Click here for screenshots
For most people the current browser wars consist of two combatants, Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox. Looking in from the outside are alternative browsers that might be interesting but aren't seen as much of a threat to take up lots of market share, such as Opera, which is innovative but unknown to many users, and Safari, which is generally seen as a browser for Mac users (even though there has been a Windows version for almost a year now).
But with the release this week of Safari 3.1, Apple just may have laid claim to being top dog for a key segment of Web surfers. That's because if you're looking for a clean, simplified, and fast Web browser, right now Safari 3.1 is the best choice, whether one is a Windows or Mac user.
And clean is the key attribute of Safari now. As other browsers have continued to become more feature rich but also a bit bloated, Safari has kept to a basic and fairly simple interface and feature set.
Most of the new interface features in Version 3.1 are pretty basic and have been found in competing browsers for a while now. Safari 3.1 now has better tab management, making it easier to move tabbed windows by dragging them.
A new find in page feature has a nice twist by darkening everything on the Web page except for the term entered in the Find field. And like other browsers Safari 3.1 now has a private browsing feature that removes all traces of a browsing session.
In fact, one of the only really unique (and actually pretty cool) new features in Safari 3.1 was for resizing form fields. With this feature it was possible to select any form field in a Web page and drag it to a much larger size, especially useful for those extra long blog comments.
In the previous version Safari on Windows was clearly inferior to its Mac sibling and while the Mac version still has some features that won't be found on Windows (mainly those such as Web Clips that use Mac OS X features), it is now much improved. I especially liked that it now works more like a real Windows application, unlike the previous version which felt like a Mac program vacationing in Windows land.
Much of the attention of this release has focused on the speed of the browser and while I find comparisons of speed in modern browsers to be over-rated (in most cases meaning something loads in half a second as opposed to one second) Safari 3.1 does seem to be a fairly quick browser.
On the standards side Safari 3.1 also does very well, both in support of currently common standards and in cutting edge standards, with some support for new HTML 5 specifications including the new embedded video element. For now Safari also has the distinction of the best score on the Web Standards Project's Acid3 test, scoring a 75 in my tests which puts it ahead of all shipping and beta browsers out right now, falling behind only the nightly builds of WebKit.
Of course most of the speed and standards support capabilities in Safari come from the open-source WebKit framework on which it is based. WebKit is also used by other Web applications including Adobe's AIR.
But while Safari 3.1 does very well when the focus is on speed and simplicity, this does come at the cost of extended capabilities. Browsers such as Firefox offer much more in the way of extended functionality, especially if the added features of the many extensions are considered.
But right now, for users who don't need those features and who just want a simple and fast Web browser, Safari 3.1 might just be the best choice.
To download the free Safari 3.1 go to http://www.apple.com/safari/