Safari 5 Brings Speed, Reader and Extensions

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Safari Apple quietly released a major upgrade to Safari, bringing the browser up to version 5.0 for both Mac and Windows. Safari 5 brings several welcome improvements, including a new “Reader” mode, improved HTML 5 support, support for Bing as a default search engine and a new extensions architecture.

To learn more about using Safari, check out our Safari 101 screencast on TechUniversity (subscription required).

Safari 5 also boosts JavaScript performance with Apple’s Nitro engine, (formally known as squirrelfish). Stats on Apple’s site claim JavaScript performance gains up to 30 percent faster than Safari 4, 3 percent faster than Chrome (really Apple, 3 percent?), and twice as fast as Firefox.

Safari’s Reader feature has been available for a while to users of Instapaper and Arc/40’s Readability bookmarklets. Reader takes the text of the web page and presents it in a larger font, uncluttered by other parts of the page, allowing you to concentrate on reading the article. I’ve been a big fan of Readability, so I’m happy to see such a great feature added to Safari.¬†Finding the Reader button took some time. It shows up next to the RSS button in the address bar, and only when Safari detects a page that has an article with a lot of text in it.

Apple has taken another swing at Google by adding support for Bing in Safari. This move shows just how much the tech industry landscape has changed, and how rapidly it continues to change. While Google remains the default search engine, adding Bing as an option means that Apple could flip the switch on which search engine is selected by default at any time.

Firefox users have been able to extend their browser with add-ons for years, and several users have cited the lack of extensibility of Safari as a major reason for choosing Firefox on the Mac. However, it took Google’s Chrome browser supporting extensions to push Apple to support the same thing in Safari. In typical Apple style, it seems that the extensions will be signed, and a certificate to sign the extension will only be available by joining the Safari Developer Program. The extensions will also run sandboxed, further protecting the browser.

Safari extensions are build using HTML 5, CSS3, and JavaScript. Safari 5 packages a tool called the Extension Builder to help with packaging and distributing the extension into the Extensions Gallery. Expect a bunch of long awaited favorites to show up in the gallery soon.

As of this writing, no extensions are available yet. Safari 5 ships with extensions disabled by default, but to enable them, enable the Develop menu in Safari preferences, then select “Enable Extensions.”

Auto-complete in the address bar has also been enhanced. In the short time I’ve been testing it, the suggestions are not only faster, but more relevant. This is because Safari is now searching not only the beginning of the URL, but the entire string for matching characters. So far, this is honestly my favorite new feature, and speeds up browsing significantly. Oh, and address bar progress indicator is back.

Another huge bonus for me is hardware acceleration in Windows. Since I work in an office and use an XP laptop during the day, this means that Safari 5 should be a big performance boost over 4.

If you weren’t sold before, are the additions enough to bring you back to Safari? What other thoughts do you have about the new changes? Let us know in the comments!

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