Programming - - By Craig Buckler

What’s New in Safari 6 and Why Dropping Windows is a Mistake

Outside the Apple.com site, Safari rarely receives a mention on the web. It’s a solid, dependable browser. Safari is the default on Mac OS and the only “real” browser on iOS. But it’s never taken the world by storm despite being available on several platforms.

Safari 5 has been around since June 2010 and Safari 6 was launched with Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion (more about that later). Let’s look at the new features for users…

  • Unified Smart Search
    Safari now matches Chrome and IE with a single address/search field. The bar analyzes bookmarks and history to determine where you want to go.
  • Enhanced Tab Functionality
    Tab View provides a swipe-able list of tabs. Opened tabs are saved to iCloud so they’re available on your Mac, iPad, iPhone and iPod.
  • Social Sharing
    The Share button allows pages and links to be added to your reading list, bookmarks or sent to the web via email, Twitter or Facebook.
  • Improved Performance
    Thanks to multi-core JavaScript processing and hardware acceleration.
  • Privacy Controls
    Safari 6 adds the new “Do Not Track” feature.
  • Offline Reading List
    Page content can be cached so you can continue reading when you don’t have a net connection.
  • RSS has gone
    I use RSS and you may too. We’re in the minority and Apple has dropped the feature.

But who cares about that fluff — we want shiny HTML5 tools! Apple has obliged with an updated webkit engine which includes…

  • Web Audio API
    Sounds effects can be created and customized in JavaScript.
  • CSS filters
    Apply visual filters such as blurs, gradients, brightness, hues, inversion, etc.
  • HTML5 media synchronization
    Multiple events and effects which require precise timing can be synchronized.
  • Redesigned Web Inspector
    The tool now includes a snippet editor for code testing and a Safari Extension builder.

There are also a number of iOS mobile-specific features including web inspector remote debugging, support for file uploads (about time), and “Smart App Banners” which indicate when a native app is available.

Great stuff. Safari 6 is available on OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and it’s also compatible with 10.7 Lion via the Software Update. However, Lion users do not get features such as sharing, notifications, Tab View or iCloud tab synchronization. A shame, but think yourself lucky…

What About Everyone Else?

Those on OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and earlier versions cannot upgrade and are stuck with Safari 5. Could Apple fragment the Safari market in the same way Microsoft did with IE? Perhaps not to the same extent, but it remains a concern.

Apple has confirmed that Safari 6 will not be available on Windows. While they stopped short of stating it had been dropped forever, that seems likely.

Safari on Windows was never successful. The browser felt a little odd and did not adopt standard UI conventions. That didn’t matter — as I wrote back in June 2007:

It’s easy to test against any Windows or Linux browser. Free virtual machine software allows you install versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Konqueror and even Lynx.

However, the big unknown browser is Safari. It’s undoubtedly popular, but is impossible to test unless you have a Mac. Until now…

Apple has announced a version of Safari for Windows. This is an intelligent strategy from the company. Windows and Linux-based web developers now have no excuse for not testing their sites and more will become Safari-compatible.

I doubt many Windows users will switch to Safari, although I can see it being useful for Mac fans who use Windows at work. For now, it’s web developers who will benefit the most.

Apple are removing a vital tool from a large proportion of developers. While Chrome uses webkit, the browsers have differences. Even this week I discovered a site layout issue which affected Safari but not Chrome or other applications. Without the Windows edition, I would have presumed it worked.

Safari may not enthrall Windows users, but it enabled developers to make a site work on Mac OS and iOS. Despite their success, Apple’s browsers are dwarfed by others and, without testing, web sites and applications will inevitably break.

It may not be fair, but users will simply blame their device.

Have you tried Safari 6? Is Apple right to drop support for Windows and older OSs?

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