Apple's Safari Web browser may never break out of fourth place in the browser sweepstakes, but new features for users and developers in Safari 5 indicate that the company is committed to using it as a model for its idea of what the Web should be.
If anyone who isn't a Mac OS X user thinks of Apple's Safari Web
browser, it probably hasn't been since the beginning of this year. This was
when Google's Chrome passed it to become No. 3 in the market, after Microsoft
Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. But no matter what place Safari merits
in the browser derby, Apple seems committed to using it as a bully pulpit for
the company's vision of the Web. That's the first conclusion I drew after
seeing the feature list of Safari 5.
With this release of Safari, Apple pushes the Tiger (10.4)
release of Mac OS X even further into the attic: Safari 5 requires Leopard
(10.5.8) or Snow Leopard (10.6.2), or Windows XP and later.
Perhaps the most visually appealing feature of Safari 5 is the
Reader option for viewing newspaper and magazine articles; when active, one can
view a stripped-down version of those articles by toggling a button in the
address field. This can be valuable if one wants to remove much of what Apple
calls the "clutter" on many Web pages. The downside for yours truly
is that it also removes many bylines. Aside from that drawback, the Reader view
of a page is quite useful for many purposes, including generating uniform views
Also new in Safari 5 is the ability to set Safari's
default search engine to Microsoft's Bing, which joins Google and Yahoo as
As anyone who follows the industry knows, Apple is big on HTML5,
even though it's a long way from being a recommended standard. This release of
Safari adds a dozen features from the proposed HTML5 specification, such as
geolocation and video-related functions like full-screen viewing and closed
captioning. The newly supported HTML5 functions also include AJAX
history, draggable attributes, forms validation, certain sectioning elements
and HTML5 Ruby glosses, which are used to indicate pronunciation in Asian
languages such as Chinese and Japanese.
than Safari 4; new page caching and DNS (Domain Name System) prefetching
methods are also expected to improve performance. The prefetching, which looks
up the addresses of linked Websites, is one of those so obviously useful
elements that one has to wonder why this wasn't implemented years ago. Safari 5's
cache stores previously uncached page types, reducing the wait for pages to
Safari 5 adds a way for Web developers to view page-loading
problems, in the form of a new timeline panel in the browser's Web Inspector
view. This can clarify how the browser assembles a page and identify those
elements that bring a browser to its knees.
Windows users ought to gain some benefit from Safari 5's added
support for graphics processors; this new feature puts the Windows version of
the browser on a slightly more even playing field, catching it up with Safari
on Mac OS X.
The address field in Safari 5 can match text against Webpage
title fields as recorded in bookmarks and the browser history. This was
previously limited to matching strings in URLs.
Accessing one's browser history is a little easier in this
release of Safari, with the addition of a date indicator in the Full History
Search function that displays the last-viewed date of a page. Users can switch
between Full History Search and Top Sites views.
Those who prefer to avoid recording their every move on the Web
can now verify at a glance that their tracks are covered. Safari 5 adds a "Private"
indicator icon in the address field; clicking on this icon turns off private
Security features weren't neglected in Safari 5, which include
an auditor for cross-site scripting, or XSS, designed to filter scripts that
Notation) are said by Apple to run more quickly and securely in this release as
Finally, users who do their browsing in one tabbed window now
have the option to open new Web pages in tabs, rather than creating a new
I spent the better part of a week using Safari on both Mac OS
X and Windows, and to be honest, the Reader and Bing options were the things I
noticed. Then again, I'm not a Web developer, so any features aimed at the
under-the-hood operations will never grab my attention, and I wouldn't use
tabbed browsing unless my life (or my paycheck) depended on it.
What stood out to me, first, foremost and more vividly than
any user interface enhancements, was what didn't happen: Upgrading to Safari 5
didn't disable any of my preferred plug-ins. I don't use many, but the ones I
have make a big difference in my productivity. Safari 5 may not persuade anyone
to move off Firefox or IE, but for those looking for something better than
Safari 4, it's here.
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.