SeSam.hu

SeSam is Péter Szilágyi, Engineering Manager at Ustream, residing in Budapest, Hungary. This is his playground.

Safari 4 (beta)

Out of the blue, Apple announced a public beta of the latest fourth version of the Safari browser. Loyal to its version number the new Safari is claimed to be more than four times faster than its predecessor when it comes to JavaScript execution. It also boasts a number of sweet new features. Naturally the sesam.hu editorial office went for the upgrade at once.

All in all my experience is that the browser is quite a bit snappier. Pages just pop right in instead of assembling visibly. I tested the advertised JavaScript speedup with gmail and me.com and boy were those pages lightning fast to load. It’s not all marketing Safari 4 really is zippy.

safari 4

Probably the first thing that everyone will notice when looking at the new Safari is that the tab bar has changed into a Chrome-style tabbed title bar. This is definitely a shocker at first but one can get used to it pretty fast. The tabs actually look good with the fake depth added, however this comes at the cost of space: with a lot of tabs open they start to be quite narrow and exponentially harder to manage. Also one can no longer pick a tab up just by clicking anywhere on it: a new hot spot is added to the right corner that serves as a pick-up handle. Due to my old habits however I tended to start pulling the whole browser window around instead of just one tab. (Don’t mind the little bug button, it is there only for the beta to report bugs. I left it on because I liked the little insect icon.)

address bar

The address bar has changed as well. Visibly, they removed the reload button. That one took me by surprise and I spent a good five minutes looking for it until I found out that it has moved to the end of the address bar as an icon rather than a button. Even knowing this I’m still reflexively going to the left for the nonexistent button. Old habits die hard.

I also couldn’t figure out why pages seemed to load in a different way when it hit me that the ingenious blue loading bar in the address field was gone too. Instead a very small rotating wheel indicates loading at the position of the reload icon. To be honest I liked the blue bar a lot and I hope it will make a reappearance.

Under the hood the address and google bars now offer a search in the history as well as autocompletion. I like it that they haven’t gone over the top with it, Firefox style. I didn’t mind the old spartan version, but the new list is useful and easy to get used to.

autocomplete

A spectacular new feature has also been added called Top Sites. It’s a curved black panel from which the most frequently visited sites can be accessed via refreshing thumbnails. Visually it looks stunning, even though I heard the design is basically stolen from Opera – a browser I have never used. It is now an option that new tabs and browser windows would open with the Top Sites. I originally suspected this would be slow and choppy but Apple has pleasantly disappointed me there: new tabs with Top Sites pop just as fast as if it was a blank page.

top sites

Top Sites originally uses your most frequently visited pages, but there is an edit button on the lower left to customise it. (Maybe you want to change the six porn sites it originally loads up with.) You can choose how many thumbnails you’d like to have from 6 to 24. Sites can be pinned to position, preventing them from being moved or swapped to another one. You can actually select the pages you’d want there but it’s a tad tricky and quite counterintuitive: bookmarks don’t work but you can open another browser window and drag the site of your choice to a slot from the address bar. (Kudos to wyctim for figuring that out.)

I set my Top Sites to the six pages I most frequently open with a new tab: IMDB, Wowhead, Wikipedia, Torrent searches and Last.fm. This way a simple command+T and a click is sufficient to reach them. Very neat and speeds up browsing quite a bit.

Another eyecandy is the introduction of cover flow to the browser history. It may seem frivolous but I actually found it useful. Countless times have I found that I only remembered how a site looked but not the actual address of it. Now I can just flip through the – again, surprisingly fast – thumbnails to find it.

It is also helping that the history search now indexes not only addresses but titles and site contents as well. Again, why would I remember some obscure web address, I only remember that there was a site I visited about this and that: now it’s all easily searchable. Results can be presented in cover flow as well.

I suspect though that the conspiracy theorists will not rest and quite soon we will have headlines like “Apple saves a picture of every website you visit” and “Safari 4 spies on you: it remembers everything you read” and so on. Much as people cried wolf about the iPhone snapping a screenshot of webpages for the shrinking effect of the home screen.

For the visually impaired and elderly Safari offers a full-page zoom. You can choose between text-only or overall options and use the command + +/- keys to zoom in and out. Luckily this is not a feature I’d need just quite yet, but it’s neatly implemented nevertheless.

Safari 3 is – I believe – the first non-development public browser to pass the Acid 3 test 100/100.

acid3

Quite awesome tools help the developers make their page faster and bug-free. I haven’t used these before so I am not sure how new some of these features are, but the web inspector sure looks pretty. I am going to need more delving in the developer menu to say more.

web inspector

For you MICROS~1 people out there Safari now lost its Mac-like interface and offers a native look under XP and Vista with Windows-style scroll bars and whatnot. This actually poses and interesting dilemma if the Windows version of iTunes will follow suit in a later build or not.

One bug I have found is that the new Safari – funny it may sound – breaks the GrowlMail plugin. It has to do something with reading HTML email. Every time I got a HTML email Mail silently crashed until I disabled the Growl notifications. Hopefully a new build of the plugin will address this issue. Until then there is nothing to do but keep it switched off. Uninstall is not required.

Other than that the beta never crashed on me, not once. Everything works as intended and until now it has been proven rock solid.

Now what are you waiting for, go and get your new Safari! Available for the Mac and Windows.