Safari is about to get crazy fast

When Apple chose the KHTML engine for its Safari Browser in 2003 over the more popular Gecko engine that powers Firefox, a lot of people were surprised. Firefox was way more popular than the Konquerer browser and had a lot more open source developers online.

Since then, Apple has really run with the KHTML engine, forking it off, renaming its development version "WebKit" and making it faster and leaner than Firefox on the Mac and both Firefox and Internet Explorer on the PC. While it doesn't have a lot of the functionality of Firefox plug-ins and the ActiveX controls of IE, more and more support has been built around the Webkit engine as it gains in popularity. (Yes, Opera is very nice as well - especially the torrent downloading.)

The latest builds of WebKit are adding a great number of improvements that go beyond the "Catching up" that it has been doing in the past. These improvements can be broken down into two major areas: features and speed. The features are certainly interesting and you can read about many of them here. I want to focus specifically on speed.


Safari vs. WebKit icons.

There is no other way to say it. Holy cow is this thing fast! I am currently testing Webkit build r30090 (more recent versions are now there) against standard Leopard Safari 3.04. This unoptimized WebKit build version is running circles around the standard Safari browser. It isn't even close.

I am on a Rev 2, 2 GHz MacBook Pro with 2 GB of RAM on 100 Mb/s Fiber. I am running the two browsers next to each other on a 30 inch display. Webkit feels like I am on a maxed out Mac Pro tower - it really does. Try it if you don't believe me.

If you do, you'll notice that the transition is a cake walk. All of your bookmarks, history, cookies, etc. move across each browser – even when opened at the same time so it is very easy and low risk to test WebKit. It has also been so remarkably stable in my testing that I am tempted to move Safari off of my dock.

During random browsing, I noticed that Safari is loading pages about half as fast on average as WebKit. On heavy pages the load times are definitely discernible. On light pages, it is harder to tell the difference. But how to quantify? has some Javascript test pages.

Sunspider is about a three minute test that focuses on JavaScript benchmarking. My confidence was so high in WebKit that I started off Safari on the test before I opened Webkit. About 20 seconds after I started Safari, I started Webkit. Webkit was way faster across all of the tests. I also opened my CPU monitor and noticed that Webkit was using a percentage point or two more CPU than Safari - but nothing drastic. Webkit was done about a minute before Safari was complete.

The results in completing the test:

Safari: 11932.0ms +/- 0.9%

Webkit: 4484.0ms +/- 1.8%

The newest Webkit is 2.5 times faster.

Another test called Slickspeed, tests other aspects of the browser's rendering engine. Again, WebKit simply blows Safari out of the water in almost every test.

What's so interesting about this is that Safari is already a fast browser. The fastest if you believe Steve Jobs 2007 WWDC Keynote. WebKit's amazing, unoptimized speed means that Safari is going to get so much faster, to where it makes a significant difference in browser user experience. While Microsoft's products are getting bulkier and slower, Apple's products are getting leaner and faster.

WebKit feeds into a lot of other technologies. It is also the basis of the Symbian phone browsers and the technology behind Adobe's AIR.

Safari is also the browser for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and these WebKit improvements will likely hit these devices as well. Probably about the time a 3G iPhone is released.

Now that will be one slick little browser to have in your pocket!

See Also: Eric Lai: Anyone else have problems with that 'crazy fast' version of Safari?

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