Safari 4's browser war salvo

Apple this week launched an updated public beta version of its Safari Web browser, and it's been making quite an impact. The revision boasts changes to tabbed browsing, searchable history, and a slick "most visited" start page. But it's Apple's claim of "world’s fastest web browser" that's getting the most attention – and scrutiny.

Safari 4.0 Beta has been available for free Mac or PC download since Tuesday. Here's a look at what people are saying:

On speediness

Productivity blog Lifehacker performed a browser speed test shootout, pitting the new Safari against Opera, Google Chrome, and two flavors each of Firefox and Internet Explorer (an official release and beta version each). The results weren't, as Apple's claim would imply, a blowout for Safari 4. But the new browser did perform admirably in most tests, and was a standout in Javascript. "Safari does nearly meet its boasts when it comes to JavaScript benchmarks, but isn't necessarily the best option for slower systems, or even general page-loading speed," Lifehacker concluded.

Safari's new tabs

Macworld's Dan Frakes dives deep into the changes to how the browser displays multiple sites in one window. His write-up breaks down the good, the bad, and the almost-there of Safari's tabbed browsing experience. The article is worth a complete read to anyone interested, but here's the takeaway: the address bar for each tab, the address bar's reduced vertical footprint, and the new "handle" design cues are all good. The title bar's disappearance, the execution of some interface tweaks, and inconsistencies in tabbed browsing behavior – not so much.

Don't like the new tab bar setup? LATimes blogger Mark Milian points to a Mac method to change things back to the way they were.

Overall look and feel

Ars Technica pooh-poohs the faux-3D look of Safari's new "Top Sites" splash screen, calling the feature "flashy and graphically impressive, but frivolous and unnecessary." Reviewer David Chartier approves of the inclusion of Apple's now-ubiquitous Cover Flow interface, but points out a few bugs. He writes:

Thumbnail previews are generated for both the pages in your browsing history and bookmarks, and while Cover Flow is indeed handy for picking out a diamond in the rough, the thumbnail process seems to be a little buggy. In addition to taking a bit longer than we expected to create previews for the pages in our history, some basic pages—such as Apple's own Safari welcome page, never got the treatment. Good thing there's a "beta" tag.

MacFixIt offers more hidden preferences tweaks for those that want the speed boost of the new Safari, but not some of the interface changes.

Some would be surprised that Apple, a company known for exacting standards and quality control, would release an unfinished product like this in a beta version, but it's a smart move. What better way to get hundreds of free reviews and recommendations for improvements?

Have you tried the Safari 4 beta? Prefer Google Chrome, Opera, or something else? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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