Safari for Windows
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on July 27, 2007
The browser wars have been over for some time not because Microsoft's Internet Explorer "won" (although it's still the market leader, with more than 80 percent of all users), but because Microsoft and Netscape/AOL never made any of the money they assumed was there for the taking by the dominant Web browser.
So if there are still updated versions of IE and Netscape issued every other year or so, those updates are no longer accompanied by much in the way of hype or excitement. A browser is a utility, like a refrigerator. We expect it to work, and if it's pretty, that's nice, too.
And yet here is Apple, releasing a version of its formerly Mac-only Safari browser for Windows and you kind of have to wonder why.
In addition to IE and Netscape, we also have the No. 2 browser, Firefox (published by a non-profit open-source consortium) and the Scandinavian-based Opera, which may be the best of the bunch.
Windows users now have five free browsers to choose from, and if that seems a bit overkill, it also proves that somebody somewhere still thinks there's money to be made by providing the software we use to access the Web.
Apple waited for the occasion of Safari 3 to issue a Windows version. Having used Safari 1 and 2 on a Mac, it's apparent that version 3 is a significant improvement. Graphically, the interface is much more polished and professional looking where earlier versions of Safari looked so gray and clunky it was difficult to believe Apple was behind them, version 3 looks ... average. Which is an improvement.
In terms of site compatibility, the new version of Safari also seems wildly upgraded. Fewer sites refuse to load or bomb the browser out (although CNN.com just caused Safari to crash a couple of seconds ago). And sites look pretty much the way they do on other browsers, with CSS (style sheet) support fully integrated into the browser. RSS newsfeed support also seems up to snuff.
But multimedia still seems to cause the most problems for Safari.
Still, I can access MySpace better than with Netscape (which keeps forcing me to re-login every couple of pages) and Gmail now works fine.
So for my purposes, it's a useful browsers even if it does tend to crash every now and then.
And users of Netscape, Opera and Firefox, who are used to all kinds of useful bells and whistles like auto-form fill and password storage, are going to find Safari rather thin.
If there's a way to store your passwords for sites like MySpace so you don't have to re-type it every time you visit, I can't find it. And the Autofill Form function looks for existing data in your system (Outlook, perhaps?). But it didn't find what it was looking for on my hard drive.
The Preferences area is also a bit on the thin side, even compared to the latest version of IE. Your ability to customize your online security just isn't as deep as with other browsers.
There is now tabbed browsing, though, which has become almost ubiquitous with browser since Opera introduced it some years ago. And most of the hot keys are the same as with other browsers.
The Preferences tab also lets you change your Windows default browser with a pull-down menu, rather than having to go into the Windows preferences menu handy, that. Other browsers should adapt it if they haven't already.
Safari 3 is a serviceable enough browser for Windows. It's neither as stable nor as useful as the existing Windows browsers already on the market IE, Firefox, Netscape and Opera. (In fact, after I installed Safari with the Apple Updater, iTunes would no longer run I have uninstalled iTunes as I try to figure out that compatibility issue!)
But it works well enough, and for anyone who dislikes the above browsers, there is now another option.
Should Apple continue to develop and support Safari, future versions may be even better.
The question is why Apple wants its own browser for Windows (having a built-in browser for its Mac OS makes sense). Given that the browser never turned out to be very good at capturing a portion of online commerce the way it was thought it would a decade ago (people will still shop where they want online, no matter how many ads or offers you display on the default home page), Apple's reasoning in all this is a bit confusing.
© Copyright Jim Trageser
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