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Safari 1

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As Safari has been declared version 1.0 and thus ready for prime time now, it's time to take a stick and poke it really hard. No more saying 'it's only a beta', because it isn't. Apple had a good start with Safari this winter, with many important improvements made when releasing the second beta version. Surely, Safari was already a fine web browser then but my impression is that things have only proceeded with the (typical?) logarithmic speed of software development from there on – or even got worse.

So let me see how Apple's first released web browser since Cyberdog fares with respect to my favourite surfing issues:

Printing – an improvement over the second beta, printing style sheets seem to work now. Probably not a big deal to fix as they have worked just fine in Konqueror for a while, but very useful. To celebrate the feat, I added a 3 statement media="print" style sheet to these pages to allow printing without all the link nonsense – although I don't know why anybody would want to do that except because we can.

Oh, and did I mention it's buggy? Trying to print this page will cause an error message to occur around page 2 of the printing process. That error leaves the open Safari window in a sorry broken state. (Anybody willing to check whether this happens on their computer as well, so I can submit a bug report?). Furthermore, there should be an extra Safari panel in the print dialogue. While I am happy without any page numbering, time or URLs on my printouts, I do know many people who consider them essential.

Printing PDF files that are displayed with the smooth PDF Browser Plugin – I simply love the smooth scrolling it does and the fact that the latest version also displays PostScript files – still doesn't work and will result in a blank page (you'll have to use the Print item provided by the plugin's menu). That's another (known) bug in Safari, I suppose, as printing works just fine in Camino. Both browsers fail to print PDF files embedded into a web page, by the way.

Font SizeDavid Hyatt himself gives a statement on the new default "16" font size. I assume this means they opted for the easy way out instead of sorting out the resolution thing cleanly. While there may be an ageing user base, many of us can see quite well and afford glasses if needed. A more adequate level of politeness to talk about it is found here although I hope that the 'Helvetica' comment is a joke.

Screenshot of Erik's blog with ugly fonts courtesy of Safari The next problem is partly a consequence of that default setting and mentioned by David as well – there is no more minumum font size. While this may 'fix' the display of certain ill-designed sites, it leads to instantly degraded display of properly designed sites such as Erik's (displayed above) when setting the the base font size to something sane, say 14 points. Dave observed the same problem on his site.

The introduction of minimum font sizes was a very good idea. It is completely beyond my comprehension why anyone would want to 'read' 7 point non-anti-aliased pixel garbage. While it may be important for Apple's browser to get along with the large crappy websites, I am quite disappointed to see them do this partly at the cost of breaking perfectly good web sites with perfectly good personal settings.

No-nos – Still no undo, via Nicholas Riley and still no proper AppleScript support, via John Gruber. That sucks. I thought there should be undo for accidentally closing windows – as there is, brokenly, in Stickies – and they don't even have it for text. The same goes for AppleScript, as anyone who used GetArtwork for iTunes and lost a couple of tabs in the process will confirm.

Performance – It's still quick at surfing but the multithreading or whatever the technological magic is called still has some way to go. Open a large PS file to be displayed with the PDF Browser Plugin and see all of Safari locked up while it's being processed. If there's a high load rendering pages, the browser will be unresponsive as well. Why? The tradeoff of increasing the rendering time by a few milliseconds in order to have a snappy application is an easy choice to make. Perhaps it's hard to implement, but that's what programmers are there for.

UI Bitching – Safari is still quite stupid about what it does when its dock icon is clicked. Whenever the preferences or the utterly persistent downloads window are open, no new Safari window will come up when the Dock icon is clicked. A bug, I suppose. Also, there's still the strange checkmark-style menu with deactivated menu items as labels to toggle buttons in Safari's quasi-toolbar, that can't be turned off using the standard toolbar window decoration which in turn would get into the way of the 'secure site' lock icon, I suppose. The menu could easily be improved, in my opinion, by removing the 'Show' label 'menu item' and having 'Show Location bar', 'Show Bookmarks bar' and 'Show Status bar' instead. That way items had the verb/action character that you expect to see in menus.

While at the topic of the various bars in the browser, let me note for the n-th time that the feature of browsing with the Location bar hidden is still essentially broken. To see this, hide the Location bar (Command-U), then use the Open Address… command (Command-L) to enter an address. The Location bar appears, you enter the address, press enter, the page loads and the Location bar hides again. That's all good. But what if you change your mind while the location bar is visible and click on a bookmark instead? Well, the location bar doesn't hide again. It never had. Internet Explorer and OmniWeb do get this right, btw.

