Web Browsing

Safari is a tabbed browser much like Firefox and its usage is pretty straightforward. I've been a die-hard IE user ever since IE4 and have always appreciated its rendering speed and enjoyed its compatibility with the majority of websites out there. For an IE user, or any user for that matter, Safari is real easy to get used to.


But before I get into the little features that make Safari a good browser, let me address its biggest shortcoming: rendering speed.

Back before Firefox's release on the PC, the one argument that I'd always hear against IE was that it was too slow compared to lesser used browsers such as Opera. Having used Opera, I could hardly tell any performance difference in rendering speed in comparison to IE. It was the lack of any appreciable difference coupled with no real application level benefits over IE that kept me from using it on the PC.

But when comparing Safari rendering speed to IE, the difference is much more noticeable. Webpages render instantaneously under IE compared to the multiple second delay that exists under Safari. In order to show the difference, I ran a couple of informal tests:

IE (PC) Safari (Mac)
www.anandtech.com 2.825 4.073333333 0.306464812
www.cnn.com 2.75 4.123333333 0.333063864
www.slashdot.org 2.33 2.373333333 0.018258427
www.apple.com 2.625 4.073333333 0.355564648
www.microsoft.com 2.365 2.44 0.030737705

What we see here is that IE on the PC is consistently a lot faster in rendering webpages than Safari, and although the numbers may seem small themselves, they make the Mac (and actually your internet connection) feel a lot slower when browsing normal web pages. Considering the amount of web browsing that we all do on a regular basis, Safari's rendering performance is nothing short of unacceptable.

One solution would be to use Firefox, which is available for OS X, and in doing so, performance is improved tremendously - although Firefox under OS X continues to be slower than IE on a PC.

The performance problem, although alleviated by Firefox, is still a serious issue since I found that I personally preferred using Safari under OS X over Firefox. Safari feels much more polished and looks much more like the rest of the OS. The other problem with Firefox is that scrolling in Firefox is much less smooth than under Safari, and can get annoying when reading large web pages that require lots of scrolling. The other issue I had was that I couldn't seem to find a keyboard shortcut to switch between tabs in Firefox and for whatever reason, the autocomplete URL keyboard shortcut for a .com URL would never work for me in Firefox. Some can get used to these quirks of Firefox and won't have a problem, but I wasn't one of them.

So, now that we know what Apple needs to improve about Safari, what is so great about this browser?

Built-in pop-up blocking and tabbed browsing support are both must-haves with any current generation browser.



Safari also includes a built-in Google search bar and a download manager; again, nothing revolutionary, but a nice must-have for a web browser.

As with the rest of OS X, keyboard shortcuts are plentiful in Safari. As you would expect, Command-T will open a new tab while Command-N will open a new browser window. There is no auto-complete URL function, unfortunately (e.g. no equivalent to IE's CTRL-Enter). Although, just typing in the URL sans www. and .com will eventually find the site that you are looking for after a short lookup delay.

While Safari lacks an autocomplete URL keystroke combination, it does make navigating to a particular directory on a website easier without unnecessary typing. For example, if you want to visit www.anandtech.com/mac/, you can simply type in anandtech/mac and Safari will fill in the www. and .com for you in the appropriate places. It's not a huge time saver, but it's a nice feature to have.

The IE equivalent for shifting focus to the address bar is Command-L in Safari, which quickly became one of my most frequently used keyboard shortcuts under Safari (much like F2 or CTRL-Tab were for me in IE).

Unlike IE, regardless of how many Safari windows or tabs I have open, there is never any slowdown and definitely no slowdown in spawning new windows - both very important things to me as I tend to have a good number of web browser windows open at any given time.

Website compatibility, for the most part, wasn't an issue with Safari, but there were some definite compatibility issues that required me to have Firefox installed whenever a website wasn't working properly. The issues usually revolved around things like car configurators on car manufacturers' websites, or certain forms not working properly. Everything that didn't work under Safari had worked without a problem under Firefox, but the choppy scrolling under Firefox and lack of an integrated feel resulted in me being a Safari user - one who just had to put up with its shortcomings in terms of speed and compatibility.

