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Apple’s Safari 4 Beta Ready to Run

March 03, 2009 | Chris Maxcer | Comments 0

By Chris Maxcertopsites300x250

Unlike Google and its infamous Gmail “beta”, the products that Apple releases in beta form eventually make it out of beta and ship as a regular product fairly quickly. In fact, it might even be argued that Apple’s betas are barely betas at all. This is not to say that Apple doesn’t have its share of bugs, but when it comes to Safari 4, I’ve yet to encounter any in day-to-day browsing.

To start, Safari 4 is stable — haven’t had it crash yet — and while it is supposed to be much faster, the speed gains aren’t particularly noticeable unless you’re on a slow connection or tend to visit JavaScript-heavy sites.

Still, Safari 4 gives Apple the ability to boast that it has the fastest browser in the world. Safari 4 includes a new “Nitro” JavaScript engine that executes JavaScript up to 30 times faster than IE 7 and more than three times faster than Firefox 3. Safari quickly loads HTML web pages three times faster than IE 7 and almost three times faster than Firefox 3, as well as 4.2 times faster than Safari 3.

Top Sites

One of the more interesting new features is Top Sites, which provides a curved wall of stacked home pages from frequently visited web sites. It’s basically visual eye candy, but handy nonetheless. You can choose to see 6, 12, or 24 pages, and you can move the pages around and pin the ones you want to see all the time. The link to Top Sites is a little + button in the upper right corner.

I like it.

Following Top Sites, Apple added a Cover Flow feature to browsing your web history. Now this is a tool that’s far more than eye candy — how often have you visited a site you want to return to, but the esoteric descriptions in your history don’t reveal what you’re trying to find? A visual cue, in this case, the covers of the web page you visited, are all lined up and ready to flip through.

Very nice.

safari4-history300x250Tabs on Top

The biggest transition for those who use tabs is the new tab position — they’re on top. The move reduces the vertical space taken by the tool bar by 25 percent. While it took me a couple of days to get used to, the new position is now second nature. When I’m browsing directly from my MacBook, any extra vertical space is much appreciated.

Safari 4 includes HTML 5 support for offline technologies so web-based applications can store information locally without an Internet connection, plus it is the first browser to support advanced CSS Effects that enable highly polished web graphics using reflections, gradients, and precision masks. Top Sites uses reflections to a pleasing effect, by the way.

Safari 4 is also the first browser to pass the Web Standards Project’s Acid3 test, which examines how well a browser adheres to CSS, JavaScript, XML and SVG web standards that are specifically designed for dynamic web applications. It’s hard to say if there’s much to this because some browser makers don’t give the test a lot of weight.

Safari for Mac, Windows, iPhone and iPod touch are all built on Apple’s WebKit browser engine. Apple says it developed WebKit as an open source project to create the world’s best browser engine and to advance the adoption of modern web standards. Most recently, WebKit led the introduction of HTML 5 and CSS 3 web standards. The industry’s newest browsers are based on WebKit and include Google Chrome, the Google Android browser, the Nokia Series 60 browser, and Palm webOS.

Oh, one more thing: for our Windows-lovin’ friends, Apple created a more Windows-friendly design, ditching the brushed aluminum look that looks out of place on Windows PCs.

Versions for Mac OS X and Windows are available as a free download at http://www.apple.com/safari.

Filed Under: Apple ActionMac

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About the Author: Chris Maxcer is editor and publisher of WickedCoolTech.com. He's been writing about the tech industry for years. While he enjoys wicked cool gear and design, there's something to be said for turning it all off — or most of it — to go outside. To contact him, take a firstname.lastname guess at wickedcooltech.com.

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