Thoughts on Safari 4: Some Bad, Mostly Good

37 Comments

safari_icon

I’ve been running the release version of Safari 4 on Mac OS and Windows XP for a few days. There are a lot of good features with Safari 4 — and I have no desire to go back to version 3 — but I do miss the beta sometimes.

Where’d My Tabs Go?

Yes, the oft-criticized Tabs on Top (TOT) have been removed. I loved these things, and am disappointed they’re gone. It just reaffirms my belief that a window’s title bar is the most colossal waste of real estate in any GUI’s interface. Everyone treats it as sacrosanct, so they’re the same everywhere. Apple (s aapl) repurposed the title bar to actually have more “titles” in it, and the tech world freaks.

Now we’re back to a title bar that serves minimum purpose (I don’t need the title of the browser; the tab bar provides the site name for me anyway) other than to be the world’s biggest target for moving a window.

I can accept I’m in the minority on this, so I’ll get over it. For those who think Apple should provide the option to use this feature, I disagree. Options are great, but in this case, it’s a pretty major interface change. I don’t think Apple should have to drag both chunks of UI code from release to release. This is especially true in the browser space, where it needs to move as as quickly as possible. (I hope work on Safari 5 is already under way.)

Being the eternal optimist, however, I’ll look on the bright side and state that two things about the tab bar I lost with TOT are back: 1) I love double-clicking the tabs bar for a new tab and, 2) It’s a lot easier to grab a tab to move it. I’d rather have TOT — I think it should have been refined instead of abolished — but I’ll take the good with the bad.

No Toolbar Stop/Reload

This is just ridiculous. Safari 4 moved the stop and reload functions to the end of the address bar, just like Safari on the iPhone. I have no issue with this. However, in doing so they removed the toolbar buttons for stop and reload. What possible reason could they have had for this?

I understand that the buttons wouldn’t be part of the default toolbar — just put them in the customize dialog box and let me put them in their rightful place to the left of the address. Unlike TOT, this bit of customization would require trivial coding. It’s not like the new buttons are the only way to activate these functions; you can click in the address bar and hit enter, you can select Reload Page from the menu, or you can hit Command-R. There is no reason not have a button for this.

Honestly, Apple, this is the dumbest browser UI move since Microsoft (s msft) moved the Home button in Internet Explorer to the lower right toolbar. I’d also point out that Microsoft moved the stop/reload indicators to the right of the title bar by default, but it provides the option to move them to the left.

Page Load Indicator and Progress

In Safari 4 beta, there was little indication that a page was loading. Safari 3’s useful blue status indicator behind the address was replaced with a tiny rotating indicator at the end of the address bar, which was easily missed. If you hovered the mouse over it, the indicator would change to an “X” to denote you could stop the load. Again, for space-saving on the iPhone, this is OK, but it’s dumb for the desktop.

With the release version of Safari, Apple has changed the load indicator. It’s still at the end of the address bar, but now it occupies roughly an inch of real estate and has a blue background color. It also displays the rotating load indicator and the “X” at the same time. In short, you can’t miss it, and there’s little confusion about where to click to stop a page load. This is a nice improvement over the beta.

However, the progress indicator behind the address remains absent. Apple says it’s not accurate, and don’t I know it. But that’s beside the point. I don’t think any of us were using it to measure its accuracy in depicting whether a given page was really 75 percent of the way complete. No, we used it because it still served the purpose of showing that progress was being made in loading a page, which a continually spinning indicator does not. I wish Apple would bring this back.

OK, I can already hear a lot of you now. “Geez, Tom, whine much? Is there anything about this software you like?” Well, yes, actually. Let’s get to the good stuff.

Speed

Maybe Apple should have called this release Safari 3 S. It’s all about speed. I think the majority of people moving from version 3 are going to notice the speed increase in loading pages.

I really don’t care about specs, or if Safari is really the fastest web browser, etc. It doesn’t matter. All I care about is that it loads pages noticeably faster than the previous version. I’m looking forward to this browser on the new iPhone.

Top Sites

Some people love ‘em, some hate ‘em. I have found myself nailing a few pages here, but other than that don’t use it for sites so much. However, I use the page often for history searching, which I’ll discuss later.

On the other hand, when my daughter saw Top Sites, she loved it. We tend to lose track of how much most browser users are not the geeky types we are. Most of the sites I want are bookmarked, but lots of people don’t play that game. To my daughter, Top Sites is an automatic bookmark for her most common stuff. She loves it.

Cover Flow

When the Safari 4 beta was blasted as being “pointlessly visual,” I commented that it was flexible in how you could use it. To summarize, I turn it off for my bookmarks list (just drag the handle all the way to the top), but love it for history searching.

I call up a new tab (Top Sites page), hit Command-F to move to the find box, and start typing to search my history. Hey, you may remember the name of every URL you visit, but I don’t. A visual shot of all pages matching my search criteria make it much easier to find the one I’m looking for.

