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June 08, 2010

Safari 5 adds Reader, raw speed, and extension support

Reviewed by David MacNeill

While there was certainly no shortage of exciting news emanating from Apple's World Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco, there was nothing a non-developer could use immediately, with one exception. Safari 5 for Mac OS X and Windows was quietly released in the afternoon following the presentation that did not not mention the new browser once. Strange, since Safari 5 has at least one killer new feature, an impressive performance boost, and a new extension architecture that users have been begging for.

Safari Reader
The most welcome of Safari's new capabilities is Reader, which gives you the ability to view long articles in an uncluttered, printed page-like view. When you land on a page, Safari's address bar pops up a gray Reader button to the right of the URL. Click on this and a pane open up with the article laid out for easy reading, while the originating page dims in the background. Fans of the superb app/web service Instapaper or the Readability web service will feel right at home, as the overall look is quite similar. While viewing the Reader pane, you get a hovering control bar with buttons for zooming, emailing, printing, and closing the pane to return to the original page. In my initial day of testing, I found some pages will trigger Reader while others will not, even if they both offer a similar amount of text. For example, the Personal Media Review home page comes up beautifully rendered in Reader, while my long-form iPad WiFi review does not come up at all. I hope Apple sees fit to add a contextual menu option to force any page into Reader view.

Killer performance
Google's upstart Chrome browser has been getting a lot of attention lately due primarily to its blistering speed, and Firefox also receives its share of kudos for snappy performance. According to Apple, Safari 5 now beats them both handily, with a 30% improvement over Firefox and, sadly, a mere 3% over Chrome. The comparison with Chrome is not really a fair fight, however; industry observers have pointed out that Google does not support a number of Apple's OS services within Chrome, most notably OS X's superb Dictionary. Omissions such as this must have an impact on program execution but do so at the regretable expense of degrading the user experience.

Extension architecture
As any Mozilla Firefox user will glady tell you, it's the many Firefox extensions that makes the Netscape successor so popular with power users. Apple has finally listened and come up with a curated extension architecture and offers the tools to create them for free. While only a handful of extensions have been released at press time, expect hundreds in the months ahead.

More Safari goodness
Apple has also added Microsoft's Bing search service as an option to using Google or Yahoo, though Google is still the default setting - for now anyway. In the HTML5 department, Safari has added support for 17 new HTML standards including intelligent geolocation support and full-screen video rendering and a closed-captioning option in HTML5 video streams. Throw in a new Smart Address Field that finds websites when you type in the merest snippet of an address you've visited, as well as new hardware acceleration for Windows to match that capability in Mac OS X and you've got yourself a browser upgrade with serious bragging rights.

~ David MacNeill (personalmediareview@gmail.com)

David MacNeill produces PersonalMediaReview.com, covering the tools and technologies for creating and enjoying media. He is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Digital Camera Magazine, the first all-digital photography magazine, and executive editor of Handheld Computing Magazine and Pen Computing Magazine.

Posted by dtm at June 8, 2010 10:07 PM