolling by dragging the scroll bar. Intersting.)), although my machine is fast enough that my connection is generally the limiting factor in either browser.

Safari can’t handle my attempt to learn more about Qwerty in a prompt fashion.The most painful part of Safari, for me, is the location bar. This is the command line of the browser. To relegate it to only accepting URLs in 2008 is criminal. It’s akin to what only accepting URLs qualified with “http://” was in 1998: behind the times. The Firefox location bar accepts four kinds of input: URLs, keyword searches, jump-to-first-Google-result, and full-text as-you-type search into your recent browsing history. Over time I’ve kept less bookmarks and remembered less URLs, and just relied on these features to get where I’m going dead fast. I have some thoughts about this for a later article, but all in all they were painfully missed.

The second most lacking thing about Safari is its tab handling. If you open more than a dozen or so tabs, they overflow into a dropdown. This isn’t tragic, and used to be how Firefox works. Once it overflows, though, it’s very difficult work within your mess, or even clean it up. Without icons on the tabs or the ability to scroll through them, they’re hard to juggle. You can’t even see the active tab if it’s one of the latecomer overflowed tabs, which it’s likely to be. This motivated me to be more aggressive in closing tabs, but in Safari you can’t un-close a tab, which can hurt pretty bad. Especially when your open tabs can represent to-do or to-read items, it sucks to lose one by accident.

In between the elementary location bar and simplistic tab handling, Safari just couldn’t keep pace with me. That said, I don’t think it needs to be as featureful as Firefox to be the better browser. I could survive without a lot of the nifty things Firefox has ((Although I must say: where the heck is Safari’s full page zoom? Even IE has this now. For those who haven’t tried it out yet, it’s a lot more useful that I expected, albeit more so when I don’t have my glasses on.)), but a browser has to be able to get you places quick and handle open tabs deftly.

© Allen Pike. See also Twitter and Steamclock.