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A Magical Browser Adventure

Apple recently released its Safari Web Browser for Windows, given that OSX can run on PC architectures, so the rest of the OS must as well. I was curious, so I went ahead and downloaded it, to give it a spin around the block. Heck, I’m even writing this blog post in it.

My immediate thought was to see if it passed the Acid2 Test, an abstract method of testing web browsers by feeding it a conglomeration of properly- and mal-formed CSS and HTML to see if the browser can properly render the elements of the web, especially when not properly authored. I had looked at the test a while ago, and at the time, the only web browser that had passed the test was a modified beta of Safari.

So when the opportunity to see the Acid2 test on Safari for my own eyes came, I didn’t turn it down. And, much to my surprise, Safari passed. I suppose it makes sense, but I was rather shocked to see that pretty smiling face staring back at me, surrounded by the smooth curves of the Safari browser. So I began a crusade to see what other web browsers had become compliant while I wasn’t watching. I booted up IE, Firefox, and Opera, all of which I have installed for fun, and found, also surprisingly, the Opera passed the test. Firefox was getting there, but still had some significant problems, and IE7′s rendering was absolutely unrecognizable compared to the sample render.

This is actually consistent with what I remember from the last time I tried, with IE being terrible and Firefox being imperfect itself. It would appear that neither browser has made Acid2 Compliance a real priority.That’s not really surprising, given that the browsers are made developers with finite time, who must choose which featuresets to implement. It does seem, however, that implementing not only the letter of the Acid2 test, being able to properly render that segment of mal-formed code, but also the spirit, being able to render most mal-formed code, might make a significant difference in broswer compatibility and popularity.

Of course, just being able to render some stuff correctly isn’t going to win most folks. There’s a growing awareness of security these days, which I would imagine is the reason for most users’ switch to Firefox. I know that’s one of my chief reasons for using it. Plus, there are little things like addons and plugins that allow you to customize your browsing that make you able to customize Opera and Firefox that win some people over. Every time I begin playing with a new broswer, there’s a nice new-toy-feeling period where you like the browser because it’s shiny and new. But then you notice that it has little problems. I went through that with Opera, and now I’ve gone through it with Safari, and I can say that neither have really convinced me to switch from Firefox. I have to say that I’m more impressed with Safari, in terms of browsing, then I am with Opera.

Despite both complying with the Acid2 standard, for some reason when browsing in Opera, it has the annoying habit of rendering the page twice. For example, it will render the left side column of a two-colum page, then the header, and a bit of the right hand column, and then the whole page, including the left column, would be rendered inside the space left for the right column.Pages that I see poorly rendered in Firefox seem farther and fewer between, although the cross-section of the web that I visit is hardly representative. I mostly frequent nerd websites that, were they to have any serious problems in nerd browsers (i.e. not IE), they would be fixed instantaneously.

But in the end, it comes down to the little things, mostly keyboard shortcuts, that will keep me in the green pastures of Firefox. (At this point, it is worth breaking in to mention that I’ve switched from Safari to Firefox because Safari seems to have become critically unstable on my computer with no apparent cause.) Neither Safari nor Opera have fully implemented the key combinations that I’ve become so accustomed to, in doing things like changing between the address bar and the search bar. And the one thing that really made Safari bake my noodle is the fact that, unlike in Opera and Firefox, where Backspace means go back to the previous page in the history, Safari does nothing with that button. So when I would be viewing a tangential web page, that wasn’t directly related to the main subject of browsing, and I finished reading the page, I would hit backspace. When nothing happened, my brain would assume that it must have been a new tab, and reflexively close the tab. Annoying, yes?

But to truly make me switch browsers, you can’t just do the job adequately, you have to be better in some aspect. I understand that Opera has a very intuitive browsers on the Nintendo Wii, and that Safari, in some incarnation, will be on the iPhone, but neither really make up for the fact that they just don’t really measure up to what I’ve come to expect of the web.

UPDATE: After I wrote this post, I noticed good ol’ Ars Technica had posted a review of Safari similar to mine, although somewhat more in depth. Now I just need to convince them to hire me.

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Categories: The Internet
  1. July 5, 2007 at 7:54 am

    “Opera, it has the annoying habit of rendering the page twice”
    You can change this behaviour in
    Tools – Preferences – Advanced – Browsing – Loading: I think default is “Redraw after 1 second”, if you simply increase this value you’ll reduce the probability or Opera rendering the page twice. You can even set it to “Redraw when loaded”, although I wouldn’t recomment this setting.

    Actually this behaviour is a feature. A lot of people really like it as you can start reading text although the page is not completly loaded (expecially useful on a low bandwidth connection). This could make your user experience quite a bit faster (besides all the productivity and speed usage features and the already incredible fast rendering which should be even faster with Opera 9.5 or 10).

    But I agree with you that this is not really beautiful and Safari does a really good job in asthetic page rendering. Yet I think Opera’s power & speed just have to show somewhere and it’s quite a different philosophy

  1. November 12, 2007 at 12:52 pm

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