Official, keyboard equivalents for back and forward are Command-[ and Command-] again in the German version. At least they're consistent again now after having them to be Command-Ö and Command-Ä in the second beta version. It's still a bad idea as nobody would want to use those keyboard equivalents and such special characters shouldn't be used in for keyboard equivalents, ever. Switching between tabs is still stuck at the tremendously stupid and inconsistent Comman-Shift left/right arrow, of course implying that not only there is no undo in Safari's text fields but they also lack a standard text selection technique. (And now we send a brief curse to the Apple UI engineers 'designers' who think its reasonable, consistent or even clever).

Bookmarks – another hot topic in Safari. I like Safari's approach. It has improved for the 1.0 version: When pressing the Back button after opening a bookmark from the bookmarks pane, you actually return to the bookmarks pane now as you'd expect. Also, you don't make copies of your bookmarks now by default when moving them to other sections of the bookmarks. Rather you have the standard Option-key behaviour to make copies.

Talking about the different sections for bookmarks, though, I still find them confusing. Why have the extra menu and don't simply put the contents of the bookmarks bar in there? In my opinion it just makes things more confusing. Does anybody actually use this 'feature' to have different sets of bookmarks in those places? Also, I think the preferences for which bookmarks to show where is superfluous. If there are Rendezvous web servers, show that section/menu, if there aren't don't. Same for the Address Book. KISS, or so they say.

Auto Tab checkboxes Oh, and no – I don't like the open all at once tab 'Auto-Tab' thingy they did, introducing a bit of clutter in form of checkboxes all over the bookmarks pane and yet another symbol in the bookmarks bar for just a tiny bit of extra convenience . And yes – I did notice that the behaviour of the Bookmarks bar still is bad: The menus open sluggishly the first time around, they still don't support clicking and immediately dragging to the item without releasing the mouse key first (you know, standard Mac menu behaviour, but Safari will rather let you pull the bookmarks submenu out of the bar), when one of those menus is open, you cannot simply click on another one I you accidentally hit the wrong one. An extra click is required to close the first menu for some reason. Still no proxy icons for the tabs as well. A whole bunch of little inconveniences that Apple had half a year to fix. Rendering – Safari's engine seems to have been improved here and there. In particular, the hover effects and links at the right of my blog seem to work reliably now. On the downside, it still only randomly renders the ¶ character after my post headings in Zapfino as it should. One more thing that could use some optimisation is the rendering of large tables and pages with many UI widgets (think of pages to rate numerous things with a few hundred radio buttons on them).

'Titel' is the silly translation of 'Tab' in German Safari German localisation – WTF is a title (German Titel) on a web page? Ahh, right that little bit of text in the title bar. Wrong, unfortunately. Somehow Apple's monkeys at typewriters brilliant creative geniuses thought that would be a good translation for Tab. Surely, the word Tab always looked a bit out of place in German, but it's really hard to come up with something better. Titel definitely isn't. I've heard a lot of German and probably spoken more of it than is good for me and this definitely doesn't make sense. To add insult to injury, they managed to keep the Tab nomenclature for the preference's icon and the strange 'Auto-Tab' feature I mentioned above.

Quite strange as well, the contextual menu item for saving a link's target to your downloads folder, is called 'Link auf Volume laden'. Let's see which average end-user is going to figure out what that means. And the annoyingly persistent downloads window is now called and equally obscure 'Geladene Objekte'

All in all, I say: It's still a fine browser, particularly for rendering and speed. But they didn't get the polish right and I wouldn't consider it a 1.0 release. Particularly when considering the localisation the user experience deteriorated from the previous beta version.

That's it for the first day. I hope there's not much more to come.

June 24, 2003, 17:30

Tagged as helvetica, software, zapfino.


Comment by brian w: User icon

Re: the “New Window” function… My copy of Safari (both the previous beta and the new 1.0) correctly open a new window upon a dock click even if the Downloads window is open. I can’t fathom why yours wouldn’t. Your other points, though, seem to be pretty spot on!

June 24, 2003, 21:34

Comment by ssp: User icon

Very odd. I just double checked and it definitely doesn’t work here.

June 25, 2003, 12:11

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