RealTime IT News

Apple: Safari Is Faster and Drives Standards

Apple isn't pulling any punches with its new Safari 4 Web browser, which began a public beta today.

New user interface features, developer enhancements, performance improvements and new Web standards compliance are all key constituents of the Safari 4 release.

The new release arrives amid a flurry of browser betas and improvements by all the major browser makers in a bid to win over more users, such as with Microsoft's IE 8, Opera, Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome.

With Safari 4, Apple is trying to jump to the head of the pack.

"We're really happy with the success we've had with Safari over the years and now we're taking [that] to another level with Safari 4 for both Mac and PC," Brian Croll, Apple's senior director of system software marketing told InternetNews.com. "We really focused on performance and we're really focused on driving innovative new standards."

Key to the performance gains on Safari 4 beta is a new JavaScript engine called Nitro. Apple claims it runs over four times faster than the JavaScript engine in Safari 3.

Apple also claims that Nitro is up to 30 times faster than IE 7 and more than three times faster than Firefox 3. Microsoft is currently working on its next browser, IE 8, which is expected to offer better performance than IE 7. Mozilla is working on Firefox 3.1, which includes a new faster JavaScript engine as well. The general idea is that modern Web sites use a lot of JavaScript and the faster a browser can deal with JavaScript, the faster the browsing experience will likely be for the user.

JavaScript engine performance measurement can also be tricky. Results often vary, depending on the test used and the type of Web applications being tested. For example, in September of 2008, Mozilla disputed some of Google's V8 speed claims simply by looking at a different test parameter.

(Before it became the Apple's Nitro, the JavaScript engine went by the code name SquirrelFish Extreme.)

If it helps explode industry standards, then the name change will have hit one of the key goals for Safari 4, among them support for the emerging HTML 5 standard. One of the new technologies specified by HTML 5 is persistent offline storage that enables users to view their Web application content even when they are not connected to the Internet. Google's Gears effort is a similar approach, though it is not the actual HTML 5 specification that Apple is including with Safari 4.

Croll also noted that Safari 4 includes broader CSS (cascading style sheet) support for gradients, reflections and masks.

"The CSS effects are really key for designers to create really beautiful graphically compelling Web sites," Croll said.

Combing CSS and HTML 5 support together is part of what Croll noted as a big push with Safari 4 to lead the way with industry standards.

Apple is, of course, a company is concerned with user facing features too, which is also an area where Safari 4 sports improvements. One of the most noticeable new items is the top sites feature that will show users the sites they most frequently visit. Google Chrome has a similar feature, though Croll noted with Safari Apple will also indicate to users which sites have new content.

There is also a full history search that not only searches page titles and URLs but page content of visited sites as well.

"Full history search lets you find the needle in a haystack," Croll stated. "Safari indexes the title, the Web address as well as all the text on the pages you've been too, so it's a huge rich index on which to search."

The public version of the Safari 4 beta doesn't offer Firefox-style add-ons, same as Google's Chrome. It does, however, provide support for plug-ins.

Safari 4 is currently in beta, though it's unclear at this point as to when it will be finalized for a generally available (GA) release. Croll noted that unfortunately he couldn't talk about where Safari 4 was going in the future.

"In summary we're really focused on performance, in delivering the fastest browser to the industry," Croll claimed. "We've pushed industry standards forward, and we've added a nice suite of end user features to Safari 4 as well."