It used to be I kept only a week of history. I was just as likely to find an unfamiliar page I’d visited and didn’t bookmark via Google than my browser history. Cover Flow searching has changed that drastically, and I keep 30 days of history now. Next to the speed increase, this is my favorite feature of Safari 4.

Other Goodies

There are other nice improvements:

  • Suggested searches drop down when you type in the search bar. And when you type in the address bar, suggested URLs (including those in your bookmarks folders) appear. The latter is especially convenient.
  • Full-page zooming zooms the entire page proportionally, not just the text. However, the option to just zoom text remains. (I use that option; I usually zoom only to make text bigger.)
  • There are a number of compliance improvements as well, such as support for HTML 5. Safari is standards compliant enough to score 100 percent on the Acid3 test.

The Bottom Line

While I miss Tabs on Top, overall the Safari 4 release is much improved over Safari 3. The speed increase is easily noticed. And with usage improvements of flexible Cover Flow for bookmarks and history, drop down suggestions for URLs and searches, and the customizable Top Sites feature, there’s something here for everyone. I would never go back to Safari 3.

37 Comments

Binne

The main thing I don’t like with Safari 4 — and it’s almost a deal-killer, I’m flirting with Firefox now — is that hitting the “back” button doesn’t take you “back.” it takes you to the top of the page you’re on, then to the bottom of the previous page, then to the top of the previous page, then… I get impatient after that. Clicking through the New York Times, it can take as many as seven or eight clicks to get to where one click on previous versions would take me.

MJ

Well, I, for one, have used both quite a bit and will say that the interface of safari 3 is sleeker, and for anybody that has noticed a speed increase, let’s just say that you are seeing stuff that is all in your head.
It’s a little tiny bit faster.

christopher jiron

I too want the tabs on top back!! I loved being able to drag a stray window into a tab or drag a tab out to create a new window. that’s what I miss the most. :-(

mrkwst22

Why did Apple not give us the option: TOT or TOB? Sometimes they overreact to criticism. So it goes.

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peterh

Tabs on top was one of those features in the beta that I didn’t really like, but then I got used to. As soon as I started up the official release, though, and saw my tabs were back below everything, I actually got angry. I’ve been searching for a way to put them back on top, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Howie Isaacks

I agree about the tabs on top feature. I didn’t like it much at first, but I decided to get used to it because I figured that it was going to be the way Safari would be in the future. Eventually, I started to like the TOT feature. I’m not sure why, but I seemed to have a lot more open tabs while using TOT than I do with the tabs back in their original place. People bitch and whine about a lot of things Apple does, but I think most people would have eventually gotten over this feature if Apple had left it in place. It’s not like there aren’t other browser choices such as Firefox, Camino, and OmniWeb. My beef against FireFox has always been that it launches slower than Safari, but the latest beta release of Firefox 3.5 launches a lot faster.

Annonymous

re: Snapback , I agree with Alien that the single largest annoyance for me is the lack of Snapback feature for URL. I used it all the time and was for me very efficient when browsing. It is sorely missed and was what distinguished Safari over other browsers for me. It must return. Other features so far seem like more eye candy

Henk Duivendrecht

Give me back my TOT or at least an option to turn it on or off! It’s the best browser improvement in ages. I like my screen to be dedicated as much as possible to the site I’m browsing instead of showing bar after bar of pointless buttons that you never use.

IQ92

Bring back TOT. Also, grey area is a bit too dark. Makes text harder to read.

KsbjA

I agree with the author in most points, but actually I care little about the tabs on top, cuz with Win 7, I can fully aerosnap my Safari window, what the new tabbar prevented. (I also love how all the tabs are separately displayed in the taskbar previews, but that I think has little to do with the tabbar position.) And no separate Stop/Reload is IMO also OK, as the button in the address bar is convenient (for me at least). However, I totally agree about the indicators, the load bar was better in Safari 3.

Belinda Collins

So boring, what a boring, uninformative, unimaginative article.

How much more boring can it possibly get than to hear some random bloke give his two cents about a web browser.

Ars Technica would do a thorough, almost intellectual analysis, but this blog is just lame. Really feels like 14 year old are writing.

It’s official, I won’t be visiting any longer

Josh Pigford

Belinda, sorry you feel that way. No 14 year olds here (though I’ve met quite a few great 14 year old writers).

Would love your feedback either way. So please do let me know why we’re so “lame.”

Thanks!

Barney15e

The Stop and Reload buttons are at the end of the address bar. I guess if you don’t use the address bar, you won’t be able to reload or stop the progress.

Galley

Let’s not forget the ability to navigate a site’s file structure by using the proxy icon in the title bar.

Rex

As for tabs on top and the missing full title of a page:

How about showing the title in the URL/location bar? I mean, who really needs to see a horribly long URL the entire time they’re on a page?!?

