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Jewish World Review
March 6, 2009
/ 10 Adar 5769
Beta Safari 4.0 Browser Shows Promise
Internet Web browsers, we have seen lately, generate a lot of heat. Oslo,
Norway-based Opera Software is seeking the help of the European Commission in
forcing Microsoft Corp. to distribute its Windows operating system with more
browsers than Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Google, whose Chrome browser is a more
recent contender in the marketplace, last week said it would join the Mozilla
Foundation, which is behind the Firefox Web browser, in offering its expertise to
the EC in building a case against Microsoft.
Other browsers, however, shed light as much as they do heat: that's the case with
Apple Inc.'s Safari Web browser, whose Beta 4 version, for Mac and Windows
computers, was released for public testing Feb. 24. In less than a day, I "fell" for
It had me at "hello," to borrow a phrase. Actually, it had me at "Welcome," the very
nice opening animation which plays - with music on Macs -- when the browser is
first launched (see it at www.apple.com/safari/welcome). The greeting segues into a
"Top Sites" screen display of your 12 most-visited Web sites, at least when Safari 4
is installed on top of older Safari versions, where there's a browser history to
glom onto. On computers lacking a previous install, a representation of popular
sites is displayed, with the promise that Safari will "learn" your favorites
along the way.
But ambiance isn't at the heart of Web browsing; usability and speed are. Safari
4, in my early testing, fulfills on these goals. It's usability is quite good: I
could work with my usual daily Web sites and even the more esoteric ones such as
Adobe Corp.'s "Buzzword" online word processor, although I had to bypass a
"caution" warning from Adobe to do so.
Since I could go to my usual sites, I could work easily and quickly. Pages seem to
load very quickly, and even with multiple windows open, things refreshed and loaded
with ease. It seems basic, but these functions are important: without quick and
reliable operation, a browser isn't worth all that much.
Along with the "Top Sites" view, available with one click on a browser
window's toolbar, there's also an implementation of "cover flow," the
Apple-created system that lets you "flip" through images of, in this case,
previously browsed Web sites. Now, this does take some time to load, even on a
high-speed connection and even with a relatively fast computer. There's only so
much RAM available, after all, and only so much bandwidth. My testing showed that
not every page can be "cached," and thus redisplayed; this was, understandably,
the case often with pages from sites where signing in was necessary, such as a
corporate e-mail system. And, other pages would display, but with newer data.
Overall, this is an interesting feature, although its promise is perhaps not always
A more useful feature, at the start at least, is a revised "zoom," which
enlarges the entire page, rather than just the lettering. Those of us whose eyes
squint and strain at some Web sites, however, appreciate such accommodation,
especially when the zoom is smooth and displays the larger size easily.
Why does all this matter? As mentioned here before, the Web is becoming the gateway
to much, much more, than just static information: when, on February 24, a
late-afternoon traffic accident in Silver Spring, Maryland, threatened the evening
commute of many, including this writer. I turned to the Web for information, and
found it at the Web site of WTOP-FM. With a quick install of the Microsoft
"Silverlight" plugin, I could listen live to the radio station and stay updated
on traffic conditions.
Clearly this is one of many areas where the Web is heading, and having a good
browser is essential. Safari 4, in "public Beta" for now, might well be that
essential people for many people. Having worked with both Windows and Mac versions,
I can say this is an impressive program worth checking out.
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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2008, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com