Apple Safari 5 review

While all eyes were on the iPhone 4 launch this week, Apple also snuck out the latest version of its web browser. Happily it’s not a case of burying bad news: the new Safari brings some real improvements over previous versions.

Outwardly, though, Safari 5 looks identical to the previous version, and that means a few quirks still betray its cross-platform heritage. For example, the address field and forward/back buttons retain OS X style shading and borders, subtly alienating Safari from the native Windows applications that surround it. The menu bar – a non-issue on OS X – appears only when you press Alt, and there’s no way to make it stick. And preferences dialogs lack OK buttons, which is disconcerting even if you’re familiar with the OS X standard that settings take effect as soon as you click the option.

What’s new?

The big new feature is dubbed Reader, a mode that automatically extracts the main text of a web page at the press of a button and presents it in a simple e-reader-like view, with adverts and other distractions faded into the background. It doesn’t work with all websites, but it’s a nice and distinctive feature, especially since it can automatically combine text from multipage articles into one long Reader document.

The new Reader view relegates distracting adverts and page furniture to the background

If we have a complaint, it’s that you have very little control over the appearance of your Reader view. The only thing you can change is the text size, while the original open-source Readability project, upon which Reader is based, let you choose between five different presentation styles and set your own margin width. Still, it’s nice to see Apple offering a thoroughly user-centric feature such as this – it’s a fillip for the consumer, for once, against the irritations of ever more intrusive advertising.

Safari 5 is also the first version to offer an extension framework, opening the door for third parties to provide additional user-friendly features using custom HTML, CSS and JavaScript. This being Apple, you have to sign up for a special Developer Program to produce your own, but this is free and comes with an Extension Builder tool for packaging and signing extensions. Partnered with the debugging and optimisation tools introduced in Safari 4, it makes the platform an attractive option for developers and tinkerers alike.

That’s all that’s really new in Safari 5, but evidently Apple feels the need to make a bigger splash, so the product web page also makes a song and dance about the fact that Microsoft’s Bing engine is now available as a new search option. Perhaps that’s interesting to students of corporate politics, but the search options ought to have been fully customisable long ago.

Details

Software subcategoryWeb browser

Requirements

Processor requirement500MHz processor

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported?yes
Operating system Windows XP supported?yes
Operating system Linux supported?no
Operating system Mac OS X supported?no

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