Safari 3 on Windows — a glass of ice water to people in Windows browser hell

Jun 12, 2007

Today, yet another Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference kicked off with a Steve Jobs keynote. These are big insights into what the company is up to and the video is upcoming shortly.

They talked a lot about different things, but there's one that grabbed my attention. Apple's browser, Safari, is now available on Windows. You can download it immediately. It's a beta and it kind of shows -- it crashes often :) for example it always crashes when I try to manage the bookmarks. Plus just randomly sometimes. So it has some quality work left to do.

But the obvious quality stuff aside, I think this is a very very significant step for Apple to try to enter the Windows browser space. Which they were already in, sort of, with their iTunes and its embedded store. But now they're launching a full frontal assault to both Microsoft IE and Mozilla Firefox. And not only do they bring their browser, but the (not so) hidden agenda here seems to be to get people used to the idea that Apple stuff is nice also beyond iTunes, which is shown by lots of Aqua UI being ported over in Safari to Windows in the form of e.g. web form controls, that continue to be the nicest of all I've seen (and I think I've looked at pretty much every browser that has any significance at all).

All the screenshots are from Safari 3 beta running on Windows. Click for larger.

I thought I'd take a closer look at the UI and quickly note some obvious stuff that stood out for me. Some of the below like the search stuff applies to the new Mac version too.

Not so nice

I'll first get the things out of the way that bother me. I think they still have some work left to do to figure out the right window styles for Apple software in Windows. Especially for the "panel" windows such as this Preference pane. I think the border is ugly and somewhat unprofessional. Perhaps done in a hurry ;) It would of course be killer if they could do shadows for windows, but not sure if they can do that. Maybe if they made the Preferences window to be child of Safari that couldn't go outside and had fixed position, they could do shadow and this would let them do a more proper border otherwise too. (And what's with the funky "Home page" font?)

Plus there's now some syncing work to do between iTunes and Safari and maybe other Apple stuff that gets onto windows. They should all look and work the same under Windows, currently there are lots of inconsistencies in UI style that I'm sure will get resolved shortly.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's look at some nice stuff...

General and rendering experience

Nothing to say -- everything is nice and works :P

Forms

More specifically, where Safari stands out is its treatment of web forms. Notably, in Windows, "native" forms and web forms have always looked different. In Mac OS X, they are fully the same in the Aqua style, and Safari now brings that niceness to Windows as well. I think that nothing else can come even close. The buttons look good and there's a nice blue glow around the active form field -- a very good way to highlight it and much easily usable than a simple flashing cursor (that remains there too).

There's a grain of salt here, though. The select fields look good when "unopened", but I don't think that they are "there" when opened. Looks like this control with all the options visible was again done in a hurry, it feels unprofessional. See also above discussion about panel window styles. Maybe a shadow or such would help here -- much easier to do for a select field than for a separate floating window.

In-page search

This is very cool. Firefox had in-page search and Safari's now works sort of the same way, but is more animated and easier to use. When you enter your term, the rest of the page content is faded down and the term is highlighted. The "current", active one is the orange one and you can use "back" and "forth" controls to move, the orange thing then jumps to another instance of the term with a funky animation, helping you to quickly locate it on the page.

Further research -- security?

Should dig into the security features of Safari from two aspects.

First, being interested in the ID card and similar crypto solutions, it would be interesting to see if Safari supports these tokens also on Windows as it does on Mac. My initial guess would be "no", but would have to try that out. Safari can use the smartcard interface provided by OpenSC framework that is available for both Windows and Mac OS X, but it does use OpenSC through the Keychain intermediary and smartcard is yet another "keychain"...

... which brings me to my other point, and that is exactly Keychain. Safari offers the option to store usernames and passwords on Windows. Where do those go and how are they secured? On Mac OS X, you manage them through the central Keychain authentication service that connects the credentials for all apps, pages and services, but there's no Keychain on Windows. And in Safari UI, there don't seem to be any features for managing the usernames and passwords that you have stored (and yet the storing itself seems to work).

What's missing

Browser sync for Safari. To sync bookmarks between Mac and Windows :) Maybe through dotMac then? Does it work for Windows? Probably not yet, but this could be an incentive to some people to buy dotMac. For me, I can probably survive through importing bookmarks through the HTML export-import method.

Plus, I still want favicons in tab headers for quick page identification. Please I can haz in next version, asks lolcat? (wasntme)