An Objective Look at Safari 4 Beta - with Metrics

| Analysis

There have been many different reactions to the Safari 4 Beta, most based on a gut reaction or comparison to something comfortable. With that in mind, is there an objective way to evaluate Safari 4 calmly and rationally? A look at some fundamental browser notions proves to be fruitful.

Reactions to and opinions about browsers may make for interesting reading, but they don't really help a potential user make a decision about whether a new product is worthwhile. To that end, it seems reasonable to build some metrics for a browser that are quantitative.

There are two sub themes here. One, a good candidate for a standard in browser interface excellence is the Omni Group's OmniWeb for excellence in user interface. It's one of the few browsers that costs real money for real quality and value.

The second assumption, to simplify matters here, is that we all take for granted that a first class browser will attend to the issues of security, speed, and compliance with standards. Because these issues have nothing to do with the user interface tactics, they won't be discussed here.

Evaluation with Metrics

1. Intuitive clicking. This refers to a application layout that invites the user to click, intuitively, in all the right places. Controls should be logically grouped.

In that regard, moving the reload button out of the Toolbar just creates confusion for the user.

Next, because the tabs are placed on the top of the window, the user is now at a loss on where to drag the main window. Safari 4 fails.

2. Freedom from errors. An application should have its controls well spaced so that inadvertent clicking by just a few millimeters on the screen doesn't produce alarming, unintended, and unwelcome consequences.

By forcing the tabs to get smaller and smaller as the number increases, the likelihood that a tab will be closed when the user just wants to drag the window increases. Safari 4 fails.

3. Full disclosure. Information about the Web page should be fully revealed. The title of the page is designed by the Web page designer to provide useful information and should be respected.

By forcing the tabs to the top, the Web page title is now truncated into the tab, never to be seen again. Safari 4 fails.

4. Proper use of screen real estate and sense of time. A Web browser should assist with the preservation of the sense of time -- when did the user visit something?

Safari in general has a time-ordered history menu item. But when it comes to the Top Sites, the app seems ambivalent about whether this is a place for static favorites, defined by the user, or dynamic, changing over time. It's not intuitive how to create a set of favorites and keep them in place, but it can be done. As a result, the user can be confused about what Top Sites is for and how to control it as thumbnails dance around on the screen seemingly with a life of their own.

OmniWeb uses a set of thumbnails in a side-tab that are consistently added to, from top to bottom. While they can be arranged statically, the list grows top to bottom in an expected way. Safari fails, OmniWeb does not.

5. Graceful changes. A browser, as it morphs into the future, should respect that people develop a work flow and hand-eye-coordination habits. A new UI, if it has compelling advantages, can break that, but the user must see an immediate payoff, not capricious design.

Safari 4, in its compulsion to keep preferences minimalist, doesn't surface new interface options to the user. Instead, the user must locate mods by luck, and then implement them on the UNIX command line, not something everyone is comfortable with.

For example, to move the tab bar back where it was, restore the reload button, and recover the blue loading bar, one must issues these UNIX commands, then relaunch Safari. In that regard, Safari 4 fails the graceful change test.

> defaults write com.apple.Safari DebugSafari4TabBarIsOnTop -bool NO

> defaults write com.apple.Safari DebugSafari4IncludeToolbarRedesign -bool NO

> defaults write com.apple.Safari DebugSafari4LoadProgressStyle -bool NO

6. Limits on application arrogance. An application should not assume that it will be the preferred tool for an unrelated activity, one where users may have selected a better tool.

Safari 4 (as well as 3) force the user to launch Safari to change default browser preferences. Also, the RSS tab the preferences in both Safari 4 and 3, and forces the user to find this preference to change the default RSS reader. When the user's arm is twisted, in the name of obscured simplicity, that's arrogance. Safari in general fails this test.

7. Searchable history. Readers who use browsers often need to go back and find a key word or phrase. Simply looking at the history list doesn't always do the job.

Safari 4 introduces an elegant search function, combined with Cover Flow, that brings up pages that contain key search terms. Cover Flow can reveal the history of one's progression through Web pages. Safari passes.

8. User prompts for controls. A browser should have Mac OS X yellow box "callouts" that tell the user what each button does.

Both Safari and OmniWeb have these callouts. (Other browsers may have them as well.) Safari passes.

9. Reading aids. The browser should assist the user as much as possible with both scrolling and reading detailed text.

Safari 4 adds Multi-Touch gestures that afford faster zooming and scrolling. However, the pinch maneuver crashes Safari 4 beta on a MacBook Pro without fail. No doubt, that will be fixed as the product emerges from beta, but Safari 4 beta fails.

