Safari for Windows: Nothing Remarkable, Except Beta Security Holes

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I make my living surfing the Web (at least that's how it seems most days), and I am always eager to try out any new piece of end-user software that purports to make my life easier.


So earlier this week I downloaded the Safari 3.0 beta for Windows to give it a spin. (Note of prudence: I checked with our CTO before I did so, and boy, am I glad -- 18 bugs found in less than a day? Not hard to see why big shops are so keen on client virtualization and any other potential means to lock down user endpoints.)


Security burps and consequent updates aside, I found the first Windows release of the Mac Web browser to be innocuous. I've said before that with the incorporation of tabbed browsing in IE7, the popular browsers are all pretty much the same, at least in terms of usability for most Web surfers.


The only two potential areas of real distinction are security (I know it's a beta, and there's time to fix the final release, but 18 bugs -- geez) and speed. Speed is clearly where Apple is positioning Safari and, while I can't claim to have benchmarked the browser's performance as this Wired blogger does -- aren't benchmark reports supposed to include detailed technical descriptions of the host systems? -- I can say that on numerous tech-centric sites I visited, Safari did seem to simply fly.


I'd add that these tech-centric sites tend to run a lot of complicated advertising that's based largely on JavaScript -- a key area where Apple claims performance distinctions over IE7 and Firefox 2.0. This oddly extensive piece at Computerworld backs Apple's claims on JavaScript (I'm linking to page 3, where the issue is discussed); the Wired blogger and other sources aren't on board there, and have also cited Ajax-happy Google applications as a drag point for the Safari beta.


I was able to log on to my Google Analytics account and manipulate the needlessly Ajaxed-out date range picker with no appreciably irritating delays. But that's not a benchmark, just an anecdotal observation -- pretty soon somebody with a lab will actually benchmark this stuff. But that's premature for a beta, anyway.


As far as usability goes, Computerworld rants over the on-page Find feature that basically creates a gray skin over the viewed page and then launches the user in flashback to Pop-Up-Video as she flips through the results, like so:


Safari On-page Find


I've never had any complaints with the Firefox toolset here. I'm tempted to comment that whatever gene causes users to go nuts over sexy, but largely superfluous, display options like this is the same gene that makes people like Macs. Which also leads me to ask why Apple doesn't just go ahead and divorce its OS from its hardware and let users drive the OS market. But I digress.


The most promising usability feature I saw, at least from the perspective of someone who consumes a lot of information, is the Bookmarks toolbars' View All RSS Articles, complete with slider bar, which lets the user determine if she wants to see the entire text of a feed or just snippets. You can also sort based on RSS elements, such as source and post date -- extremely cool. That's probably gonna make its way onto a custom toolbar one of these days.


I was baffled by the Snapback feature, which seemed counter-intuitive (even after reading the help materials). Basically, a snapback sets a short-term home page for a session/domain -- the most obvious application is running a great search set and then setting the results as your snapback as you meander off down the Web path where the results lead you.


I asked our resident Mac lover/punching bag, and he says that tabbed browsing more or less obviates the snapback feature. Another friend, a staff photographer at a top-50 market daily newspaper and a devoted Mac power-imager, tells me he has never used snapback, either. Again, usability is basically the same across all browsers except for the most sophisticated users.


So, what's the best advice on Safari for the PC? Keep it the hell off your users' systems while it is still in beta and until Apple -- and the horde of security researchers who are eager to knock Apple down a peg or two -- certify that it is reasonably safe.


No nifty usability features, or even appreciable speed gains, can compare with security as a concern for business.