Like I imagine the majority of those users who migrated from a Windows PC to a Mac, Firefox has been my primary browser for the last five years (since Firefox 0.8 came out in February 2004). It’s so long ago now in web years that it’s hard to remember, but on Windows, back in those dark days, there really weren’t any options beyond the standard Internet Explorer 6 install.

Microsoft had lost interest in maintaining their browser, having secured 90% of the browser market. For web designers, this was a disaster. When Firefox emerged it was almost instantly better than IE in every regard, so it was an obvious choice. Nowadays, the three most advanced browsers — Firefox, Chrome and Safari — each have many strengths on which to recommend them.

Safari 4 iconWhen Safari 4 was released as a public beta in February, I decided to give it a try for a week. You all thought I was mad, many of you requested to be transferred to another peanut factory, but I’m still using it here two months later.

Safari’s main strengths are speed and stability. If you’re a tinkerer, a Firefox install has a Windows XP-style half-life, after which its performance continuously degrades and it becomes significantly more prone to crashing. I tried opening the Safari feature page in my new copy of Safari and my many years-old Firefox, and the difference in performance ellicited an honest-to-God laugh-out-loud. That almost never happens! (I should say that I’m open to the idea that I am wholly responsible for Firefox’s poor performance by loading my profile with too many extensions and customisations. One badly-written extension or Greasemonkey script and the browser can begin to drag.)

Safari is ahead of the game in other ways too though. Full-text search of your history with rendered thumbnails of each page is a killer feature. These are indexed by Spotlight as well and can be searched from apps like Launchbar. The Chrome-style new tab screen is excellent for keeping track of pages that change over the course of the day. The lack of a progress bar when loading a page is a very interesting departure which I find myself liking more as time goes on. The new tab bar does take some getting used to, and has been discussed at quite marvelous length elsewhere. I would favour one of the proposed mockups which give more space to the window controls.

There were two things about my Firefox setup that I did really miss when switching: keyword search from the location bar, and delicious integration. In Firefox you can just type directly into the location bar and it will do a Google search. Even better than that is using keywords to search specific sites — “wp Bell pepper” to open a Wikipedia page for example.

Kewurl example

Safari can’t do any of that out of the box, but there is a SIMBL plugin that manages this very nicely, called Keywurl. Delicious support is provided by the Delicious Safari extension, which does the job admirably. Boom.