Safari 4: Back to the Bench

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.