When we were redesigning the AnandTech website, I had the pleasure of being the only Safari user on the team and thus, the only one with random weird problems that would crop up during the design phase. It quickly became evident how many Safari incompatibilities can crop up - most developers don't have an OS X box with Safari on which to test their websites. Needless to say, if I hadn't been running Safari at the time, AnandTech wouldn't have been the most Safari-friendly website.

I'd say that Safari is probably the weakest link in Apple's OS X package, and it's one that they absolutely need to fix. After all, you can argue that not everyone games, but when a $300 eMachines computer browses the web faster than a $3000 Powermac, it's time for an updated web browser.

Internet Explorer for the Mac is basically a piece of garbage. It looks like an old version of Netscape, it is horribly slow and it is nothing like the Windows version of IE. For me, Safari was the web browser of choice under OS X, with the occasional launch of Firefox whenever there was a compatibility issue. With the latest preview release of Firefox, the situation has been much improved for OS X browsing, but the OS still lacks a truly solid browser, which is very important in my book.

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  • vladik007 - Thursday, March 31, 2005 - link

    " highly paid Windows admin / Cisco Engineer "

    geeez ... new low bottom.
    Reply
  • MarshallG - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I was thinking about getting a Mini Mac. But with a 1.25 GHz CPU, it's about 1/4 the machine that Anand tested.

    Will I be disapointed by its performance at the same kinds of tasks Anand mentioned? I realize that I'll have to upgrade to maybe 1 GB of RAM.
    Reply
  • BikeMike - Sunday, January 30, 2005 - link

    re: OSX dialogue keyboard shortcuts - like in Word, where 'd' means 'don't save' and 'return' & 'enter' apply to the highlighted button, many OSX apps do not require a modifier key, such as 'alt' or 'command'. The experience of discovery is guesswork, yes, but if you don't look for a modifier key, you get better at guessing. For example, in iTunes dialogues, 'y' means, you guessed it, 'yes'. Reply
  • pyramiddown - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    Ctrl-Tab to switch tabs in Firefox Reply
  • OmnisAudis - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Great article! very long winded, but awesome. I am a long time Mac user, with an XP machine at home and an iBook at work.

    I thought it was very interesting you found nothing snazzy about iCal. It is my FAV Apple app!! It is the most powerful, easy to use calendar I've come across. And it seems to be able to do things that XP Outlook can't. For one thing, I can publish a calendar so that other users can subsribe to it. When I make a change to that calendar, they see those changes.

    I can have TONS of calendars. In outlook, my boss can only have one (and view others). At my work place, we have 20 productions going on. It would be great if he could generate a calander that we could subscribe to for each show. As changes occur, we would get them without a memo going out, and everyone updating their calendars.

    Plus, I can subscribe to a season calendar of the Yankees! So as I publish calendars for visiting artists, and I subscribe to one for entertainment.

    I'll stop now. But I think you should revist iCal. Look at it from a multi-user point of view.

    Thanks for the objective article. I've learned a few things about OS-X!
    Reply
  • KingKuei - Sunday, January 16, 2005 - link

    Anand,

    Wait til you see Tiger...

    Updated Safari with significantly improved speed and capabilities.

    Add the Spotlight feature (comprehensive demo at MacWorld Expo --> don't miss the jab at Bill Gates when the Spotlight feature crashes... one word: backup)

    Dashboard (sorry to the company that made it, but the feature is coming free to Tiger and I can't wait!)

    And for the first time, fully takes advantage of the 64-bit processing core of the G5.

    Anand, I dare you to write a follow-up review on that dual-2Ghz of your's when Tiger ships ON SCHEDULE later this year!
    Reply
  • macgeek - Saturday, January 01, 2005 - link

    It is go glaringly obvious to any Mac user that you did understand half of what you were writing about. Just a few glaring omissions from your article:

    * Unix-based, and you have full control of Unix through the terminal.

    * No spyware or viruses - I don't even run anti-virus because there has NEVER been a virus for OS X. NOT ONE!!!

    * Why do you think Office 2004 sucks? Probably because it's made by Microsoft! Ever heard of OpenOffice?

    * Address Book - not only is it integrated into mail, but it's integrated into OS X.

    * Guess you didn't spend much time looking for it, because you could have had Trillian for Mac OS X as well.

