Mac Browsers and Non-Native UI

Jeff Atwood’s most recent post from Coding Horror has really hit the nail on the head in my mind.

Atwood’s article starts by pointing out that many Mac users prefer Safari to Firefox as their primary browser. While I’m not sure if this claim is totally true, since I know many Mac users that prefer Firefox, I can say that in my personal case it’s definitely true.

For me, when I’m using a Mac, Safari is the only browser that gets it right. Don’t mistake me, Safari definitely1 has it’s flaws (more on that later), but it still wins.

Safari is the only Mac-compatible browser that really looks and feels like it belongs on a Mac. It’s made by Apple and bundled with OS X, so this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Call me superficial, or *gasp*, a designer, but this point is excruciatingly important on a Mac. Mac users care what their applications look like. They care about good user interfaces, even if they don’t know what that means or have never heard the term. If pressed to explain why most average Mac users prefer Macs, they would probably give reasons like, “It makes sense” and “It just works.” At least the first reason can be attributed to clean and consistent user interface design.

Did I mention that Safari is blazingly fast? It starts up consistently in less time than it takes to sip my coffee.

Safari does have it’s pitfalls though. It tends to choke up a little bit on some more intensive Java or AJAX based pages. There are also those crappy sites that don’t even allow Safari (not Safari’s fault).

I’ve also noticed when developing websites with HTML/CSS/JavaScript, Safari tends to be a little bit more forgiving with errors than other browsers. While on the surface this might seem like a good thing, it’s actually a very bad one. Pages that work perfectly on Safari will inexplicably fail miserably in Firefox. After hours of wasted time debugging (did I mention the debugging in Safari sucks?) I usually find out that the culprit is a piece of invalid code. Firefox does that right thing and chokes on it, letting me know that there’s an actual error. Safari (although give him credit for trying cover up my mistakes for me) ended up making it worse by rendering my page anyway.

For the most part, Safari renders like a good little standards-compliant browser, but every now and then, there are the infuriating bugs. Take this blog for instance. Images that are wider than the content column, are set to automatically scale down. This works great in Firefox (and probably all of it’s cousins). For IE users, the graphic just gets pushed below the sidebar and displayed at full size. But Safari, infuriatingly, almost gets it right. About half of the time, Safari squishes the width down to fit the image, but not the height. This makes for some pretty ugly images, but at least it doesn’t break the page. The other have of the time, it doesn’t resize the image at all. I’m really not kidding here; I opened one of these pages in Safari and pressed the reload button about twenty times. For no explainable reason, Safari kept rendering the image differently. If you’re using Safari, check out this post and try reloading the page several times:

I ended having to add an overflow:hidden tag to keep Safari from breaking the page. I didn’t want to get rid of the image resizing feature just for Safari and the WebKit builds didn’t have the same problem. So, hopefully things will be different in the next version of Safari.

For development work, I end up using Firefox more. I’ll usually start with Safari, but when it comes down to the design details or debugging, there is no replacement for Firefox and it’s extension buddies. That leads me into another serious lack in Safari, extensions. Now, I know that it does have a few, but these simply don’t compare the the wealth of Firefox’s extensions. We can discuss this again when Safari gets its own version of Firebug and Web Developer.

I’ve tried most of the other Mac browsers. Firefox is a fantastic browser. It’s the only browser I use on a PC, but on a Mac, it falls short. It takes longer to load than Safari, sometimes even an explicably long time. Subjectively, it feels sluggish. Then there’s the user interface. The mac is not a Windows machine (except for when it is) and what works in Windows doesn’t in OS X. Despite all of it’s greatness, I can’t use Firefox as my default Mac browser.

For all of the reasons I don’t like Firefox on a Mac, there’s Camino. It’s a lot like it’s cousin Firefox, but faster, sleeker and fits in with the rest of my OS X applications. Unfortunately, I just don’t think that Camino is ready for prime time. In some ways it seems too lightweight. It’s just not robust enough to do everything I want. It has basically the same pitfalls as Safari, except that Safari has been around longer to iron out many of the wrinkles. But give it some time, and it may come around.

Then there’s Flock. Now this is a very cool browser that is very innovative. It caters to the Web 2.0 crowd and does a pretty good job. I even put Safari out in the cold for this one. That lasted about a month. In the end, Flock is still very new and untested. There were too many times it broke on those nice interactive pages, (like say, WordPress Admin). And sometimes, it was very, very slow. Basically, Flock was a nice fling. (Ouch. That hurt to write. Sorry.)

So in the end, Safari wins for me. It’s not perfect, but it finishes with the fewest bruises.

  1. I have a problem spelling the word definitely. When I was writing this post, my spell checker corrected the spelling for me to: defiantly. But in a funny way, I think that works too. Safari defiantly has it’s flaws.

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1. Evan Hamilton

Hey Alissa,

Sorry to hear that Flock didn’t keep you engaged. Agreed: we are new and untested. As we progress closer to 1.0 and out of beta we’ll be extensively beta testing (both internally and publicly) and stabilizing problems. I hope you’ll give us another try at that time.

Thanks for the honest feedback!

Evan Hamilton Flock Community Ambassador evan at flock dot com

2. Alissa Miller

It’s great to see that the Flock peoples are looking around to see what people are saying about their browser.

My intention wasn’t to dismiss Flock as a browser. It is very cool, and very innovative. It does things that no other browsers do (that I know of). Of particular interest to me was the integrated blog posting feature.

I am excited to see how the browser progresses in the future.

3. Evan Hamilton

Thanks for the very reasonable answer, Alissa. I’ll be sure to swing by next time we have some cool new stuff to show you!

Evan Hamilton Flock Community Ambassador evan at flock dot com

4. NerdStarGamer » Blog Archive » Mac Users and Cross Platform Apps

[…] a month ago I blogged about my feelings on Mac browsers in Mac Browsers and Non-Native UI. My basic feeling was that the best browser that’s made for a Mac always wins. Firefox is a […]