Apple Safari 3 beta review

As we reported earlier this week, Apple has made a public beta of the staple Mac web browser, Safari, available for Windows users for the first time. Promising to be quicker, easier to use and safer than Internet Explorer, we couldn’t resist putting it to the test.

Apple makes a big fuss about the security of Safari, with a “designed to be secure from day one” claim. Unfortunately, within hours of the beta being made publicly available, Windows security researchers were able to find multiple vulnerabilities, including Denial of Service and remote code execution bugs.

But perhaps it could be more stable? Afraid not: we experienced several crashes during testing. Okay, so this is a beta, but unlike the Firefox-derived Netscape Navigator 9 Beta (which didn’t crash or hang once) there’s no ability to restore a previous browser session following such a disaster.

There’s nothing here to get excited about when it comes to features either. The built-in pop-up blocking is now par for the web browser course, as is the tabbed browsing and RSS-reading capability. The ability to resize text boxes embedded in the web page is nice, but offset by the fact that Safari uses OS X font anti-aliasing technology, which results in a distinctly fuzzy text-reading experience on Windows when compared to IE7’s ClearType.

Another annoying legacy from Safari’s OS X origins is its inability to resize the browser window from anywhere but the bottom right corner and, defying Windows convention, not using Ctrl+Tab to cycle through tabs.

So what does Safari have going for it? The answer is speed, and lots of it. Apple has already made lots of fuss about Safari’s page-rendering speed on the Windows platform, so we put that to the test by timing how long it took the PC Pro home page to load from a newly fired up and cache-emptied browser. IE7 was predictably slow at 7.09 seconds, Firefox faster at 5.25 but Safari won out on 4.06 seconds. Not quite the twofold increase over IE7 that Apple is claiming, but not far off.

What Apple won’t be so bullish about is the system resource usage. It clocked in at a memory hogging 38,372KB compared to 34,792KB for IE7 and 25,772KB for Firefox when displaying the same web page.

Ultimately, this additional memory load, the interface inconsistencies, stability issues and potential security problems make Safari’s promising speed hike merely incidental.

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