Software Review: Safari 4

As a developer, I love software. And as a developer, I hate software. I've become very picky over the years, finding that little bugs can totally destroy the user experience in an otherwise excellent application. Sometimes it's a small thing, such as gmail not loading quite right or with a bug or two. But when software has bugs that impede you, the natural impulse is to switch to an app that doesn't have that problem. I'm a fan of trying new things though, and on a never-ending mission to find the perfect suite of software to suit my needs. Today's tale is of Mice and Men, err... Safari 4 and Firefox 3.

Here's the quickie on Safari 4:
The good: Many many new interesting and well-designed features.
The bad: Strange UI problems.

Let's talk about the bad first. So far I've noticed a couple things that are less than desirable.

Occasionally all JPEGS on a page don't load. Due to the infrequency of this problem, I suspect it's related to networking issues. Mostly it happens when I have just opened my laptop, or when my wireless is on the fritz. The odd thing is that the text always loads just fine, and sometimes a refresh will fix it, but other times it won't. I've never seen anything like this on Firefox, so I'm guessing Safari has some weird bug in its pipeline.

Another problem I've had is in the new tab bar. When I click on a tab, it should automatically take me to that tab and open it with one click. Sometimes it does, but other times it requires a second click. So far I've seen no pattern that would explain where the problem is coming from: it's not a matter of focusing in the tab bar first, or of clicking on the text versus the tab itself. This can be fairly annoying, as you can't just default to clicking it twice quickly, as that will minimize the window.

The new url bar is much improved over the old one, but it still has a few tweaks that make it less than ideal. First is something I'd consider a bug: when typing a url you've visited before, it will autocomplete after each letter, which is good - but each subsequent character to an already correct auto-correct causes the highlight to flash. This is really annoying. The other problem I have with it is that is not as good as firefox 3's new url bar. I've gotten very used to typing the title of a page I've recently visited instead of the url (which I won't remember, because in most cases I've never even visited that site before). That lack of a feature right there is probably enough to keep me from switching to Safari 4.

And where's my "/" find? :( Apple-f is too long.

Now for the good!

Safari 4 impresses me as fast - very fast. In many cases I didn't even know websites *could* load that fast, I'd assumed it was waiting on network resources, when it's becoming clear to me that it was actually waiting for the rendering engine. So that, as you can imagine, is totally sweet.

The new bookmarks "gallery" is very shiny. If I didn't keep all my bookmarks online in either delicious or google reader, this feature would be a deal-maker for me. As I do, it's totally useless. And Safari's lack of decent plugins (or hardly any plugins at all), keep this from ever being of real interest.

"Top Sites", while stolen from Chrome, is done very well. I love the look and feel, as well as the ease with which I can pin things to it, or see that there are recent changes. The ability to "slide" between varying numbers of sites is also very well thought out to match their desktop in consistency.

Full history search is definitely a nice addition. I'd like it to work in the url bar, though. I'm just used to it.

Haven't tried out the developer features yet. I'll update you when I know how it goes!

So for the wrap-up:
I like Safari 4 a *lot*. The new features are well-thought-out and much wished for, but I'm afraid to say I won't be switching to it at this point. Without a decent set of plugins for bookmarking online, and no, paying $100 a year to Mobile Me is not what I'm looking for, I can't switch to Safari. I spend about 50% of my browser time in google reader, or bookmarking pages for my friends or for future reading. Also, I can't get used to constantly accidentally minimizing the window when trying to switch tabs.

Going back to Firefox, I'll definitely miss the "Top Sites" and the blazing speed, as well as the nice space utilization of the tab bar.

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