Apple delivers Safari 4 public beta, touts speed gains

Claims 'Nitro' JavaScript engine 30 times faster than IE7, 3 times faster than Firefox

Apple Inc. today launched the public beta of Safari 4 and touted the new browser as the fastest on the planet.

The beta, which is available for both Mac OS X and Windows, is Apple's entry into the current browser race, which over the last 12 months has had every browser maker touting dramatic performance gains.

According to Apple, the new JavaScript rendering engine used in Safari 4, dubbed "Nitro," is more than four times faster than the one used in Safari 3, and beats rivals such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) and Mozilla's Firefox 3 by factors of 30 and 3, respectively. The company also bragged up Safari 4's faster HTML rendering, claiming that it's three times faster than either IE7 or Firefox. "Faster is always better," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. "The entire world is waiting on the Web, and it's a bottleneck that we all deal with."

Apple said that Safari, which is built on the open-source WebKit browser engine, also sports several new features and enhancements, including a full history search using a Spotlight-like tool, as well as Top Sites, a screen that displays thumbnail views of the user's most frequently accessed pages. The latter is similar in concept, if not in execution, to tools provided in Google's Chrome, Opera Software's Opera and Microsoft's still-in-development Internet Explorer 8 (IE8).

Other additions to Safari 4 include an enhanced search that uses Google Suggest to recommend possible search strings, a Chrome-style arrangement that puts browser tabs at the top of the application window rather than under the menu listings, and in the Windows version of the beta, interface elements that better mesh with the look of Microsoft's operating system.

Apple rarely does wide-scale public testing of its software -- Mac OS X, for instance, is tested by a relatively small group of invite-only developers -- but has made exceptions for Safari. In mid-2007, for example, after CEO Steve Jobs announced that Apple would bring the browser to Windows, the company rolled out several betas.

"Safari is a different piece of their world," said Gottheil. "It's cross-platform, for one thing, it's open source and it's free."

Apple's browser accounted for 8.3% of all browsers used last month, an increase of nearly 0.4 percentage point over December 2008, according to Web metrics vendor Net Applications Inc. At just 0.3%, however, the Windows version is a very small part of Safari's overall market share.

Microsoft's IE remained the most-used browser by a wide margin -- 67.6% -- in January, while Firefox held the second spot with 21.5%.

Safari 4 beta can be downloaded from the Apple site for Mac OS X 10.4.11 and 10.5.6, and for Windows XP and Vista.

A revamped browser history takes its visual cues from Apple's Quick Look feature.
A revamped browser history takes its visual cues from Apple's Quick Look feature.
Safari 4 offers a

Safari 4 offers a "Top Hits" page featuring a user's most-frequently viewed Web pages.

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