Scoping Out Apples Safari

Review: Apple's innovative new Web browser is fast, powerful, says eWEEK Labs.

Maybe the browser wars arent over, after all.

Last June, Netscapes expedition into the land of open source bore fruit in the form of Mozilla 1.0, a Web browser that arguably unseated Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer—certainly not in popularity, but in overall excellence. At this weeks MacWorld Expo, however, Apple Computer Inc. launched a Web browsing salvo of its own, called Safari, along with a reminder that theres still plenty of room for innovation in this space.

eWEEK Labs tested a beta version of Safari, which runs only on Mac OS X 10.2 or later. Safari is based on the open-source rendering engine KHTML. This is the engine that powers Konqueror, the native Web browser of the K Desktop Environment.

The choice of KHTML will likely end up benefiting Apple and KDE alike: Apple has turned over to the KDE Project the bug fixes and performance improvements it made to KHTML, and KDE developers have expressed interest in moving forward with a common HTML rendering back end for both Konqueror and Safari.

According to Apple, KHTML was selected as Safaris foundation for its leanness and speed, and these were the two attributes that impressed us most in tests of the Apple browser. Weve always been disappointed with the speed of Internet Explorer on the Mac, and Safari delivers performance thats at least equivalent to that of Internet Explorer on Windows.

Whats more, Safari allowed us to block pop-up adds in the same way that Mozilla, Konqueror and Opera can—and Internet Explorer cannot.

Safari does not, however, support tabbed browsing. This is a feature available in Mozilla, Opera and the upcoming KDE 3.1 version of Konqueror, and its one that weve come to view as vital.

Safari does include a number of nice usability features, including a Google search box on the toolbar and a "snapback" button that allowed us to return to an initially typed-in Web address or Google results page.

We visited a variety of Web pages with Safari--including some that have given us trouble in the past when using browsers other than Internet Explorer—and were pleased with the browsers page rendering. Safari does include a toolbar button for reporting page-rendering problems to Apple.

Another interesting Safari feature is its activity window, which allowed us to monitor the size, download progress and originating server of every element of the pages we opened. This will be especially useful for Web developers diagnosing page problems.

Safari boasts a thoughtfully designed bookmark system. In tests, choosing the "add bookmark" option from the toolbar brought up a window from which we could name a bookmark and place it either in our toolbar or in one of our bookmark folders. We could remove bookmarks from the toolbar by dragging them to the desktop, where theyd disappear with a brief puff-of-smoke animation.

We were disappointed not to find any facility for exporting bookmarks, and beyond an automatic import of existing Internet Explorer bookmarks, Safari cannot import bookmarks, either.

Safari is available for free download from apple.com.

Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.