Summary

Apple says that Safari 4 introduces lots of new features. Under the hood, in terms of security, page rendering speed, and standard compliance, Safari is a superb browser. However, some of the UI changes that Apple has introduced in the beta of version 4 don't pass the acid test for thoughtfulness, respect, and user customization in user interface details. That may explain why there have been so many negative emotional reactions to the beta.

 

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Comments

Rob

An interesting analysis. However, where are the objective criteria? Are the “notions” a result of the consensus of a global consortium (ISO 1012 for example) or do they originate from a few interested individuals who assume that they represent the majority? If the latter is the case then can I assume that if I represent a reasonable number of users then my norm may more valid?

Lee Dronick

The “Reload Button location is also now the “Stop Loading” button.

It sure has some differences from Safari 3, but it is a beta. Feedback to Apple would help.

I would like to see better cookie management including a toggle button and/or a keyboard shortcut to turn them off or on. Private browsing works to automatically dump junk cookies, but also does not include the visited site in history. I have nothing against cookies in general, but am particular to whom I give one, or a big box like my local newspaper wants.

Steve

FYI—OmniWeb is now freeware.

http://blog.omnigroup.com/2009/02/25/omniweb-omnidazzle-omnidisksweeper-and-omniobjectmeter-now-freeware/

John Martellaro

I don’t think that’s good news because, as the blog said, less effort will be put into the product.
  -J.M.

Kent Fenwick

What a bunch of Hooey.

Hooey is the metric I’m using to quantify this article.

Some of the assumptions made here are absurd.

Intuitive Clicking - Who decided what’s intuitive? If you use the program for a week and still can’t find things then it would be a good point. With this logic everyone would have quit using the System 6 interface after 10 minutes and we’d still be using DOS.

Small Tabs?  Maybe try a new window. There’s this thing called expose’...

Seriously, with Safari 4 I’ve almost stopped using tabs, which I previously used quite frequently.  The Top sites window is the new paradigm for me. With the new super Webkit speed I can pop into the TS window and it let’s me know if any of the 24 sites there have been updated. The metric used here was to find the windows with the dog eared stars.

Full Disclosure - Maybe if the web page was designed in the last ten years the user would be able to figure out the page’s content without having to depend on web author knowing the first command in the HTML 1.0 manual. I can’t tell the page I’m looking for half the time anyhow since the web author usually gives zero thought the content of the <title> tag. Here’s a thought. Maybe the folks at Apple realized that and created thumbnails of the pages recently visited instead. Naaah, too obvious. I love Gruber but he’s way too fixated on the tab experience.

Screen Real Estate - I agree the Top Sites window is a bit random but my favorite (most visited) sites stay put on top. Being able to see thumbnails of 24 pages at once is cool and it works great as a mini history.

Screw “Graceful Changes.” Long live the Revolution or put on your jammies and go to bed early.

People always cry about “no significant changes” and when something really different comes out they all pull the covers over their heads. Think Different, already.

Application Arrogance? This was odd in Safari 1.0 but over the last six years I think we’ve figured it out. If they moved it now someone would complain about lack of thoughtfulness and respect.

This is really being blown out of proportion by people who should be the proponents of embracing changes and giving new ideas a chance.

Besides I think it’s about time Apple put out a program that really hurts people’s feelings. grin

garyk

Safari 4 has some warts. That’s why it’s a beta. However, stating a preference or wish lucidly does not make it objective “per se.” I didn’t like the tabs on top at first, or care for the Top Sites feature. However I gave the new features a chance and have come to like the tabs on top (and note that hovering over a tab produces the page title in a yellow box for those who want the full disclosure).

I previously used the Bookmarks Bar for frequently visited sites and now find that the Top Sites feature can fill that need. Bottom, er, top line is that integrating the tabs with the page title space and giving the user an alternative to the Bookmarks Bar can free up a half inch of vertical space. For some of the pages I use daily, particularly maps.live.com, the half inch of space is truly welcome.

Another “objective” notion might be that a new product should introduce some new ideas. And a public beta offers a great venue for friendly debate.

SafariFan

That was the single most non-objective article I have ever read.

John Davis

“Reload button?” Do people use that? I would have thought Command + R is easier and faster.

“Drag the window?” Again, why would you want to do that? I much prefer the browser full screen.

