Safari: Tops for Macs

Having Apple's developers come up with their own take on browsing was a Godsend

If you're reading this browser roundup on any of Apple Computer's laptops or desktops, chances are good that you're doing so with Apple's own Safari Web browser.

The nice thing about Safari, which is now up to version 2.0.4 and will be updated yet again early next year when Apple releases Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard," is that it comes out of the box with just about every feature you'll need to cruise along on the Web safely and securely. It's also only for Macs, so Windows and Linux fans, you're out of luck.

Safari uses strong 128-bit encryption when accessing secure sites. Pop-up ad blocking is easily enabled, as is tabbed browsing -- with each tab having its own "close" button. It has a built-in RSS reader so you can subscribe to RSS feeds for speedy tracking of sites and stories you're interested in. Safari's Web rendering is based on the KDE project's open-source KHTML layout engine, and I've found it to be as fast as any other browser in Mac land.

The built-in search engine is Google, and it has a handy snapback feature incorporated in that search field. Let's say you've entered a few search terms, landed on a page with hundreds of links and clicked on so many of them that you're not sure how to get back to your original search. Rather than retracing steps you've already taken, just click on the orange snapback icon and it immediately takes you back to your list of Google links.

Think easy. Think intuitive.

Safari emerged in Apple land in January 2003 -- about the same time Microsoft decided to stop development of IE for the Mac. At the time, browser development for Mac OS X was an oft-neglected backwater, although the Mac-only OmniWeb showed promise -- and still does. But you have to pay for that one, and in this day of free-is-good, having Apple's developers come up with their own take on browsing was a Godsend.

Attention to detail

Of course, what matters is how well an application works. And Apple has gotten the little things right in Safari. Take bookmark management, for example. It's easy to add bookmarks and organize them into folders -- and then add those folders to Safari's bookmark bar. That means all of your favorite tech bookmarks, or news sites, or even RSS feeds, can be lumped together and ordered however you want. Click on a folder of bookmarks in the bookmark bar and the drop-down menu offers easy access to all the sites you want. You can choose to open them all in separate tabs with a single click, and you can even have them open up automatically in tabs when you click on the folder of links in your bookmarks bar.

Importing links from another browser? Some browsers I could mention (Opera and Internet Explorer) import bookmarks and then list them alphabetically. I'm willing to bet that 99% of browser users don't organize their surfing that way. With Safari, they're imported in the same order used by the other browser.

Making Safari an RSS reader was also a smart move by Apple. RSS feeds are increasingly popular because they allow surfers to quickly scan headlines for the sites and stories they want to read. In Safari, a site that offers RSS feeds is designated with a blue RSS icon in the URL address bar. Click on the icon, and the RSS feed drops down in place of the standard site. Click it again and the feed rolls back up and you're right back where you landed originally. Want to add that feed to your bookmark bar or RSS folder? Click the RSS icon, then drag and drop the link from the address bar to wherever you want it. Again, think easy, think intuitive.

In its last major update to Safari last year, Apple also added "private browsing" as an option. If you're concerned that someone else might use your computer and take a look at where you've been online, you can turn this feature on with one click. Once it's enabled, you can surf away knowing that sites you visit and information you type in won't be saved. Go ahead, enjoy the anonymity.

That's not to say Safari is perfect. No application is. It's nice to have all those tabs, for instance. But wouldn't it be nicer to save them between browser sessions, so you can pick up again with all those sites when you reopen Safari? Not possible. Want to use keyboard commands to cycle among the tabs you have open? Not happening. Or let's say you're a weather nut and you like having a browser add-on that sticks weather information in your browser window. Forget it, at least for now.

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