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Safari 5 Features and First Reactions

Apple has quietly released Safari 5, without so much as a “by the way” during the keynote speech at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference earlier this week. Safari 5 deserved at least a “by the way,” since it has under-the-hood as well as upfront improvements.

The main changes are:

  • Reader: My immediate favorite is the Reader feature, accessed by a click of a button in the address field, where the RSS button usually resides. If a site has an RSS feed, you can press and hold down on the RSS button to pop-up a menu with Reader and RSS options. Open a Reader view and everything except the article(s) on the page fade into the background—a wonderful way to get rid of screen clutter and focus on what you want to read, though if you want read or write comments on an article, you may have to remember to exit Reader view and locate the comment options.

    Reader can show you multiple articles from a Web page and, even better, stitch together an article that’s split across several pages, all in a single, scrollable pseudo-window that, oddly enough, seems to present text in only the Palatino font no matter the original design or your Safari preferences settings. A pop-up toolbar at the bottom of the Reader window lets you zoom, print, or email the article. (Reader works only in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and later, not in the Safari 4.1 version available to 10.4 Tiger users.)

  • Speed bump: The new “Nitro Engine” (whose name neatly fits the “under-the-hood” metaphor) apparently increases Safari’s overall speed of Web-page loading, with a 30 percent increase over Safari 4’s Javascript running. I can’t see any difference—but I can’t run the two versions side by side, and I have a new laptop with its own speed increases, so I’m not in a good position to judge.

  • Prefetching and caching: Prefetching sounds like a candidate for Letterman’s “Stupid Pet Tricks,” but prefetching is a clever way to increase your perceived browsing speed as you go from one page to another. While you’re looking at one page, Safari scans it for links and looks up the DNS entries ahead of time in case you click on one of them. And, when you’re moving in the other direction, back to a page you’ve already visited, improved caching techniques should get you there more quickly.

  • New HTML5 support: Safari 5 adds support for new, cutting-edge HTML 5 features for typography, video, and graphics (transitions, gallery options, and virtual-reality viewing). Check out the mouth-watering examples at Apple’s HTML5 Web page. These samples are proof that the Web can be an incredibly rich place without Flash, but until other browsers also fully support these standards, you might not be able to enjoy anything except examples.

  • Bing and Yahoo searches: The convenience of Safari’s built-in Google search field has kept me pretty much to just that search engine, except when I’m looking for images—Bing is far superior in its presentation of image hits, so I keep it in my Bookmarks bar specifically for that purpose. Safari 5, however, provides a drop-down menu in the search field that offers Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Google must be off sulking, or perhaps licking its wounds, after losing this exclusive.

  • Extensions: Yesss! Built-in support for Safari add-ons! But not yet… that is, the support is there, but the third-party extensions aren’t, because Apple’s requiring them to go through official channels (the Safari Developer Program, with free enrollment). The vetting process should keep offerings as stable as possible, and even then they’ll be “sandboxed” so that if one crashes, it won’t take down Safari with it. Safari itself will be checking for an Apple-assigned encrypted imprimatur in every extension to keep out the riffraff. Expect the first add-ons to dribble out in a matter of weeks, with the floodgates opening toward the end of summer. Apple’s upcoming Safari Extensions Gallery will serve as a centralized hub.

A few other new things are already apparent in just an hour or two of Safari use. The blue progress bar in the background of the address field while a page is loading is back: I’ve learned to live without it, but welcome it’s return. The address field itself is smarter: type any part of a site you’ve visited (not just the beginning of the name), and if the site is in your bookmarks or History, Safari lists it as a suggestion. And, a welcome anti-clutter feature is a new Safari preferences setting that lets you specify that new pages opened from outside of Safari (when you click on a link in an email, for instance) should open in tabs instead of in new windows.

To learn more, read Adam Engst’s TidBITS article, Apple Extends Safari 5 with Reader, HTML5, Performance.

Posted by Tonya Engst (Permalink)