Safari 4: Back to the Bench

| Jeff Gamet's Blog

Safari 4 has been available for a few weeks and the public beta was available for some time before that, so I've had plenty of time to tinker around with the newest version of Apple's Web browser and ultimately do what so many people will probably see as unthinkable: I dumped it. Safari just doesn't cut it for me, so I switched back to my tried-and-true favorite, and no, I'm not talking about Firefox.

My Web browser of choice is OmniWeb from The Omni Group. It may not share the same high profile as Safari and Firefox, but for me it's reliable, is plenty customizable, and fits my work style like a glove.

Sure, Safari 4 renders Web pages fast -- stunningly fast, in fact. Thanks to the recent 4.0.2 update, Safari 4 handles Java even more efficiently than before making the new version feel even faster to me. The problem is that Safari's interface gets in the way.

I love tabbed browsing because I find it far more efficient to group Web pages in a single window as opposed to scattering windows all over my Desktop. Stringing those tabs across the top of my browser window, however, feels horribly inefficient. I usually have at least ten Web sites open, and Safari's horizontal tabs are just too small to offer any meaningful description of what Web pages they are holding when you have more than a small hand full of sites loaded.

OmniWeb, on the other hand, displays tabs in a vertical drawer as site thumbnails or site names. Even with 20 or more tabs open I can still identify each site in the list. A green check by the site name lets me know when a page has successfully loaded, and I can drag URLs into the drawer to automatically open pages in new tabs, too.

OmniWeb offers per-site preferences, so it's easy to block cookies and Java on certain sites while leaving it active on others, or to set unique file download locations for specific sites. It also lets me mark specific pages to jump back to, similar to Safari 3's snap-back feature -- now missing from Safari 4 except for Google searches.

Like Safari 4, OmniWeb is missing the slick progress bar in the URL field, which is something I wish both browsers had. The placement of Safari's reload button at the end of the URL field, however, feels like it's better positioned for a thumb tap instead of a mouse click.

I'm not adverse to trying out different browsers; In fact, I did just that for a whole month at one point. What I've found so far in my various trials is that even though plenty of great options are out there, most follow the same feature layout, and I've never been a big fan of adding plug-ins to my browser -- the feature that seems to attract so many people to Firefox.

The bottom line is that while Safari renders Web pages amazingly fast, its interface feels like Apple failed to keep in mind how users will interact with the application. Hopefully that's just a fluke and not a trend.

For now I'll stick with OmniWeb, but that doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to trying out Safari 5.

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13 Comments Leave Your Own

tbone1

I agree 100%. I’ve been using Omniweb since the 1.1 days back in 94 (long story) and it’s still my favorite browser. I even paid for it, until it became free with the last release.

Steven Fisher

I like the way OmniWeb does tabs, and I like the site specific CSS. But that’s about the extent of the things I like in OmniWeb.

The things I don’t like about it, on the other hand, can best be summarized as “everything else.” Overall, I don’t even bother to keep it on my hard drive anymore.

At any rate, OmniWeb is no longer sold, so one day in the not-too-distant future you’ll have to give it up.

rpaege

I agree totally about Safari.  It’s fast, but that’s just not enough for me. It also has to be extensible, and that’s why I use Firefox.  OmniWeb, which I have used for some time at the office, is O.K., but it has issues to this day with office related work flows I must content with daily.  So, for me, it’s Firefox until something comes along that can do what it does, stays out of the way, and is as extensible.

Nemo

Thanks Jeff for the introduction to OmniWeb.  I hadn’t used it because I got Safari and Firefox for free, and I though that OmniWeb couldn’t be significantly better than Safari and was probably not as good.  But I been using it for a couple of hours, and, though it is not as fast as Safari, I do like it better than Firefox, and I love the way that it works with OS X’s services.  I have just one question for you or other interlocutors:  What do you use RSS/Atom Feed reader?

Jeff Gamet

I like the way OmniWeb does tabs, and I like the site specific CSS. But that?s about the extent of the things I like in OmniWeb.

The things I don?t like about it, on the other hand, can best be summarized as ?everything else.? Overall, I don?t even bother to keep it on my hard drive anymore.

At any rate, OmniWeb is no longer sold, so one day in the not-too-distant future you?ll have to give it up.

I love that we have several browser choices available to us because a one-browser-fits-all world sounds like a pretty bland place to me. Also, I’m not too worried about OmniWeb going away anytime soon. Omni Group is still giving the browser away for free, and development is still underway. In fact, I’m running a new sneaky peek build that’s only a few days old.

I’m hoping we have lots of choice in the browser market for a long time.

Jeff

Jeff Gamet

I have just one question for you or other interlocutors:? What do you use RSS/Atom Feed reader?

I deal with far too many RSS feeds to rely on a Web browser so I use NetNewsWire. It’s free and is a hard core work horse for managing RSS feeds.

Jeff

Steven Fisher

Omni Group is still giving the browser away for free, and development is still underway.

Wow, I didn’t realize it. I’ll give it another try, then. My OmniBrowser gripes are mostly to do with the way their location and toolbar work, and to a lesser degree the Preferences Window From Hell, so they might get fixed one day.

Thanks for the reply.

Steven Fisher

Oops, my fingers ran away there. I meant to say I didn’t realize Omni Group was still working on it. I pictured it suffering the same fate as IE5.

bgarlock

I really like the ‘Workspace’ feature of OmniWeb.  I’m a web application developer, and live in the browser, so features like workspaces make my job easier.  I also love the ability to have more than one row of bookmark icons just below the toolbar, with the favicon images. 

*please* keep the ‘drawer’ feature - it really works much better on my laptop, than a sidebar (or at least, please offer the choice), and so much better than palettes.  I know the ‘drawer’ is kind of being abandoned by developers, but ‘drawers’ seem to work the best for smaller screen real estate.

JonGl

I have just one question for you or other interlocutors:? What do you use RSS/Atom Feed reader?

Personally, I use Google Reader. It works with all my browsers, and I don’t need to launch another app to read my feeds. I don’t have many feeds—no more than a dozen active ones, but go through close to a hundred articles a day—don’t read them all, but do scan them.

BTW, I’m a big fan for all the reasons mentioned in the original article, plus bunches more (Workspaces!!!). I play with Safari (WebKit, actually) and Firefox, but neither satisfy like Omni. wink And I paid for my Omni, too.

-)on

Jeff Butts

Jeff, how well does OmniWeb work with sites that make heavy use of Java? I’m a university English instructor, and my university uses Blackboard for course management…how likely is OmniWeb to play nicely, do you think?

WaltFrench

Well, my screen handles about 8 tabs very nicely.

It also handles (as in right before I opened your article) 18 windows. I seldom have multiple tabs in more than a couple of windows, but still… the combo of Expos? and multiple tabs (assuming a mini-view tells you what’s in that window) allows for several dozen pages open at once, pretty directly accessible.

I can live with that. What doesn’t work for you with it?

Michael Swann

Well! I really agree with safari. I don’t know about ‘omniweb’ till now. After reading your blog, a wared same. Could you tell me the difference between ‘safari’ and ‘omninweb’. What should I use? In fact I need something which works hassle free.
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Michael Swann
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