Why would you ever use Safari?

Tim Bray is breaking up with Safari. Apparently the latest version of Safari is slow when you have many tabs open, especially if you’re also running OSX Lion. I say apparently because I’ve never used Safari for anything but testing, and so I can’t confirm or deny the claims. That said, whenever I use Safari, the browser strikes me as being limiting, like browsing the web wearing boxing gloves. There was no extension system (there is now, I know), the tabs had small hit targets, and the address bar featured an auto-complete system that just bugged me to no end. In the past I was an avid Firefox user, but when Chrome arrived, I switched and missed only Firefox’s “awesomebar”. Safari was never an option for me. I’ve always considered Safari as being Apples Internet Explorer, merely an afterthought because you need your own browser when you make an operating system. Put simply, I’ve never understood why anyone would use Safari as their browser of choice, when there are so many, in my mind superior, alternatives.

Let’s be clear, Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari are all good browsers where it matters. If you use either of those, I really have no beef with you. These are standards compliant, pretty secure browsers and they are not holding the web back. I’m not writing this because I want you to switch from Safari. If that’s your browser of choice, then you and I are friends.

Tim Bray is using multiple browsers, but it appears he’s currently using Chrome primarily. Both he and I expect Safaris issues to be resolved in a future update, at which point he’ll be switching back. Back to the browser with separate search and addressbars. Back to Safari, where http:// is still alive, and updates require a reboot. So long as Tim doesn’t switch to Internet Explorer 6, I’m one happy camper. But I’ll still be as confused as ever.

The impending demise of the URL

TechCrunch writes that Google is in the process of killing the URL bar from its Chrome browser. To be fair, this is not recent news. Google has been exploring various UI configurations to its Chrome browser for for most of the last year, and the information looks to have come from the Window UI page from the Chromium documentation project.

It’s also worth noting that the proposed UI change appears to have found its way to the Android Honeycomb browser:

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Either way, the direction for Chrome is interesting, and for a number of reasons, it makes sense.

Apple has demonstrated that there’s a great economy in apps, but “app” is an increasingly diffuse term, considering you can create quite complex create apps in HTML and a number of new non-platform-native technologies.

If Google can change the public understanding from an app being something you download and install to rather being a place you visit, the change can help inventorize the web. The result could be easier to make discoverable to users but most importantly, it could be monetized. On the old web, you’d visit The New York Times and throw up in your mouth at the paywall. On the new web, you’d visit The New York Times and get all the free content, but have an option to buy a premium web-app which stores your access credentials while it serves as a bookmark.

The URL bar is the commandline, and like iOS doesn’t need a commandline for you to launch Angry Birds, Chrome doesn’t need a URL bar for you to launch Facebook.

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A few weeks ago, I created a Chrome web-app to see how the Chrome web-store works. That app has now been installed a couple of hundred times a week, even though the app is merely a glorified bookmark for a Google service. If we can learn anything from this, it is that pointing at a large fingerfriendly icon on your new tab page is quicker than typing in a URL or clicking a small navigation bar bookmark.

But what about search? Search is the core of Googles business, and Google won’t revamp a proven UI without good reasons. While putting apps front and center makes a lot of sense, there’s a UI challenge in having both search and apps front and center.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Internet Explorer 9s new UI which disconnects the URL bar from the tab:

But with the emergence of Chrome Web-Apps, which are just around the corner, there’s a new, albeit not super strong, argument for disconnecting the addressbar from the tab, and that is that it’s still, despite web-apps, a place people use to launch new webpages. In the case of the omnibar, it’s also where people start searching. In Chrome Web-Apps […], the omnibar is hidden when you’re inside, say, the Google Maps web-app. How do you launch a new page or search? You have to click “new tab” in order to get the omnibar back.

The solution could be putting the omnibar on the new tab page. Clicking “new tab” would then set text focus on the search field:

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It’ll be interesting to see where Google goes with this.

Firefox 4 Mockups, Linux, Windows & Mac (Quick Thoughts)

I’m quickly becoming a fan of Stephen Horlanders design work on Firefox 4:

FX4_linux FX4_mac FX4_windows

You may click to embiggen.

Some quick thoughts:

  • We should keep in mind these are mockups. There’s a very good chance not all these three images are updated with all the latest decisions being made at Mozilla. For instance, the “Page” and “Tools” buttons present on the Linux screenshot seem to have taken the back seat to the App button.
  • Which is interesting because it’s one button, something Chrome is also moving towards.
  • The App button isn’t present on the Mac. Perhaps that’s because the File menu is there anyway?
  • The Linux screenshot has an early mockup of the Mozilla identity manager which promises to sign you in to websites for you.
  • It’s both interesting and sad to think how much time was spent making sure Firefox 3 fit each individual platform  in icon style, when clearly the icons are more minimalistic (and therefore automatically cross-platform) today.
  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: tabs should be on top. It’ll be interesting to see whether Safari gets with the program, or whether we’ll see iOS  and Android overtake desktops with their new interface paradigm before that happens.
  • The general interface layout of browsers, these days, seems to be very Chrome and Opera 10. Yet this is still visually very much Firefox with its keyhole back/forward and square tabs. Subtle, great design work here.

Despite the great work that’s going on here, I’m really kind of sad that Chrome will most likely remain my main browser come Firefox 4.

