A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Web

How many web browsers do you use? Regularly I mean? I myself have been known to use as many as four. Which one I was using at any given time depended on what I was doing. For example, if I was at work using one of our corporate web sites, there is a good chance I was using Internet Exploder. On the other hand, if I was just engaged in some run-of-the-mill surfing I usually defaulted to OmniWeb.

Iíve actually tried out quite a few browsers over the past few years. When it first came on the scene I was all over iCab. I was particularly impressed with its ability to block graphics and ads and such. At the time I was using a dial-in connection, actually I was sharing one with my wife, and graphics were the first thing I sacrificed in order to speed up my browsing. That said, there were things about iCab I just didnít like. Theyíre not important now and I donít even remember most of them.

There were other browsers I played with, including various incarnations of Netscape. Finally, when I jumped into OS X, I discovered OmniWeb and that was my default browser for more than a year. I kept some flavor of Netscape or Mozilla around just to get into things that OmniWeb wouldnít handle or render properly, but OmniWeb continued to be where I spent most of my time.

Then, in January, Apple released its long-rumored browser, Safari. I liked it OK but it was seriously lacking in features I had become hooked on. Tight control of cookies and graphics and animation all were MIA with Safari. I used it on and off but kept returning to OmniWeb. In fact the default browser in my System Prefs continued to be OmniWeb.

Apple moved on and released a couple of updates to Safari. I found a lot to like in their little browser. It was fast and displayed a very clean, simple, interface. It was, as I like to say, elegant. At the time, the bru-ha-ha over tabs mystified me. I had tried them out and just couldnít fathom what was so great about them. Back then I was using a G4/400 tower with two 17î displays and I always had four browser windows open all the time. I played around in Safari but still had my old reliable OmniWeb doing most of my browsing.

A week or so ago a funny thing happened. I was minding my own business, cruising the web as I do on a daily basis, when I realized that I had been using Safari full time. In fact, Iíd been doing that for a couple of weeks. I hadnít started OmniWeb except by clicking links in e-mails or in iChat. I understood at that moment that I was officially branded a switcher and made the leap of changing my default browser pref to Safari and I havenít looked back. I still keep OmniWeb around but I havenít been updating it.

There have been a few adjustments to contend with. I prefer to surf with graphics, java, and java-script off. This necessitates leaving Safariís preferences window open so I can toggle graphics or media plug-ins, or java-script as needed. Its a little clumsy, certainly in comparison to OmniWeb. I canít say exactly why I converted, or even when it happened. I do like Safari better than any browser Iíve used so far, for the most part. That preference seems to be a very subjective one, making it difficult to put into words just what it is that I find so superior about the thing.

Some of the things I like about Safari are the way bookmarks are managed, the simplicity of the interface, the speed, the tabs and the management of same, the segmentation of the history menu by day, the ease by which the cache is emptied, and the lack of a reload or redraw when font sizes are changed.

Some of the things I donít like are the inability to render individual graphics using a contextual click, the break from Appleís current human interface standards by using the View menu instead of the widget in the corner for customizing the toolbar, the lack of customizations available in the preferences, and, oddly enough, the bookmarks.

You might have noticed that bookmarks management ended up on both of those lists. In general I like Appleís approach. But there are some things that are really in need of improvement. I had to point out how to get into them to a friend of mine. Heís someone who has been using Macs as long or longer than I, is very bright, and very experienced in a number of areas. Its just not as obvious as it should be. Some greater differentiation is needed for that little bookmarks widget in the toolbar. Creating bookmark folders is at first a little unwieldly. In fact, every time I do it, I have to stop and think about it. Its really great that ëAdd Bookmarkí gives you the opportunity to name it the way it does. I really like that. Unfortunately if youíre dragging a URL into the toolbar the same dialog doesnít pop-up. Thatís a shame as it would be really useful there.

All of these givings and misgivings aside, I find Safari to be a very usable application. I verily enjoy using it to surf the web. If it were up to me, Apple would combine Sherlock and Safari into one application. I think joining the two at the hip, so to speak, would make for a very powerful and formidable tool.

I believe that Appleís target audience for Safari was actually the installed base of IE users. I donít fit into that category as the first thing Iíve done with every OS X installation is to remove IE from the hard drive. I guess Iím just a bonus for them in their battle for the browser.