Safari for Windows

My first reaction when hearing that Safari was going to be available on Windows was one of pure excitement…and shock. Seriously, who guessed that one?

As far as I’m concerned this is a very good thing for developers. Hopefully, now many of web developers that only design for Windows will at least attempt to make their sites work in Safari. It will also be easier testing sites for me when I’m working on a Windows machine.

Unfortunately, this is Safari 3, and if the WebKit builds are any indication of the improvements, most of the annoying bugs in Safari 2 have been fixed. This means that I’ll still have to continue testing with Safari 2 for some time to come. I read somewhere (can’t remember now) that the Safari 3 beta installer completely overwrites your copy of Safari 2. Damn them! When will companies quit doing this to us web developers/designers? I don’t want to have five computers just to test different browsers.

Despite my excitement about having Safari on Windows, I have no intention of using it as my primary browser. As I’ve said before, a big part of my browser experience is how it fits in with the user experience of the operating system it runs on. I’m not talking about coupling browsers and OS’s (IE), just that a browser should look like it belongs on that system. I’ve never liked using Firefox on a Mac, and now I can definitively say that Safari looks just plain weird in Windows.

Yesterday I was reading various complaints how Safari renders text on Windows. The common complaint seems to be that the text is blurry:

I heard this complaint echoed all over the blogosphere yesterday. My initial reaction was to dismiss most of these people as Windows users used to text that looks like it’s not anti-aliased. As a graphic designer I have to say that I hate the way that browsers on Windows render text (IE7 is much better than the rest). I’ve always preferred the way that text looks on OS X; that’s one of the reasons I prefer it as an operating system.

So last night I tried out Safari 3 for Windows myself. I didn’t have any of the weird installation or crashing problems that many others have noted. Granted, I only took her for a short spin through the tubes. For the most part, I liked what I saw.

Surprisingly (to me), I noted that the text definitely looked a little bit blurry. I suppose after a time I’d get used to it, but I have to say that Safari seems to have gone to the opposite extreme as far as font rendering is concerned. Firefox gives us very pixelated looking text while Safari gives us smooth and blurry. Hmmm.

Overall, I think this is a great win for developers across the board. Hopefully this will increase the awareness that Safari does exist and some people do use it. For the average Windows user, I’d say it’s kind of a non-announcement. People using IE won’t care about Safari, and nobody in their right mind would ditch Firefox for it. Safari just doesn’t offer anything that Firefox doesn’t have for Windows. Also judging from the security exploits that have already been released, it appears as though Apple has something to learn about developing browsers on Windows.

Mac Users and Cross Platform Apps

About 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 great browser, but it’s not made for a Mac.

A recent article on Theocacao has basically reinforced what I said in my previous post. It’s well worth the read.

Stevenson’s main rule of thumb for Mac development:

Mac users will generally favor an app with a better experience over the one with more features.

Make sure to read that twice. He’s absolutely right.

Getting back to the browsers, Stevenson uses Firefox as an example for the above point:

A textbook example of this is Firefox. A great browser, but Safari is far more popular on the Mac because it’s designed for a Mac user. In fact, this runs so deeply that Camino — a Mac-only app which uses the same Gecko engine that Firefox does — enjoys a fairly strong following.

Browser Testing Sequence

Here is an interesting post on what one web developer does to test a site in all of the relevant browsers.

I think that it’s a good general description of what browsers you should test and things to be looking at in each test.

For instance, some of the older browsers (like IE 5.5 and IE 5) aren’t worth your time to make the site look perfect in them. It is however probably advisable to at least make sure your site is still readable and useable in them (even if that means stripping out the JavaScript and CSS).

Generally speaking, this is about the same process that I follow. I’m not nearly as vigilant with all of the smaller browsers though:

When something major (a full page template or a particularly tricky part of a design) is done I give it a quick check in the latest version of every browser that runs natively on Mac OS X. Currently that means Camino, Flock, iCab, Netscape, OmniWeb, Opera, SeaMonkey, Shiira, WebKit Nightly, and any other newcomers.

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.