“inadvertent clicking?” Dunno about you, John, I’m not much of a clicker. My hands remain poised above the keyboard most of the time I’m using my computer.

“forcing the tabs to get smaller and smaller as the number increases” I can’t see why anyone would want more than 10 tabs open at once. I usually have six or so, there is PLENTY of space.

“the Web page title is now truncated into the tab” So?????

I’m afraid I just got bored going through your article and picking out the illogicalities.

John, if you don’t like Safari, fine. You are entitled to an opinion, but don’t try to rationalize it. Your rant (because that is what it is) just comes across as grumpy and overemotional.

Personally, I like the Safari Beta. CoverFlow is extremely useful. So is TopSites. And I love the speed.

John Davis

iJack

“It’s one of the few browsers that costs real money for real quality and value.”

No longer.  OmniWeb, OmniDazzle, OmniDiskSweeper, and OmniObjectMeter are all now free.

JonGl

I’m sorry John, it’s not easy for me to say this—I like reading your articles, and have the highest respect for you, but (and you knew this was coming) I have to be honest. This really wasn’t one of your best articles. It took me a while to see what was going on in your mind, but even when I did, I I thought this article didn’t meet your normal standards.

I think you set yourself up for the fall when you stated in the title, “An _Objective_ look at Safari 4 beta” (emphasis mine, of course). That word “Objective” is a very demanding word. In fact, there’s not a human alive that can live up to its demands. Honest is preferable, and your review had a subtle tone of “agenda”, which stikes the reader as neither objective, nor honest. I don’t think this was intentional on your part, but, reading the comments, I fear this is how it was received.

If you are going to include “metrics”, I would have expected to see a performance overview, comparing Safari to every other major browser, and showing the timings of various activities. Also, to compare it solely to Omniweb just isn’t fair. wink

Actually, a comparative review, comparing the metrics you stated, with not only Omniweb, but also Firefox, Opera, Explorer and Google’s Chrome would have been much more useful. Also, avoiding the “fail, pass” language would have helped. I would really like to see Safari 4 stacked up against Chrome and Firefox, as they are the two other “competitors”, in a real sense, to Safari. We’ve seen Omni, now give us the rest. wink

And now, to disclose my own bias. I’m a hard-core Omniweb user. I have tried every other browser, and always come back to Omni! In fact, I ended up giving up Linux to get Omniweb back. It was one of the few apps I just couldn’t live without. Go figure. (and yes, to all the naysayers, I know Omniweb has some problems, and it’s not perfect, but it ‘s a perfect fit for me.)

-Jon

salparadise

Mostly it’s gorgeous.
Not too keen on the tabs across the window top but it’s a gimmick, nothing more. It doesn’t add anything.
Top Site view is amazing even if it is just bookmarks done visually.

Safari 4 crashes a lot.
I never see a bug report tool. Does it do this automatically?

salparadise

This just occurred to me.

What difference does it make whether the tabs are at the top of the window or under the address bar, once you have more than a few open the titles disappear anyway?

John Davis

Safari 4 hasn’t crashed once and I’ve been using it (pretty heavily) since it came out. I wish I could say the same for Word. I wish I didn’t have to use it, but occasionally I do. However, when I use Word, Command + S gets a pretty big work out.

In any case, even if it did crash, you could simply, “Reopen all windows from last session,” very useful command.

JonGl

@John Davis: “In any case, even if it did crash, you could simply, ?Reopen all windows from last session,? very useful command.”

The one downside of this command is that it doesn’t also draw up the history of the pages that are reopened. Both Omni and Firefox will reopen a previous session, with their histories intact, so you can start browsing backwards from the page that opens. this is especially important if you are jumping across web sites within a tab, and can’t remember what page referred you to the page that reopened. Then starts the history search. A real pain. Omni and Firefox do this little trick much, much better than Safari.

-Jon

Dean Lewis

I’d just like to mention that I do agree with the point about application arrogance. In Mac OS 9, there was an Internet Control Panel where one went to and assigned all kinds of things, including the default apps to load for the Web, Mail, FTP, NetNews, etc. It was simple and easy to use, and it didn’t rely on having to open an app one may never use in order to set a different app as default (or hope that any setting in an app to make it the default actually worked).

I think there are third-party apps and system pref panes to fill the void now, but why it was changed has always been a mystery to me—especially since I haven’t bought any explanations I’ve heard.

