Browser Smackdown: Firefox vs. IE vs. Opera vs. Safari

Four experts go head-to-head (to-head-to-head) to defend their Web browser of choice in an opinionated free-for-all.

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Safari: Tops for Macs

By Ken Mingis

If you're reading this browser roundup on any of Apple Computer Inc.'s laptops or desktops, chances are good that you're doing so with Apple's own Safari Web browser.

The nice thing about Safari, which is now up to Version 2.04 and will be updated yet again early next year when Apple releases Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard," is that it comes out of the box with just about every feature you'll need to cruise along on the Web safely and securely. It's also only for Macs, so Windows and Linux fans, you're out of luck.

Safari uses strong 128-bit encryption when accessing secure sites. Pop-up ad blocking is easily enabled, as is tabbed browsing -- with each tab having its own "close" button. It has a built-in RSS reader so you can subscribe to RSS feeds for speedy tracking of sites and stories you're interested in. Safari's Web rendering is based on the KDE project's open-source KHTML layout engine, and I've found it to be as fast as any other browser in Mac land.

The built-in search engine is Google, and it has a handy snapback feature incorporated in that search field. Let's say you've entered a few search terms, landed on a page with hundreds of links and clicked on so many of them that you're not sure how to get back to your original search. Rather than retracing steps you've already taken, just click on the orange snapback icon and it immediately takes you back to your list of Google links.

Think easy. Think intuitive.

Safari emerged in Apple land in January 2003 -- about the same time Microsoft decided to stop development of IE for the Mac. At the time, browser development for Mac OS X was an oft-neglected backwater, although the Mac-only OmniWeb showed promise -- and still does. But you have to pay for that one, and in this day of free-is-good, having Apple's developers come up with their own take on browsing was a godsend.

Attention to Detail

Of course, what matters is how well an application works. And Apple has gotten the little things right in Safari. Take bookmark management, for example. It's easy to add bookmarks and organize them into folders -- and then add those folders to Safari's bookmark bar. That means all of your favorite tech bookmarks, or news sites, or even RSS feeds, can be lumped together and ordered however you want. Click on a folder of bookmarks in the bookmark bar and the drop-down menu offers easy access to all the sites you want. You can choose to open them all in separate tabs with a single click, and you can even have them open up automatically in tabs when you click on the folder of links in your bookmarks bar.

Managing bookmarks in Safari is a snap.
 
Managing bookmarks in Safari is a snap.

Importing links from another browser? Some browsers I could mention (Opera and Internet Explorer) import bookmarks and then list them alphabetically. I'm willing to bet that 99% of browser users don't organize their surfing that way. With Safari, they're imported in the same order used by the other browser.

Making Safari an RSS reader was also a smart move by Apple. RSS feeds are increasingly popular because they allow surfers to quickly scan headlines for the sites and stories they want to read. In Safari, a site that offers RSS feeds is designated with a blue RSS icon in the URL address bar. Click on the icon, and the RSS feed drops down in place of the standard site. Click it again and the feed rolls back up and you're right back where you landed originally. Want to add that feed to your bookmark bar or RSS folder? Click the RSS icon, then drag and drop the link from the address bar to wherever you want it. Again, think easy, think intuitive.

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More about Safari

 

Browser Smackdown: Firefox vs. IE vs. Opera vs. Safari

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Firefox logo
Firefox 2

Simply put, Firefox is

the best browser of all,

says Scot Finnie.

  

IE logo
Internet Explorer 7

IE enjoys 80% market share for good reason, says Preston Gralla.

  

Side-by-Side Comparison

Get a peek at how each browser handles key features and functions.

 

Opera logo
Opera 9

It's all about features, claims Dennis Fowler, and Opera's got the most.

  

Safari logo
Safari 2

On the Mac, Safari is untouchable, according

to Ken Mingis.

  

Reader Poll

Vote for your favorite browser.

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