Nice Rundown of Safari 3 Beta

Roger Johansson has posted a nice list of his impressions of Safari 3 beta (both Windows and OS X):

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.

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.

Safari and Displaying PDFs Inline

Ever since upgrading to Tiger, I’ve been consistently annoyed by one feature (there are others, but this one really irks me). I hate the way Safari displays PDF file inline.

First of all, it’s incredibly slow. At least once a day I find myself clicking on a PDF link and then being stopped dead in the water for what feels like an eternity. While Safari is loading an PDF file, I’m unable to browse in any other tab or window.

The worst part is that I know and understand that this will happen each time, yet I keep doing it. Apple’s documentation suggests the following:

If you still prefer Preview, simply Control-click the PDF link (or right click on a two-button mouse) and choose Download Linked File from the shortcut menu. Once the file is on your desktop, double-click it to open in Preview.

The problem is, I don’t always know that I’m clicking on a PDF link to begin with. For example, I was checking out the Quark 7 beta site today. I clicked on an unassuming link titled “ReadMe File.” Suddenly I found my browser completely stalled as I realized that a dreaded PDF was loading.

Even when I am fully aware that I’m attempting to view a PDF file, I don’t always remember that I need to Control-click or Option-click on the link. It’s usually only after Safari has stalled while the page tries to load that I think to myself, “Oh yes, I should have remembered to Control-click that link and then have selected Download Linked File from the contextual menu.”

Even beyond the slow factor, which perhaps can be attributed to my aging G4 PowerBook (seems a stretch though), the final result isn’t even satisfactory. When I open, a PDF file in a browser, I usually just want to look at it dammit. I don’t need all of those fancy Acrobat buttons. If I decide I want to do something further to the document, I’m going to save it anyways and open Adobe Acrobat to edit it.

Also, the files open up so tiny that I can’t ever read them. I’m constantly having to change the view, zoom, or resize my browser window. Resizing my browser window works, but then that messes up my workflow. I like the browser windows a certain size, just big enough to display all of most web pages.

All of this simply comes down to user preferences. I’m sure that there are many people out there who completely disagree with me and love this feature in Safari. I’ll admit, before Safari offered it, I was constantly irritated that it wasn’t even an option. I’m definitely not arguing against having this feature. Before this whole displaying PDF inline business, if you clicked on a PDF link in Safari, it would automatically download and then open in Preview. It was somewhat counterintuitive, but I have to say, once I got used to it, I liked that feature.

Preview is a great lightweight application that does a small number of things well. I like how easily the size of the document changes when you increase the size of the window, without having to mess with my browser window size. It’s fast. I can zoom in when appropriate, and for the love of god, I don’t have to stare at those ugly Acrobat icons.

All of this would be a rather trivial annoyance if Safari just included how it displays PDFs as a preference item. I’ve been searching, but I haven’t been able to find this one yet. I should be a be able to either check a box to display PDFs inline, or chose what application opens them automatically. Suggesting that I simply Control-click or Option-click just isn’t enough. In my opinion, Apple just got it plain wrong on this one.

I find this all pretty ridiculous, especially considering that around the same time Apple also introduced the feature that allows RSS feeds to be read inside Safari. It’s a cool feature that I tried out. I quickly decided that I didn’t like it nearly as much as NetNewsWire Lite, so I checked out the preferences. Sure enough, there was an option to set whatever application I wanted to use as my default RSS aggregator.

Apple got it right with the RSS feature. Why didn’t they apply the same logic to inline PDFs? I want to have the option to use all of these features within Safari, but I wan’t the option to opt out of them as well.