First Look: Safari 3.1 adds speed and HTML 5 features

The latest version of Apple's browser adds some major enticements to switch

However, the big news is how fast the new version of Safari is. How fast? I tested Safari 3.1 on my first generation 2GHz MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM. In MooTools' SlickSpeed speed/validity test, Safari came out on top of almost every category on both Mac and PC.

It also did significantly better than any shipping browser on the SunSpider JavaScript speed tests (although since these tests are hosted at WebKit.org, they are perhaps biased). For example, on the Mac, Safari scored 4430ms against Firefox 3 Beta 4 at 5048ms.

While I spend 90 per cent of my time on a Macintosh, I also installed Safari on my Windows XP box to see how it stacked up against Internet Explorer, Opera and Firefox. In short, it worked extremely well for everyday browsing, offering speed and efficiency, especially on a four- or five-year-old machine. It also performed really well with lots of tabs open.

While Safari 3.1 does perform much better than the shipping version of Firefox, the speed improvements in Firefox 3 beta 4 are catching up with Safari 3.1 -- though Firefox 3 did consume more CPU cycles during my tests.

One of the drawbacks of Safari has been the perceived "over-smoothing" or softening of fonts on the PC. While this hasn't been completely fixed, Apple's Safari 3.1 allows Web sites to specify fonts outside the seven Web-safe font family fonts; these new fonts can be downloaded by the browser as needed.

Unfortunately, there are still prominent features that are part of rival browsers that Safari simply can't match. For example, Safari doesn't have all of the add-ons that Firefox enjoys, such as the Google toolbar.

Furthermore, if you need to use a site that employs Microsoft's proprietary DirectX technology -- like, for example, Microsoft Exchange's Outlook Web Access -- you'll find that the experience on Safari, while usable, leaves much to be desired. In this case you're better off using Internet Explorer.

Finally, Opera offers features such as direct BitTorrent downloads that aren't offered in Safari.

With the latest 3.1 release, Safari has become the fastest browser you can use. If that isn't enough reason to make a switch, its strong adherence to Web standards and rapid adoption of new technologies might make you think again.

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Seth Weintraub

Computerworld
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