Apple’s Safari in search of success
Thursday, 10 April 2008 — by Wayne Smallman
As tempted as I am to call this a Safari versus Firefox face-off, in reality, there is no competition — Firefox is hands-down immeasurably better than Safari. And for a long-time, committed Mac user like me, some might find that an unusual disclosure…
Mac user I may be, but Safari really isn’t all that suited for my needs. Of course it works and I’m sure for a great number of people out there, Safari is just fine. But there are some notable problems that really haven’t been fully addressed since it’s inception, in January of 2003.
Safari is based on KHTML rendering engine, which Apple have called WebKit. It’s the same rendering engine used by OmniWeb, which is a truly remarkable web browser, well worth a squint, I assure you — also, there are a number of other web browsers for the Mac, should you be interested.
Lost on Safari
I first started using OmniWeb some years ago, but as good as OmniWeb is — and it’s light years ahead of Safari or Firefox in terms of feature set — because it’s based on the same flawed rendering engine as Safari, it inherits the same problems. So for the same reason I stopped using Safari, I moved on and looked elsewhere.
For those who’ve used Safari as their main browser, they like me will be familiar with the deeply quirky nature of its rendering engine. Certain web pages just look odd and don’t display correctly, while some form elements just don’t look right.
Despite these cosmetic short-comings, the most fundamental weakness of Safari is the lack of any plug-in architecture, similar to the very successful Add-Ons used by Firefox.
It’s not as if such things are new, either. Going back to version 2 of Netscape Navigator, when they introduced their Plug-in system, it was possible to extend the functionality of the web browser.
So compelling was this idea, Microsoft was effectively forced into supporting Netscape Plug-ins. Let’s be straight here, how the hell did we get by before before browser Plug-ins — specifically Add-Ons for Firefox?
I imagine the obvious question is why Apple has so far snubbed such software extensions. It’s the same reason they initially refused to allow developers to write applications for the iPhone — one of complete control of the user experience.
Arguably, what makes the Mac a Mac is the reliability, the stability and the consistency. These are qualities that Apple control with all the measure, balance and rigidity of a benign dictator.
Now, I’m not going to debate the pros & cons of this approach, that’s the stuff of further writings. What I will say is, Apple is unlikely to gain major traction with Safari if people are stuck with a vanilla-flavoured web browser, which they can’t change or enhance in some way.
Here’s a recent comment on a Search Engine Journal article regarding Apple using iTunes to promote Safari on Windows, sadly containing a typo, which I’ve rectified in the following:
“Compared to Firefox, Safari still doesn’t pose much of a threat.
I’m a Mac user through & through, but I can see that Safari has two fundamental weaknesses:
1. it often renders web pages badly;
2. there’s no plugin architecture.
The first point might might be addressed, but Apple has so far made so sign of engaging developers from a plugin point of view…”
If you take the time out to read the comments, you’ll probably find yourself wondering who the hell is “spreading their cooties”, for who, why and what cooties are in the first place, if indeed they’re actually anything at all.
Spreading? What, like a cold? Or like something you put on bread? Dare we explore the other possibilities? I guess not.
Unless you’re on the same dose of recreational drugs as the author of those comments, don’t ask me. I’m just as confused as you are.
But I digress…
Apple has had some time to sort out the rendering issues. Given that they haven’t, I have to either doubt their commitment or ability to do so. I cannot imagine that they haven’t seen them, so something has to be wrong.
As for a viable Plug-in architecture, Apple’s notorious control freakery might be an influential player in making of such a strategic decision. But I believe it’s something Apple could turn to their advantage, leveraging their other development tools and their growing suite of media applications to allow developers to create truly compelling reasons for people to adopt and then extend the Safari web browser.
Take for example iTunes or iPhoto, here is the perfect opportunity for Apple to allow developers to create integrated and seamless links from within Safari, streaming music and photos to friends from their .Mac accounts.
If I’ve learned anything from being an Apple fan and watcher all these years it’s that since Jobs returned, Apple has a clear strategy, with Safari at the very heart of things.
While some are clearly more impressed than others about the future of Safari on Windows, for Safari to emerge from the Windows web wilderness with any real relevance, Apple needs to keep the pace with the rest of the pack…
- Web browsers on the Mac
- Will Apple’s Push of Safari with iTunes Cut into Mozilla’s Google Money?
- How did I get by before Firefox Add-Ons?
- Apple Safari web browser
- Safari 3.1 on Windows: a true competitor arrives (seriously)