Mike Weasner

John, the article title is misleading.  I expected to see “metrics”, as in “numbers” or “graphs”.  Regarding tab movement to the top, the comment about truncating the web page title also applies to the Safari 3 tabs; as you add more and more tabs, the titles get truncated more and more.  With really long titles (such as the title of this article web page, even with a single tab showing in Safari 3, the title is truncated (“An Objective Look at Safari…”).  [In the interest of full disclosure, I have not installed Safari 4 beta.]

JonGl

Re: long page titles, several have commented on John’s comment. Here’s the latest:
“Regarding tab movement to the top, the comment about truncating the web page title also applies to the Safari 3 tabs; as you add more and more tabs, the titles get truncated more and more.  With really long titles (such as the title of this article web page, even with a single tab showing in Safari 3, the title is truncated”

Just looking at the tab title you are missing the point. With the traditional tab view, not only do you have the page title in the tab, but also at the top of the window, in the title bar. For instance, here in Omniweb, I see the entire title for this page: “An Objective Look at Safari 4 Beta - with Metrics - The Mac Observer”. That’s a long page title, and it’s visible at the top of the window, in the Window title bar, and if you were using Safari 4, with tabs in the title bar, and you had more than one tab open in the window, you will begin cutting off the name, and having three or more tabs open, you will have no means of knowing the page title, because the tab is also the title bar. And to be fair, from all I’ve read, Google’s Chrome browser has the exact same problem on Windows (from whence Safari gets the silly idea in the first place).

Oh, and I must add, that as far as normal tabs go, having them in the title is great on a 600pixel-tall screen like I have. wink

-Jon

Lee Dronick

This version could be tabulous when it is finally complete. Try this:

Narrow your window, way down

Click on a number of links, eight or more, and open them in new tabs

As has been mentioned the tab gets smaller and the title, if there is one, get truncated with trailing ellipses…

Notice on the tab bar to the far right, just left of the + (create new tab), that tab has only ellipses. That tab means that there are tabs not shown in the window. Now click on that tab and a list of tabs drops down.

Narrow the window down more, if you can, the number of tabs shown is reduced. Widen it as much as you can and the number of tab shown increases.

What I am driving at here is that the number of tabs shown could probably be preference setting, or properties setting if you swing that way. This is a beta version, provide feedback to Apple, tell them your concerns and wishes.

Now John I am usually not one to kick someone when they are down, particularly if I am not involved in the fight. However, in this case I am going to deliver one. METRICS, you used it in the title of this story. I hate the metric system. It certainly has its place in the scientific and engineering community, but for everyday use it has no soul, no poetry. What is wrong with pints, pecks, furlongs, firkins, leagues? Leagues, what sounds better 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or 96,560,834 Meters Under the Sea? smile

Paul

Using the defaults commands gives me back the blue progress bar, but I don’t get a stop/reload button anywhere, now!

iJack

Sir Harry - You seem to be having trouble with either Leagues, or with Meters.  Perhaps it’s your basic math, since you appear to have multiplied the correct number by three. 

A League is generally held to be three miles, but this could be either three statute miles (1609.34 M), or three nautical miles (1852 M) - your choice, it seems.

So 20,000 Leagues (60,000 Miles) would be either:
32,186,800 Meters (statute miles), or
37,040,000 Meters (nautical miles), since there is no official standard.

How about “30,000 Klicks Under the Sea”?

Lee Dronick

“Sir Harry - You seem to be having trouble with either Leagues, or with Meters.  Perhaps it?s your basic math, since you appear to have multiplied the correct number by three. “

I have a valid poetic license smile

Actually for convenience purposes I used an online converter webpage that I Googled and I have no idea how accurate it is. The calculator that comes with OSX does not have league converter, a serious omission.

Back on topic. I have not yet had Safari 4 crash on me. With Safari 3 it happene a few times. I think that it was javascript related, turn it off and the page opened without crashing.

allblue

A miss is as good as a kilometre…

He carefully centimetred forward along the ledge…

He divided the pie and gave them a point three three recurring each…

Mine’s a pint Sir Harry!

Terrin

Free GUI tools like Tinker Tools have historically allowed people to implement terminal commands without having to launch the Terminal. TInker Tools current lets you make all kinds of modifications to OSX’s GUI, including Safari. It does this buy turning on or off hidden terminal commands. I suspect the next version will let users make changes to Safari.

I for one think people complain about changes without giving the changes a chance. I applaud Apple for making some bold choices here. I love the tabs on top. I do, however, agree that the blue progress bar was better because it actually showed the progress in loading a site, where the current spinning circle doesn’t.

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