    * Browsers - Yeah, Safari needs some work, but you've got quite a few to choose from. Oh, and Safari isn't the Lincoln Tunnel of security holes that IE is either. And if you so choose, you can simply drag Safari to the trash can and never use it again. Now try that with IE.

    * ipfw vs. Windows Firewall - Puuhhlleeeeasseee!! What does microsoft give you? A firewall that a third-grader could get through and that allows EVERYTHING OUT!!!!! I quite like having the ability to customize ipfw in terminal to have a firewall that is truly an industrial strength firewall.

    * Root authentication - whenever a program needs to install or modify system files, you have to authenticate as root. Too bad that when you're logged on as an Admin in Windows it's "anything goes" and you have no choice when that nasty website throws a dll file into the Windows directory.

    * No mention of any Apple Pro Apps like Final Cut HD. I've seen what happens to P4 systems when they try to render video in Adobe Premiere - they crash. You have to drop at least an extra $1000 for a Canopus or high-end Matrox capture card to have a chance of competing with a dual G5 system. My PowerBook G4 1.5 GHz renders video better than my P4 3.4 with 1GB of HyperX PC3500.

    * No mention of integrated Bluetooth, or how simple it is to configure networking, or of integrated Firewire 800.

    Shoddy research, and a poor attempt overall. It's easy to see that you liked the G5, but you didn't even scratch the surface before you wrote that article. And if you honestly think that OS X crashes as much as Windows, you REALLY must not have known what you were doing.

    And I qualify this as my day job is as a highly paid Windows admin / Cisco Engineer. I know Windows XP / 2k / 2k Server and Win2k3 inside and out, and they can't touch the possibilities of OS X. The only area that I'll give you is gaming. That's why I have a top-o-the-line AMD.
    Reply
  • hopejr - Monday, November 08, 2004 - link

    I'm quite impressed with this article. I'm a recent switcher (august 04) and can say that I much rather OS X to any other OS that I've used (every single released version of windows from 1.03 to Longhorn 4074, many Linux distros, and mac os from system 6 to OS X Panther).
    I didn't go for a beefed up PowerMac G5, but I did buy a 12" iBook G4 with student discount (April 04 model). I've found that these are the cheapest decent notebooks out (as I can't stand celerons :P), and for a 12" at just AU$1520, I think it was a bargain (most PC 12" laptops are twice that much with almost identical specs).
    I also like the fact that I have seemless networking with my Windows machines. Another thing I like is that I can do all the stuff I need to do on linux (for University) on my iBook because of its unix base.
    In regard to the point someone made (i can't remember which post) about this article testing multitasking on a dual processor environment, I find that my single processor G4 laptop is still much better at multitasking than the latest Windows PC with hyperthreading, or even an AMD64, that I've used. Maybe that's just me though :P.
    I've found that I'm more productive on OS X compared to windows, especially with all those keyboard shortcuts.
    BTW, post #207 is right about the choice mac users have to make, I make those choices now, and know exactly when I want a program to close, or when I just want to close a window. I also find command-H and command-option-H very useful with reducing screen clutter.
    I haven't always liked Macs. I hated them mainly because the classic OS was a pain to use in my opinion with little control over it (I am a DOS user, so I like being in control of my machine using a command prompt). When OS X came out (especially Panther), my hatred disappeared.
    Reply
  • macgruder - Saturday, November 06, 2004 - link

    Pretty good and fair review.

    I wish people would stop saying an App should quit when you close the last window. This is not useful in many situations. e.g. I'm in Photoshop, I have a window open, and I'm done with it, but am going to continue working. Close the windows, oops Photoshop quits.

    Mac users are used to making the following choice:
    a. I want to close a window (command-W)
    b. I want to quit the App. (command-Q)

    These are 2 distinct actions. To me closing a window is just that, and shouldn't be connected to the independent action of quitting an app. If I'm done and I have ten windows open, I just command-Q, and the windows(if not saved) close automatically anyway. As far as I can see Windows seems to be forcing you (correct me if I'm wrong) to do an unconnected action, when you may not want to.
    Reply
  • Humancodex - Friday, November 05, 2004 - link

    I make a link of the article to: http://www.macbidouille.com (french) in forum "switch", everybody like your "objectivité", and like you to push the Mac test trial more often! Reply

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