First look: Apple's Safari beta -- what's new, what it means

CEO Steve Jobs' surprise at WWDC was announcing Safari for Windows

What looks like Apple Inc.'s Safari Web browser for Mac OS X, works like Safari for the Mac, but isn't Safari for the Mac?

Answer: A beta version of Safari unveiled this week by Apple CEO Steve Jobs that's aimed squarely at Microsoft Windows users.

In what has become something of a hallmark of just about every Jobs keynote address, the Apple chief used his talk at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) to announce yet another "one more thing" -- that Apple would port its popular (on the Mac side of the world) Safari browser to Windows, with a beta version that was available shortly thereafter for downloading. More about how well Safari works, or doesn't, in a minute.

On the surface, it seems odd that Jobs would make hay out of introducing a Web browser to an already crowded market on a competitor's platform. But Apple's simultaneous release of Safari Version 3 for Mac- and Windows-based systems marked a major step for Apple into the browser wars. While this may be the third version of Safari for Mac users, this is the first time Apple has released Safari for Windows. On the Mac side, Safari has seen some dramatic market share growth in recent months, even though Apple's computer market share remains small compared to Windows. (Even so, the Mac market share itself is also rising.)

During his speech, Jobs said that Apple simply wants to increase its browser market share, which seems logical. What better way to fluff one's numbers than releasing software on a platform with the largest installed base?

But why waste the resources developing a product meant to be given away? The answers weren't really detailed in Jobs' keynote speech, so I dug a little deeper, hoping to find answers within Safari's feature set and Apple's Windows software history.

Safari on Windows looks pretty much like Safari on the Mac, save for the shape and positioning of the close, minimize and zoom buttons. Other than that, it's nearly identical. The feature sets are the same as well, from bookmark organization to the built-in RSS reader. Even the text renders the same, though there's debate over whether that's good or bad. And as you'd expect, the menus -- which show up in the menu bar on Macs -- are in their proper Windows location at the top of the Safari browser window.

Safari in Mac OS X and Windows under Parallels IDG

Two versions of Safari showing menus; in front, the browser in Mac OS X. Behind it, Safari for Windows running in Parallels Desktop for Mac.

I downloaded and installed Safari on both Windows XP and Vista, using Parallels Desktop for Mac on an Intel-based MacBook and a Mac Mini. All of Safari's new 3.0 features are there, too: movable tabs (which allow dragging of tabs form their own windows), real-time text searching featuring an intuitive interface dubbed "inline find," text fields that can be resized and an adjustable history.

Inline find will be extremely useful to a lot of users. This new feature can be activated byselectingEdit>Find>Find, or simply Crtl+F. Activating the find feature slides a search bar from underneath your bookmarks or tabs. Like Spotlight on the Mac, searches are instantaneous and search results are dwindled down with each successive keystroke. Visually, everything that isn't found with the search query is automatically dimmed, while the results spring forth in a burst of orange. To the left of the search window are two arrows and a results field, in inverse order. The arrows highlight search results throughout the Web page with a cute, bubble effect.

Safari search highlights IDG

Search terms are highlighted in orange using inline find.

Another new feature is movable tabs. They do exactly what you'd expect: allow you to move tabs around when browsing just by dragging and dropping. As an added effect, pulling a tab from the tab bar actually causes the tab to shift from a tab to an icon-size preview of the Web page. Releasing the mouse at this point scales the window up to full size, similar to MacOS X's Dock effect, Scale.

That may be new to Safari fans, but people who use browsers like Firefox, which is much more customizable, may be disappointed. At the very least, I'd like to see Safari automatically reopen Web sites or tabs between browser sessions without having to rely on a third-party option like forgetmenot. (You can reopen pages by scrolling down the history menu and selecting "Reopen All Windows From Last Session," but those pages don't automatically load when Safari is relaunched.)

Other Safari mainstays such as the Google/Yahoo search bar remain. Because of this, some believe that one reason for Apple's sudden interest in Web browser market share may be ad-related revenue. According to John Gruber at, Apple generates $2 million a month through its Google integration, making more than $25 million a year. Maybe so, but I think there's more to it than that.

Look at Apple's other recent venture into Windows software: iTunes. Although iTunes had been around for years, it wasn't finally released for Windows until Version 4.1. The first Windows version introduced everyone else not on a Mac to organizing music through iTunes and direct iPod for Windows syncing. Apple also introduced Windows users to the iTunes store, making iTunes something of a Trojan horse for Apple's music initiatives, with easy iPod integration thrown in for good measure. We know how that turned out: iTunes shook the music industry into the 21st century.

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