Safari 4 Beta Released into the Wild

 

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Apple recently released a public beta version of its popular internet browser into the wilds of cyberspace. I just downloaded Safari 4 beta last week and was impressed by many of the new features.

When you launch the browser for the first time, you’ll see a three-dimensional display of the websites you recently visited or frequent the most. The Top Sites page is a grid of thumbnails that pulls up-to-date previews of what Safari believes are your favorite internet destinations based on your browsing history. By clicking on the “Edit” button in the bottom left corner, you can change what you want to view on this page. Open a second browser window and drag the site from the address bar to wherever you want it to appear on your Top Sites screen and press the “Pushpin” icon to lock it into that location on the screen. The Top Sites page can be viewed in three different sizes — Small (24 sites), Medium (12), and Large (6). First impressions are everything and this new feature delivers. Here’s a look at the Top Sites view:

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Another new feature is the search option in the lower right corner of the Top Sites page. Use it and you’ll get a Cover Flow view of your browsing history. As you type in search terms, the number of icons displayed will narrow down to help you find what you’re looking for. Safari 4 searches not only the URLs, but also the entire text of the sites you’ve previously viewed. You don’t even have to remember where you read or saw something anymore. Apple is making life a lot easier with Safari. Here’s a look at the Search Box:

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Among the visible changes in Safari 4 is a newly-designed user interface. If you’re a regular forum poster or reader like I am, you’ll quickly notice that the Refresh button is gone. It is now a barely visible icon that exists at the end of the URL input bar. Getting used to remembering where it is can be quite annoying, especially when you just want to see if there are any new threads on sites like PocketFives.com. Instead, the user interface has a new button with an insect icon that, when pressed, reports bugs to Apple. I’m not sure if this is something that will stick around or just appears in beta, but I don’t find it useful. If Safari crashes (so far it has once), you have to re-launch anyways. Before you do, a screen pops up that asks if you want to send an error report. I imagine that these two things are one in the same, so maybe Apple can put back the Refresh button instead of leaving the bug patrol there.

Other than missing and not-so-useful buttons, there were improvements made to the user interface. Tabbed browsing is better because it now appears at the top of the browser window rather than below the Bookmarks menu bar. It may not seem like a huge difference, but as a laptop user, I appreciate the extra space it gives me to view websites.

My 17” Macbook Pro is not exactly new, so I don’t have multi-touch gestures and cannot zoom in on things like on the newer models. Fortunately, Apple took this popular feature from the iPhone. Now, Safari has zooming on the keypad. All you have to do is press Command-Plus (+) to zoom in on a page or Command-Minus (-) to zoom out. Here’s me zooming in:

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Even features that you may not see allow for a better user experience. Using a new engine under the hood known as “Nitro,” Safari 4 can now execute Javascript at up to 30 times faster than other popular web browsers. Besides the obvious improvements in speed, usability, and design, Safari 4 has also adopted the open standards for web development.

Though still in development itself, this version of Safari 4 is stable and vastly improved. I used Safari’s previous incarnations, but I’ve always been a FireFox user even on my Mac. After spending only a week with the public beta, I can say that Apple has made Safari 4 my new browser of choice. I can hardly wait for the full version to be released.

Download or read more about Safari.

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