Safari 5.1 a Vast Improvement


I want to spend some time today on the subject of Safari 5.1, which debuted on July 20 with Mac OS X Lion. Safari 5.1 doesn't require Lion; it will run on Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.8, Windows XP with Service Pack 2, Windows Vista, or Windows 7.

Now, I'm the first to admit that there's not much reason to run Safari on Windows; most organizations have settled on Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome as their browser of choice, unless they are a true-blue Windows shop that lives and dies by Internet Explorer. But Safari's been my browser of choice on Mac OS X since I started using it with Panther, in late 2003.


As some of you might know, I have a habit for opening up a lot of browser windows; my personal best is in the low-to-mid 200s, which even I admit if too many. Now the problem with that little quirk of mine is that with every month that goes by, more and more of the sites I visit over the course of a week offer a rich media experience, one often driven by Flash.

So in recent years, I've been watching the Activity Monitor rather closely whenever I notice my Mac starting to drag. That's because historically, Safari's memory management has left a bit to be desired; garbage collection and resource recovery haven't been too high on the Safari dev team's priority list, from all appearances. In all but the worst cases, executing the occasional Force Quit on the Flash Player plug-in has sufficed to keep my system running from one day to the next.

But I'm an optimist much of the time, and I keep hoping that things can get better; my prayers have been answered in Safari 5.1, in two ways.

First is the Reading List, a sidebar that one can use to set aside articles for later consumption. That will go a long way to reducing the number of windows I have going at a time, as long as I remember to use it. Although I'd like to see a little more flexibility in the way I can use the Reading List - say, by allowing me to open multiple windows or multiple tabs from a selection - I'm wondering how I ever got along without it.

The second thing I like about the new Safari for Mac is that web content has been hived off into a separate process from Safari itself. Although this new process doesn't appear to be much better at managing memory than the main Safari process has been, it does appear to recover from hangs and crashes more gracefully than in previous Safari releases.

Although Safari 5.1 has issues with screen refreshing when switching windows, I suspect that's something which will be fairly easy to fix in a future update to the browser. Overall, it's a significant improvement over the 5.0.x releases, and it may be the best software to come out of Apple in the July just ended.