Hard News by Russell Brown


Safari 4 beta: seriously quick

Javascript, declared Bruce Sterling at Webstock last week, is "the duct tape of the web". He then pooped on his own aphorism by declaring that Javascript was invented by Sun Microsystems (it came out of Netscape early in the browser wars) but the essential point holds true: Javascript is what makes modern websites work. It's also what slows down your browsing experience, when the ambitions of developers run ahead of the performance of your system.

Apple's just-released beta for version 4 of its web browser, Safari (available here for Mac OS and Windows) makes a lot of that go away. It is blisteringly fast at rendering Javascript: 42x faster than IE 7, 3.5x faster than Firefox 3. The experience is strikingly better than any other browser I have used.

That's not the only change. Safari has gone coverflow. You can browse both browsing history and bookmarks like you're in iTunes. More useful for history, I'm finding. And I do like the way it opens by default with big thumbnails of my 12 most-visited sites and a History search window.

This works very smoothly on a 2.4GHz iMac, but I wonder if it'll be so sweet on a Windows PC, or an older Mac, especially one with not much memory installed -- the beta is presently hogging a lot of the 2GB I'm packing. We'll see how it goes when I have 100 tabs open.

I'm not so keen on the new paradigm for tabs, but I'll give it a day or two before trying the Terminal hack to revert them back to the old style.

So far as I can see, Safari's hunger for memory is untempered, and it still scores a big FAIL on extensibility, and what add-ons you can use often seem fairly poisonous, especially when you come to try and upgrade. If it's add-ons you need, it's Firefox for you.

Of course, this is a beta. And Mac OS users should know that the only way to the new Safari is via the latest security updates and the potentially troublesome 10.5.6 system update. I'd been holding off the latter until this morning, and on restart the Finder hung trying to launch. I had to power off (while cursing my own stupidity in upgrading on a production day) but it ran fine after that.

In other news, my boy Leo has posted two more game reviews on his blog: Halo Wars (written in one blaze of blogging, a few hours after the game arrived) and Deadly Creatures on the Wii. Gamers, do feel free to drop by and leave him a comment.

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