Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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1202 words on

Um, many things in my head that I want to write about - the past weekend and everything. But first things first, I wanted to write on Safari which in fact I had already done - when Chimera crashed. So now I'll give it another go - giving Safari another ride and hopefully enjoying the spell-checker in the process.

I won't say much of the generally acknowledged features - or non-features of the rendering engine anymore. It's still got a long way to go before it can match Gecko, while being good enough for most people not to notice its flaws (most people would still be using Netscape 4.7 today if you'd let them?).

Now to Safari's UI. Of course the metal look is appalling. By using it Apple seems to ignore their very own UI guidelines

Mac OS X version 10.2 provides developers with a new textured window appearance (see Figure 5-4). This window style has been designed specifically for use by - and is therefore best suited to - applications that provide an interface for a digital peripheral, such as a camera, or an interface for managing data shared with digital peripherals, such as the Address Book application.

This appearance may also be appropriate for applications that strive to re-create a familiar physical device - the Calculator application, for example. Avoid using the textured window appearance in applications or utilities that are unrelated to digital peripherals or to the data associated with these devices.

Fortunately this problem can be solved using (De)Metallifizer which'll rid you of most textured windows - those in Cocoa applications anyway, so it should be everything except iTunes and QuickTime Player (is it only me or does the metal effect in the QuickTime 6.1 Player seem more tolerable than previously?). And this is not a very Safari specific problem anyway?

The rendering engine and the metal look aside, let's look at the good things. Firstly, the application feels snappy. I don't know how they do it. Most likely they didn't use the standard Cocoa techniques in the straightforward way Apple's documentation suggests - as most other Cocoa applications don't feel as snappy.

Then the UI. There are very few buttons. Very nice. It almost looks as simple as the long-deceased Cyberdog (RIP). Also, it doesn't use the standard toolbars. Perhaps another point for toolbars being wrong. And you can use the browser completely without the toolbar (as OmniWeb and Internet Explorer but unlike Chimera). I realised, though, that pressing Command-L will show the toolbar to enter an URL but sometimes it won't hide again properly. Leaving you with the toolbar sticking around as the braindead Command-| shortcut is (a) hard to type and (b) doesn't work on a German - and I assume many international keyboards.

All the widgets in forms on web pages seem to be proper OSX controls. Most importantly the text fields are. So we can continue where OmniWeb left us - with spell-checking, services, extra keyboard shortcuts and all that jazz coming built-in and being the same as in every other application.

Another feature I really like are the bookmarks. First the bookmarks bar is nice and clean in its style. The font may be a bit bold for maximum efficiency, but it looks pretty. (Did you notice that Mac-fonts tend to be much bolder than Windows fonts in menus? A subtle difference in looks that I only recently noticed. The bold fonts, say, for menu titles also mean that you can have less menus, meaning your applications are automatically less cluttered. I also saw the same difference on friends' mobile phones: Nokia's have bold type while Sony's have slim type. Figuring who are the good guys is left as an easy exercise to the reader.)

I also like using the browser window for the bookmarks. Finally a reason not to start new windows with the 'blank page' setting. All my bookmarks are just there. I absolutely love taking web pages from the Address Book. It's an easy thing to do, but only Safari actually does it. Nice one. The only thing I find confusing is that the bookmarks menu is a seperate entity and it's tricky to have bookmarks both in the menu and and elsewhere. I thought having everything accessible via the menu was just fine. I never used the menu anyway but it feels confusing this way - giving too many options and too much control. The history is also nicely integrated into the bookmarks section.

While talking about bookmarks, SnapBack comes to mind. Frankly, I don't really understand it. What's wrong with the traditional 'Back' button? Apparently a couple of things as it cannot represent the hierarchy of your browsing - but the SnapBack button doesn't do that either. Just another by far too colourful thing on screen, spoiling the address bar, which neatly incorporates the progress bar into it. I like that and I dislike status bars. More and more people are having fast internet connections, so status bars are becoming less important anyway and this looks like a good way of marginalising them. Still, the colour of the bar doesn't respect the 'Graphite' colour setting and is blue in any case. I hope this will be fixed for the final version.

Then, everything that's missing in Chimera is there: Font encoding menu? Check. Google search field? Check. Location bar/sheet that autocompletes, taking into account both the history and your bookmarks? Check. Popup window blocking that's easy to toggle on and off in case there's a stubborn site? Check. Same for cache cleaning? Check. (Well, that'd be rather useless, frankly, if Safari were cleverer about reloading pages. It's cache seems to be a bit more reluctant to reload pages and see changes in them while Chimera has no troubles whatsoever with this.) Very easy preferences? Check. ...that still enables you to set a style sheet? Check. That one's quite cool. A reasonable downloads window? Check. Even an activity window? Check. Some kind of Cookie-restriction? Check. I am curious to see how well this will work. I was positively surprised by Mail's junk filter - can they do it another time?

Of course it lacks a couple of things as well. I couldn't find a way to set the sans-serif font (I guess I could do it via the style sheet - but this is supposed to be an Apple application after all!). The source viewer is still very basic as well as is printing, which doesn't seem to respect style sheets for printing and doesn't let the user choose whether or not to print backgrounds.

I guess that's it to begin with.

Other opinions on Safari are Apple says "fuck you" to Mozilla or Surfin' Safari by David Hyatt, Safari developer or Like Speed 2, Only with a Bus Instead of a Boat or Mark Pilgrim's initial comments as well as Safari information for web designers or Time for a long, slow, fit of the giggles or The avoidance of the combination box control. Just visit all of those and follow all the links and I guess you'll get all around the internet and back that way. That, ladies and gents, is mindshare.

January 14, 2003, 2:29

Tagged as apple, safari, software, ui, web browser.

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