5 reasons to upgrade to Apple's Safari 5

The biggest change is bringing extensions to the browser

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The basic text-only display uses clear, easy-to-read type and makes for a much nicer, almost newspaper-like way of reading. It also recognizes articles that are broken up over multiple pages (as is the case with most news or magazine sites, including Computerworld.com, these days) and will load all the pages and compile them as a single stream of text, making reading even easier since you can scroll through a long, multipage article as if it were a single document.

When in Reader view, you can also print the overlaid page in this printer-friendly format, e-mail it, or adjust the size of the text onscreen or in print.

Reader view
The new Reader view in Safari 5 (note the number of pages and the toolbar).

Personally, this goes down as my favorite new feature in Safari and one that differentiates it from other browsers. However, the scanning technique isn't always perfect and occasionally articles aren't recognized as such. When that happens, the Reader option isn't displayed. I expect this to get better as it's refined over time.

Improved performance

I've been using Chrome as my default browser on Mac OS X since the first stable and full-featured version was released last month. One of the big advantages Chrome had over Safari 4 was in the performance while loading Web pages and rendering JavaScript.

With Safari 5, Apple caught up to Chrome's performance, partly by taking lessons from Chrome and other browsers. Like Chrome, Safari now relies on DNS pre-fetching to speed up page loading. Improvements to Safari's caching routines also speed up the loading of images and pages that have been previously viewed.

Finally, Apple has updated its Nitro JavaScript engine to deliver increased performance. According to Apple, this allows Safari to run JavaScript code 30% faster than Safari 4 — and 3% faster than Chrome, which uses Google's V8 engine. (Not surprisingly, Apple's boast is under dispute.)

All of these enhancements mean Safari now offers performance comparable to Chrome on Mac OS X. Of course, various Web pages and system configurations yield slightly different results for each browser, but in my general browsing this past week with Safari, they appeared to be largely on par. Safari's overall performance is also similar to Firefox's, though Safari is noticeably faster at handling JavaScript-heavy pages. (I'm not sure I'd say it hits the "almost twice as fast" description that Apple claims, however.)

Enhanced Tops Sites and History

I've been a big fan of Apple's Top Sites display, which showed up when Safari 4 was released as a public beta last year. Top Sites renders frequently and recently visited Web pages on a 3D "wall," along with a blue star for sites where the browser detects updated content. The feature is easy to use and for the most part consistently displays the sites I visit first thing in the morning and throughout the day.

Apple has updated Top Sites with an option to view the standard Top Sites page or a graphical history of visited pages. (The History page was previously available but not as obviously displayed.) The History view allows you to see screenshots of previously viewed sites and pages as well as to search for words/phrases in those pages. That allows only pages containing a search string to be shown.

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