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Summary:

Safari has come an awfully long way since its conception, and today marks the beta release of the fourth major incarnation of the acclaimed web browser. Version 4 introduces a range of new features and interface improvements, among them speed enhancements, visual history searching and Cover […]

safari_icon

Safari has come an awfully long way since its conception, and today marks the beta release of the fourth major incarnation of the acclaimed web browser. Version 4 introduces a range of new features and interface improvements, among them speed enhancements, visual history searching and Cover Flow integration.

Safari 4 can be downloaded directly from Apple, and is available for both Mac and Windows. This brief introduction will outline what to expect in the latest version, with a particular focus on new features.

Interface Changes

For better or worse, there are numerous changes to the interface style. Most obvious is the shift of the browser tabs to appear at the very top of the window, above the bookmarks and address bar. It doesn’t appear that there’s an option to change this setting, so it will likely require a little getting used to. The ‘New Tab’ button is located at the very top right of the window. This shift in thinking matches that of Google’s Chrome browser, and seems to continue a new standard in browser interface design.

interface

A second notable change is the removal of the blue progress background in the address bar that used to appear when loading a new page. This has been replaced by a spinner towards the right-hand side. The spinner changes to a ‘Stop Loading’ icon when moused over, and also functions as a ‘Refresh Page’ button once loading is complete. This switch in progress indication is likely due to the speed enhancements with Version 4.

Speed Improvements – The ‘Nitro Engine’

Many browsers make dramatic claims about speed, but browsing on Safari 4 is the first time I’ve ever noticed such a massive improvement. Page loading, JavaScript rendering and general browsing feels far faster than I’ve ever experienced before. A few claims made by Apple (which should probably be taken as slightly exaggerated) are:

Safari executes JavaScript up to 30 times faster than Internet Explorer 7 and more than 3 times faster than Firefox 3 based on performance in leading industry benchmark tests: iBench and SunSpider.

In addition to superior JavaScript performance, Safari offers top-flight HTML performance — the best on any platform — loading pages 3 times faster than Internet Explorer 7 and almost 3 times faster than Firefox 3.

Apple has a speed comparison with other Mac and Windows browsers over at their new features page.

Top Sites

Top Sites is a new feature that shows a dynamic grid display of up to 24 of your favorite web sites. These are generated automatically based on your browsing habits, and as such may take a little time before they offer up an accurate representation of your favorites.

topsites

Top Sites can be edited and moved around easily, with a star in the top right-hand area representing a change of content since your last visit. It’s a simple way to see a visual representation of your favorite bookmarks, without needing to visit them if no recent updates have been made.

Cover Flow

In their attempt to integrate Cover Flow into every possible niche of your Mac, bookmarks are now displayed by default in a visual Cover Flow mode. You can flip through them as you’d expect, and click to open. This is very useful if you’re a visual person as it allows you to select the required site based on its look and feel.

History and Searching

Safari takes control of your browser history and makes it more usable than ever before. You’re able to search through all the web sites you’ve previously visited, viewing them in Cover Flow mode. Not only does Safari search for the URL or title of the site, it also indexes all the page content to allow thorough searching of your previously browsed sites.

search

Searching for new sites is also made easier through an auto-suggestion tool within the browser search bar. Start typing, and Safari will suggest a list of possible phrases for which you may be looking. It provides a ‘recent search’ listing underneath the suggestions, and also offers to convert your web search into a local ‘Find’ command, looking for the phrase anywhere on the current web page.

Full Page Zoom

Taking a page from the iPhone book, Safari now provides better support for zooming into web sites. It scales images and graphics as you zoom in and keeps text sharp while perfectly preserving the page layout. It’s a big step forward in scaling web sites, and removes many of the previous headaches of breaking layouts as you resized text.

Summary

At first glance it would appear that Safari 4 is a great step forwards in terms of usability and function. Some of the interface changes will take a while to become natural, but seem to make more sense in the long term. For me, the most impressive improvement isn’t the flashy Cover Flow implementation or minor changes in design — it’s the speed. I may use Top Sites from time to time, but I’ll benefit from the faster rendering and page loading time on every site I visit.

Head over to the download page and give Safari 4 a try for yourself. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

  1. Nice article David. I installed it this AM. My big concern is the lack of tab process management. I was really hoping Apple would copy Google Chrome here by making each tab its own process. Also, Apple still hasn’t addressed the memory issue with Safari. Frankly, it is still a memory pig. We’ll see how this progresses as they release more betas.

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  2. I’m a bit disappointed with the windows version. I don’t have the the ‘Top sites’ button and cover flow is also missing. I guess it hates my win xp. =(

    The speed though, is insane.

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  3. [...] things Tuesday. First, there was the Safari 4 Public Beta, which fellow TAB writer David Appleyard covered at length. But quietly coming in under the shadow of that big announcement is the arrival of the new iTunes [...]

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  4. Top Sites can also be edited to your liking. There is only one site that didn’t work with this process for me. Remove any sites you don’t want in your top sites. Sticky the rest. Leave the edit button pressed. Now, with top sites open, start typing the url of the site you want to add. If it shows up as a Top Hit already, click that to go to it. Return to your top sites to see it added. If it does not already show up as a Top Hit. Click it to visit the site, then return to Top Sites. Click edit. Start typing the site address, and then click it as it now shows up as a Top Hit. This should add it to your Top Sites now.

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  5. Edit: It’s not important to have the Edit button pressed in Top Sites to do this as far as I can tell.

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  6. I’m really disappointed that they choose to remove the snapback button, it is one of those features i really love and used regularly. I keep finding myself going up to go back, now it’s really going to be frustrating having to hit the back button 2 or 3 times to get back to where i started

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  7. I found that the beta was incompatible with GrowlMail (Mail.app would open for a few seconds, then quit itself). Anyone else have this problem or find a fix? Disabling GrowlMail didn’t do anything.

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  8. [...] Ajaxian, SlashGear, The Apple Core, Mashable!, blogs.telegraph.co.uk …, The iPhone Blog, TheAppleBlog, World of Apple, TheNextWeb.com, atmaspheric, I4U News, The Tech Report, MacDailyNews, Electronic [...]

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  9. I am not a real fan of this beta. I know it is a simple thing, but the tabs on the top are really messing with my head. I am so used to Firefox and the old safari being under the address bar. I have been using omniweb recently, and that sidebar thing is even harder.

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  10. well it’s definitely fast. For those of you who care. I’m sure appleblog or someone else will get to benchmarking safari vs other browsers. But I benchmarked it using sunspider real quick and unscientifically vs the previous webkit build and the most recent one.

    Safari 4 got 908.2ms
    Webkit previous got something like 1072ms
    Webkit most recent got something around 978ms

    Safari just got put in my dock over webkit.

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