The solution: show the title here, but when you mouse over it, show the URL. Easy, saves real estate, loses nothing, and you can put tabs back on top where they belong.

mrkwst22

I agree. I miss the tabs on top. The human eye will scan from top to bottom.

Safari 4 is way faster for me. On top of that it is not the resource hog it has been in the past.

Quix

Geez Apple, we realize *some* people didn’t like TOT, but others did. Can’t you just give us a preference option to turn them on or off???

Think Different.

Bob Smith

One really annoying change in Safari 4: the “invalid certificate” popup is broken. In Safari 3, that popup had a blue Continue button, you could just hit return when it appeared. Easy and painless. In Safari 4, the Continue button is white, the default selection is on Show Certificate, not Continue, and you can’t tab the selection over to the Continue button. You must mouse over to the Continue button and click on it. Go to https://mail.yahoo.com if you want to see it for yourself.

Arne

I still miss the progress indicator in the address bar. It showed me, as tech-savvy user, several important steps in calling a web page: It jumped to the colon after http when DNS resolution was successful.

This is sadly lost :-(

Thomas Maier

In my opinion you are a little bit to obsessed on retaining your interface experience: tabs went on top: NOO (from others), tabs back: NOO, reload button at the end where it should be from the first internet browser on: NOO, and so on and so on.
but: it got better!

I still can’t understand why they have a “RSS”-button for feeds. Maybe I use ATOM?

Brad

I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who misses tabs on top. I hated having to learn them, but once I did I liked it. And I really liked saving real estate for pages. Tabs on bottom looks like a huge waste of space to me now.

Mark

@tom SnapBack isn’t back. At least not for me. It changed to Search Results SnapBack in the beta, and it remains as such, in previous versions you could mark any page to snapback to before exploring a link heavy article.

@str1f3 TOB, tabs on bottom, that’s an interesting idea. I would love to give that a go.

Tom Reestman

Mark,

“It changed to Search Results SnapBack in the beta”

Ah, yes, that’s correct. And I forgot about the lost ability to mark a page as a SB target. Thanks.

Alien

Actually, SnapBack was present in the Safari 3 SEARCH field and there’s no change to the Safari 4 SEARCH field. It is the URL SnapBack that is missing in the Safari 4, as well as History->Mark Page for SnapBack and Page SnapBack menu commands.

Mark

@Alien: I completely agree. I never knew how much I liked SnapBack until it was taken away.

As for TOT. Didn’t like them personally. I was fascinated and intrigued with the feature for a couple of weeks until the drawbacks started getting to me. Not being able to go up a directory level of a site with a contextual click on the title bar, the difficulty of targeting a single tab or the full window, and other things which I can’t remember right now made incorporating it into my workflow very difficult. And I found it kinda ugly.

But yeah, I definitely understand and appreciate why others enjoyed the feature.

str1f3

The problems with the tabs on top was that it was poorly implemented. The title bar wasn’t the problem. They could have made the title bar smaller which is what Chrome did. It allowed you to still have a clickable area so when you click to drag, you don’t accidently switch to that tab. It also didn’t help that it was also ugly. If I had to choose between what Apple did with TOT and on the bottom, I would choose on the bottom.

Tom Reestman

I covered this in the article of mine I linked to, so I won’t go into it here, but I disagree with you on Chrome. All Google did was move the Tab Bar. Big deal. I don’t think we need a Tab Bar at all.

I do agree the TOT feature needed refinement (e.g., tabs not drawn clearly, targets too small), but I think it was, and still is, a great idea.

Alien

What about the missing URL SnapBack? There’s not one new feature in Safari 4 that comes close to the efficiency and simplicity of the SnapBack in Safari 3. It was also the most differentiating feature of the browser, compared to FF for instance, and I was hoping it was just a fluke that it was missing in the beta.

It’s a shame it’s no longer there and for me there’s no reason to use Safari 4 unless it’s restored.

Tom Reestman

Alien,

SnapBack is another change to the release over the beta. It’s alive and well, so you should really give Safari 4 a try.

Juan Nunez-Iglesias

Hi Tom,
I actually didn’t know about SnapBack until this post. Sounds awesome! But from the looks of it, only Search SnapBack is back, not URL SnapBack. The SnapBack icon won’t show up no matter what URL I visit, and the Mark Page for SnapBack menu item is gone… Any comments?

Alicia

Me three – I do miss the top tabs. And I agree the speed is amazing!

Thanks for the post.

Phil

Great post! I agree with you – I also miss Tabs on Top.
But I don’t think that the lack of the blue status bar is an issue because Safari 4 is so fast that you actually don’t need it anymore.
I also love the new features – like Cover Flow and Top Sites (because I get notified when there are changes on a page) and (although a quite trivial new feature) the Google suggested searches.

Please excuse my still-not-sooo-good-English – I’m a German student.

TJ Draper

I like everything about the official release except the lack of tabs on top. I really loved them on the top!

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