Because I had a lot of writing to do yesterday, I indulged myself with some quality screwing-off time and installed Safari 5, the latest version of Apple’s Web browser. I can’t say I expected much. Safari has always been feature-laden but sluggish. The new version, though, is speedy enough that I may make it my primary browser.
For several years I had been a dedicated Firefox user. But after Google released Chrome for Mac earlier this year, Firefox seemed downright slow by comparison. Chrome blazes, but it doesn’t have much else to recommend it. I especially don’t like the way it displays type — it seems like everything is either a smidgen too small or too large.
The new Safari, by contrast, is slick and attractive, and has a lot of nice touches. I’m a big fan of the Top Sites window, a graphical representation of my most-visited stops on the Web. Chrome has something similar, but the customization features are minimal. Safari also handles bookmarks nicely. Most important, it seems as fast as Chrome, and, unlike Firefox and even Chrome, it doesn’t gag on the Boston.com ad server.
The most interesting feature of Safari is something called Safari Reader. Open a page with an article on it, and a clickable label appears in the address bar. Select it and a new window opens with a nicely formatted text page. Unfortunately, Reader makes it easier to avoid advertising. But since photos within the text are displayed, I see no reason why ads couldn’t be embedded as well.
Reader is especially nice for complex sites with tiny type, such as the example I’ve included above from the New Haven Independent.
One problem is that Web designers have to write to Reader’s specifications or it won’t work properly. NYTimes.com, for instance, handles jumps with aplomb, whereas Boston.com, upon encountering a jump, incorrectly displays the first page again. Reader is going to have to prove very popular in order to force Web designers to change. But it could happen. Safari, after all, isn’t just for Macs (and PCs), but for iPads, iPhones and iPods as well.
No sooner did I tweet my enthusiasm about Reader than Alex Johnson responded by telling me that the same feature had been available in other browsers for some time. Sure enough, I found an extension for Chrome called Readability that did exactly the same thing. But it was glitchy compared to Safari Reader, which Johnson concedes is “the better option for Mac-only users.”
Safari also has a built-in RSS reader, but on first glance I see no reason to switch from Google Reader, which I love. (A lot of programs named Reader, eh?) There doesn’t seem to be any way of pulling my Google Reader feeds into Safari, which would be a minimum requirement for me even to test it.
Between Safari and Chrome, I doubt I’ll be using Firefox any time soon. I’ll try Version 4 when it is released later this year. For now, though, Firefox has definitely fallen behind.