Apple Releases Safari 4

Safari 4

Apple today stripped the beta tag from, and released, Safari 4 into the wild. Safari 4, which has been in beta since February, offers a host of features and enhancements to what Apple claims is the “World’s Fastest Browser.”

Safari 4 features an updated user interface, and numerous under-the-hood enhancements, all of which contribute to a great new browser, built with the user in mind. If you’ve been using Safari 3, this is a fantastic update you’ll definitely want to install immediately. If you’ve been using the Safari 4 beta for the last few months, some changes have been made, and stability has improved. No matter what browser you currently use, Safari 4 is a gorgeous app that puts the content up front and gets out of your way while you surf.

Safari 4 Top Sites

Safari 4 Top Sites

Top Sites

safari4_topsite-pinTop Sites is one of the more notable features, where you can view up to 24 of your most visited sites, via a slick 3D wall of page previews, in one window — making it much easier to get to the sites you visit most.

If you prefer to use Top Sites as your start page, which you can do in the General tab in your Safari preferences, you can “pin” specific pages so they’re always available, no matter how often you visit them. You do this simply by hitting the Edit button at the bottom of the Top Sites page and clicking the little pin icon in the corner of each page thumbnail.

Search

Searching in Safari has seen a few feature updates. You can use the new Search bar, which auto-completes terms, offers suggestions, and displays a list of recent searches for you. Pretty standard stuff. But here’s the cool part: Let’s say you want to search for a site you’ve been to in the past, but can’t remember where it was. Simply visit your Top Sites page and use the Search box at the bottom. Safari will search through your history and display thumbnail previews of the search results via Cover Flow in the browser window — making it much easier to find what you’re looking for. The Cover Flow feature also works with your Bookmarks.

Shortcuts

Apple has added a few options to the Customize Toolbar preferences. You can now add buttons for Top Sites, Bookmarks Bar, Site Information, Email Page and more. To make room for these buttons, Apple has removed the Stop/Reload button and made it part of the URL bar, as seen below.

Safari 4 buttons

Safari 4 buttons

For those who were using Safari 4 beta and didn’t care for the Tabs-On-Top feature, you’ll feel all warm and fuzzy when you find the Tab bar has been moved back to its Safari 3 location below the toolbar.

While browsers have had the ability to reduce or enlarge text for a long time, Safari 4 goes one step further by allowing you to zoom an entire page in and out, keeping the content and overall look of the site the way it was intended. Of course, you can also zoom the text only, and support for external style sheets is available, so you can choose your fonts, sizes and colors for all web sites.

A few other nifty features of Safari 4 include inline viewing of PDFs without cumbersome plugins, the ability to “clip” a web page to create a Dashboard Widget of the page, the ability to save images directly into your iPhoto library, and mail the contents of a page (in its full HTML glory) with the click of a button.

Safari 4 Under the Hood

The new JavaScript engine (Nitro) in Safari 4, which boasts speeds four times faster than Firefox 3, four-and-a-half times faster than Safari 3, and eight times faster than Internet Explorer 8, was noticeably improved over previous Safari versions — especially when loading JavaScript-heavy pages such as my iGoogle page.

Page rendering speeds have also been improved by up to three times, according to Apple’s statements. Not having any scientific data to back up my claim, I’ll say that it is fast. Very fast. Considering Safari 4 will run as a 64-bit app under Snow Leopard when it’s released in September, Safari with its Nitro JavaScript engine will be speeding along at a pace that will leave other browsers envious.

Safari 4 also boasts support for HTML 5, for the use of offline technologies, and some pretty cool CSS 3 effects such as animations, fonts and media effects. It’s also the only browser I know of that supports ICC color profiles out of the box, so images appear in the browser as they were intended to.

Of particular interest to web site designers and developers is the ability to invoke Safari 4’s Web Inspector to get a closer look at the underpinnings of a web site. You can view the CSS and HTML code, script and database information, as well as beautiful graphs displaying site statistics, such as image size. As you can see in the screenshot below, somebody really needs to optimize the MacBook Pro image!

Safari 4 Web Inspector

Safari 4 Web Inspector

Firefox, with its plethora of extensions available, has been my browser of choice for a long time. But Safari does offer one thing that Firefox just can’t seem to catch hold-of in Mac OS X — speed! Safari 4 just blows the doors off even Firefox 3.5 beta. And it does offer some customization capability via InputManagers (not supported by Apple, by the way). Overall, if you can live without dozens of extensions for Firefox, Safari is by far the best browser for the Mac.

Safari 4 is available now as a free download for Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later and requires that you install Security Update 2009-002. You can download Safari 4 from Apple’s web site.

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