Safari 4 First Thoughts

Just checked out the Safari 4 beta. Overall, it looks promising.

The good

JavaScript performance. I’m curious to know how they accomplished this (JIT compiler?) but I’m happy it’s here. More and more, client-side JavaScript is becoming something that can do heavy lifting.

Tabbed browsing. The weird tab/title bar doesn’t appeal to me, but I can see its value. To me, the window needs to feel like it’s a container, and the tabs just screw that up for me. But the space savings is nice.

Better keyboard navigation. Greatly appreciated by those of us who fill out forms on the web. Which is to say everyone. turns out they had this in Safari 3.

Better hints for location bar. Much better! The hints now work kind of like spotlight. Type stuff into the URL bar, and Safari will do its best to find a matching URL from any source it can think of (history, bookmarks, etc). The best guess is shown first (like Spotlight) and the rest are categorized. Problems: The location bar doesn’t seem to handle page titles, which is a shame. Also, if you mistype a URL and get a 404 or other error, it still shows up in history and can end up as the “top hit”. Uh… whoops!

Embedded web fonts. It’s great that Safari is doing this. However, to be realistic (a) more browsers need to support this, and (b) someone needs to sort through all the legal issues having to do with font embedding.

The meh

CSS animations. Back in 97, I was one of the folks working on the first version of Dreamweaver. At that point in time, the Netscape folks were coming up with new tags all the time.

When we told the Netscape folks that we were going to add a timeline to Dreamweaver to take advantage of the <layer> tag, they were surprised and happy. You see, the inspiration for the <layer> tag was this question: “how can we have the browser do the things that the Shockwave plugin does?” Fast forward to 2009 and replace “layer” with “CSS animations” or “canvas” and replace “Shockwave” with “Flash”.

My opinion on all this? Meh. If you want to do everything that Flash does, use Flash. Or invent something radically new that blows HTML out of the water. Don’t bother bolting that stuff onto HTML/CSS.

In fact, if you’re going to bolt stuff onto CSS, focus on getting the basics of static presentation right. CSS layout is still incredibly difficult (way harder than tables were). You have to do hours of Google research just to get a usable two column layout.

Top Sites. The top sites UI feels overly glitzy to me, and for no good reason. The slightly curved appearance implies (to my eye) that I should be able to rotate my view to the left and the right to see more sites. Which you can’t do, as far as I can tell.

Bookmark Sidebar / Cover Flow. I like Cover Flow, but it’s getting to the point where I can’t tell the Apple apps apart. iTunes has a sidebar on the left, a list of stuff on the right, which can include a Cover Flow view and a list below. Same with the Finder. Same with the browser. Same with…

Maybe I’m just thinking about this too abstractly, but it bothers me that so many of the Apple apps are starting to feel the same as each other. Not so long ago, iTunes was different than the Finder, which was different than iPhoto. Now, you have cover flow in the Finder and with Quick Look, you can play the song right from there.

So I don’t know. I’m kind of torn. Consistency is nice, but too much consistency leads to every single thing looking exactly the same. It feels a little bit like MS Windows UI right around when XP came out. Tree views were pretty general, and a lot of applications fit into the pattern of “tree view on left, detail view on right”, so that’s what everyone did.

Maybe it will grow on me. Or maybe they’ll iron out the kinks. (single clicking on a bookmark in the sidebar doesn’t navigate you to the page. It shows you a “category” with a single bookmark in it. Double clicking on the bookmark in the sidebar lets you rename the bookmark. The only way to navigate to that bookmark, as far as I can tell, is to click on the bookmark, and then click on the image of the website in cover flow, or else double click on the bookmark in the bottom pane below cover flow. I mean… cover flow is pretty, but isn’t single clicking a bookmark more important?)

The WTF?

Color profile support. They claim to be the first only one to support this, but doesn’t Firefox already do this? Is the issue that it is turned off by default? Or does Safari handle colors in a significantly better way than Firefox?

10 Responses to “Safari 4 First Thoughts”

  1. Tim McLeod

    I absolutely agree on the tabbed browsing, except that you listed it under “The Good”. I’m not a fan at all. It feels very awkward. Good review.

  2. Mike Morearty

    Better keyboard navigation? I don’t see that. Are you talking about the “Enhanced Keyboard Navigation” section on http://www.apple.com/safari/features.html ? If so, I don’t think that’s new.

  3. Paul Walker

    Safari is definitely the fist to support colour profiles. They’ve been doing it from 1.0.

  4. Peter Baird

    Yeah, really not a fan of the new tabs on top. In fact, I found a way online to turn it off and switch it back to the regular tabs (defaults write com.apple.Safari DebugSafari4TabBarIsOnTop -bool NO, from http://swedishcampground.com/safari-4-hidden-preferences) and that’s the first thing I did. Honestly, with the screen resolutions that computers have today, is anyone’s experience really changed by those extra 20 pixels of space. And then the problem that putting the tabs on top creates is the suggesting that the toolbar and bookmarks bar are unique to that specific tab. It’s just weird. So, I switched it off.

  5. Peter Baird

    Oh, and Safari 4 breaks inquisitor (www.inquisitorx.com) … I’ll be waiting anxiously on an update.

  6. sho

    Mike: Thanks for the info. I’ve updated the post to reflect that. (Since Safari 4 blew away my Safari 3, I couldn’t check).

    Paul: Apple doesn’t just claim to be the first browser to support color profiles. They claim to be the only one.

  7. Pinderkent: Responses to the release of Safari 4 Beta.

    […] Safari 4 First Thoughts: Happy about the JavaScript performance gains and location bar improvements. Describes the Top Sites UI as feeling “overly glitzy.” Somewhat conflicted about Cover Flow. […]

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