Safari Was The First To Fall [Updated]

Pwn2Own 2010:

Pwn2Own 2010 is under way, and after day one of the annual security showdown the results are darn near an exact replica of last year’s. Safari was the first to fall, followed by Internet Explorer 8 on Windows 7. Firefox on Windows 7 x64 was also taken down, as was the iPhone’s mobile Safari. Google Chrome, however, has yet to succumb.

I would have honestly thought Internet Explorer — any of them — would be first to circle the drain.

[Update]: One person makes the interesting observation that Safari is first to be hacked because the prize, the Macbook on which the browser ran, was the nicest of the prizes.

Quick Thoughts On The IE9 PDC Preview

Good old Microsoft still think they have something to offer the web community. Segway: maybe theydo! Internet Explorer 9 is in the works, and if everything goes according to plan, it’ll sport 2D hardware acceleration (faster and more smooth scaling and rendering of fonts and CSS borders and images), CSS3 support (the interviewer seems to think border-radius is something Microsoft has just invented) and a new faster JavaScript engine. Of course you need Microsoft Silverlight installed to see the videos, this is still Microsoft after all.

I’m assuming the new font rendering engine will eventually propogate to the entirety of Windows; in fact I was expecting it would replace the default font rendering engine in Windows 7 which was not the case. Until then, if IE9 really does smooth fonts differently from all other apps on the system, it’ll be the odd man out, just like Safari and iTunes were until they ditched their custom smoothing.

The rest of the hardware acceleration (for CSS, images and so on) is intriguing, however. It’s DirectX based, so it’s Windows only (again, what did you expect). This could potentially put IE9 back on the map as a semi-serious contender. On the other hand, WebKit has WebGL on the way, and Google will no doubt do what they can to speed up webapps with their Chrome OS. It’ll be interesting to see this play out.

IE9

The CSS3 support is welcome by default, if only because IE8s lack there-of turned out to be a completely unnecessary and useless stepping stone. As usual, it’ll have little immediate impact for us poor web-developers, as Microsoft refuses to push the browser as a mandatory security update. Even so, I never thought I’d hear Microsoft talking about the ACID3 test. Fun times.

In the video presenting their new faster JavaScript engine, they’re using Gmail as an example of their JS compatability. They’re also comparing to Google Chrome (clearly treated as a competitor now) and Firefox. Is this the new open Microsoft?

So, faster, hardware accelerated and with CSS3 support. All good things. Now what I really need to know is: when will this benefit webdevelopers who’ve struggled with IE6 for nearly a decade. If a browser falls in a forest, and no-one is there to hear it, does it matter if it’s hardware accelerated?

New Opera Icon [Update]

New_Opera_icon

According to Jon Hicks, the Opera browser is set to get a new icon, designed by Oleg Melnychuk. It’s a little happy guy in a red jumpsuit, sporting the a capital O on his tummy. Certainly an improvement over the old one, while still not redoing the entire logo (which I’m sure the darkly suited guys at Opera must’ve opposed because they’re scared of a re-brand).

[Update]: It’s not a happy little guy in a jumpsuit. It’s still a red, capital O. It’s just a tweaked O. Pity. (Thanks Alexander).

Real_new_Opera_icon

Firefox 3.5 Mini-Review

Firefox_3.5_icon

Mozilla Firefox 3.5 is the latest version of the open source project originally spun off of the Netscape browser. Its latest incarnation features private surfing, better history handling, a number of web standards display features, speed improvements and a tweaked icon.

With 3.7 already on the way, Firefox 3.5 may prove to be a short-lived pleasure. But it is a pleasure, nonetheless. 3.5 feels faster, especially in JavaScript heavy applications such as Gmail or Calendar. The new features are all nice additions even though they simply feel like incremental improvements to a good product (which is fine). The two features that matter the most these days, however, are memory handling and webpage rendering, both areas wherein 3.5 improves over 3.0. With CSS drop shadows and inset styles, it certainly feels like its catched up to the competition (Safari, Chrome, Opera).

The icon, originally designed by Jon Hicks, got an update. It’s now more glossy, and updated by the Icon Factory. Pity. I like Jon.

When it comes to speed, the browser certainly feels both faster and lighter. Yet somehow, now that I’ve tasted how fast a browser can be (Chrome, Safari), Firefox falls short. It still takes a long while to launch the browser. It’s bulky to open lots of tabs and when they’re finally open, the whole thing slows down and if (this is rare, fortunately) one tab crashes, all tabs crash. Oddly, even closing the browser takes a while; closing the browser and starting a new one immediately after will tell you that Firefox is already running.

Back when it was Firefox versus Internet Explorer, things were simpler — and not only because IE was the worst browser in the history of everything — no, Firefox was the open source, extensible browser that took on the giant. It was David vs. Goliath, and David had a chance. We rooted for the browser, and overlooked the few issues there were, because after all, it was still parsecs ahead of IE. Things have changed, and I’m almost sorry they have. Out there is Chrome, which through Chromium is also open source. Chrome has better speed and memory handling. It’s got Google behind it, and soon it has extensions. At some point, the only thing keeping me on Firefox will be the icon, which isn’t even the sole product of someone I know any more. It’ll be a tearful goodbye.