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 (continued)

In its last major update to Safari last year, Apple also added "private browsing" as an option. If you're concerned that someone else might use your computer and take a look at where you've been online, you can turn this feature on with one click. Once it's enabled, you can surf away knowing that sites you visit and information you type in won't be saved. Go ahead, enjoy the anonymity.

The private browsing option lets you temporarily surf under the radar.
 
The private browsing option lets you temporarily surf under the radar.

That's not to say Safari is perfect. No application is. It's nice to have all those tabs, for instance. But wouldn't it be nicer to save them between browser sessions, so you can pick up again with all those sites when you reopen Safari? Not possible. Or let's say you're a weather nut and you like having a browser add-on that sticks weather information in your browser window. Forget it, at least for now.

To Tweak, or Not to Tweak?

True to its Apple nature, Safari doesn't offer much customization. You're not going to be filling up the toolbar with endless icons or downloading lots of add-ons. Nope, if you want to tweak the way tabs display or add weather forecasts to the toolbar or re-skin Safari -- well, let's just say you're in the wrong browser. Go play with Firefox.

The whole raison d'etre for Safari is to browse, in the easiest, least complicated way possible. And while it may seem obvious that ease of use and good user interface is a given for a Web browser, it's not. Just take a look at the latest version of Internet Explorer. You're likely to get lost just trying to configure the darn thing before you even get started browsing.

If you really must tinker with Safari, third-party developers have made it possible to change the look and feel and add a few features. Three of my favorite freebies are SafarIcon, Safari Enhancer and Safari Bookmark Exporter.

SafarIcon, from Reinhold Penner, can be used to change the look of browser function buttons and even the brushed metal window Safari uses by default.

Safari Enhancer allows you to deactivate Safari's cache, activate a debugging menu with which you can make Safari report itself to other sites as a different browser, revamp link colors and change the browser's history options.

• And for those who can't live with just one browser -- this includes me -- Safari Bookmark Exporter will export your bookmarks in the proper format and to the correct location on your computer for use by other browsers.

Do you need these little apps to enjoy Safari? No. But for those interested in tweaks, they allow you to make changes not readily available. And they won't mess anything up.

A Peek Ahead

Other than security updates to close a handful of vulnerabilities that have shown up since Safari 2.0 was released last year, Apple hasn't made any major changes to its browser in about 18 months. So what's coming for Safari users in Apple's next operating system, Leopard? Apple is, as usual, mum about what changes and updates you can expect in Safari when Leopard is released early next year. But informed speculation points to a Safari 3.0 that will include a phishing filter, improved tab functions (including my most-hoped-for feature -- the ability to save a set of tabs between browser sessions), added RSS functions and improved compatibility with Web formats like Flash, JavaScript and Java applets.

Exactly what Steve Jobs will pull out of the company's proverbial hat is anyone's guess. But given that Apple usually tries to take what competitors are doing and leapfrog their efforts, it's likely that a great browser will be even greater.

Related Links

Download Safari 2 (Apple)

What's new in Safari 2 (Apple)

 

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.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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