The Safari Challenge
I’ve traditionally been a Firefox guy. I like Firefox. I like the peeps at Mozilla, and they do great things. I also like Apple, and when I can, I try to use Apple products. So for an entire week, I decided I was going to suck it up and just try and make the switch to using Safari as my main web browser. No going back and forth, no half-assing it. All-or-nothing. Some people claim to be able to use different web browsers for different things. Not me, I can’t do that. I can’t even have more than one pair of shoes without getting confused.
Why go Safari?
Speed & stability
Safari feels faster. It feels like it launches faster, and it feels like it renders websites faster. Not that Firefox is slow, but when you spend all day every day on the web, milliseconds really make a big difference in feel. I’ve also had problems with some crashing in Firefox. Sometimes it was random, sometimes not. I had (before my new MacPro) an issue with Firefox where I could print a page once, but if I tried to bring up the print dialog again it was insta-crash. In searching around, I was not alone in this.
Speed is less of an issue on my MacPro. It’s much more of an issue on my MacBook, which sports a measly 1GB of RAM and needs all the help it can get.
Most progressive with CSS3
Firefox has pretty good CSS3 support but it lags behind Safari. In particular, Safari supports transitions and 3D transforms that are particularly cool. More and more sites are using progressive enhancement transitions, and I want to be seeing all that stuff.
Because I can
As I’ll go through later, there are so many tools available for both browsers than switching should (theoretically) be no big deal.
So let’s get on with exploring the differences.
I write a lot in the WordPress text editor (hey, I’m doing it right now!). So how this behaves is of grave importance to me. More than just write in it, I mark up my writing within it. I write a title, I select the text, I click a button to apply a tag around it. I most often do this after writing it. So I do a lot of highlighting-and-button-clicking. So I definitely notice little differences in how the browsers handle text selection. For example, triple clicking in Safari highlights the whole line, including the line break at the end. Firefox stops short of the line break, which I prefer.
This is the biggie for me. I’m a Firebug junkie. Other than a code editor and the browser itself Firebug is the top web development tool of all time. Everybody is trying to get on board now, including the Safari. In the latest Safari, all you need to do is turn on the Developer menu in the preferences and you have access to the Web Inspector, which is Safari’s answer to Firebug.
The experience of using Web Inspector is a microcosm of my experience in using Safari itself. It absolutely works, in some ways even better, but it just doesn’t feel right.
You don’t get a little button you can click to pop it open, you’ll either have to right-click on an element and choose “Inspect Element” from the contextual menu, or press Command-Option-I to open it. One thing is for sure, Web Inspector is pretty:
Things I don’t like about Web Inspector
- When it’s open, and I try to highlight text or type, the page wants to scroll down rapidly. Seem like a strange bug.
- Colors are shown in RGB values only. I, like most of us, typically declare colors in HEX (heck of a lot easier to copy and paste from Photoshop).
- You can’t copy and paste from it
- The right side uses an accordion structure (Styles, Metrics, Properties). It is hard to switch between them. The firebug tab model works far better here.
- You can’t edit markup live, like Firebug’s edit button. You can limit the view down to specific parts, but you have to double-click the element.
- The magnifying-glass-mode isn’t nearly as good as the pointer-mode at dragging around the page to target the element you are after.
- On page refresh, it forgets which element you were inspecting.
Things I do like about Web Inspector
- It’s pretty.
- The console is nice and color coded.
- The resources tab is incredibly useful.
- It can do 90% of the things I need Firebug to do, which is easily target page elements and see the CSS affecting that particular element, and then live edit those properties.
- The checkbox for turning on and off properties is more intuitive than the Firebug cancel icon model.
My dislikes are a lot stronger than my likes. Fair’s fair though, apparently updates they will be rolling out soon are pretty substantial.
In Firefox, if you accidentally close a tab, you can press Command-Shift-T automatically re-open it. I do this all the time so I love this feature. But this only works if this was the very last tab you closed. If you need to reopen a tab you had open 2-tabs ago, you’ll need to dig through history. Still, it’s pretty useful, and Safari doesn’t have it.
In Safari, you get flyout menus for history for the last week. This means with a single-click-and-navigate you can find anything you’ve had open recently.
In Firefox, if the page you are trying to go back to is older than the last 10 or so, you’ll need to open the History Library and browse through that to find it. I find that a little too cumbersome. I do an internal exaggerated sigh when I have to open the History Library to open a tab I had open five minutes ago.
“Little” UI Differences
I think tiny UI differences are done on purpose by the designers behind these browsers. They do it specifically to make switching away harder. These little differences turn into little annoyances which cumulatively feel like a big annoyance and get you to keep using the one you are more comfortable with. For example, the ol’ flip flop:
Wanna subscribe to an RSS feed in Google Reader through Safari? Good luck, it’s not easy. The only way I can do it is figure out the feed URL and manually add it to Google Reader. In Firefox, it shows the feed and asks you what service you’d like to subscribe with. You can even make it even easier.
In Safari, when clicking on a feed URL, you get the slide-down blue screen of feed. Sometimes it’s kind of a nice way to view a feed, but rarely. It offers no subscription options other than subscribing through Mail.app or “live” bookmarking it. As far as I know, it’s impossible to see the actual XML source of the feed.
In Firefox, viewing a feed URL shows you the recent entries in a default view and offers the subscription options at the top. But if you view source, you can see the real XML which can be very useful. You can also view the source directly in the browser window by prefacing the URL with “view-source:” like this:
Safari leaves a lot to be desired in how it handles RSS.
Good thing I like Google and wouldn’t want to change anyway, but there are no search options in Safari. In Firefox you get the dropdown menu with choices for search, meaning you can use different search engines and even do cool stuff like search Creative Commons Flickr photos. Firefox supports OpenSearch, meaning sites can even offer additions to this menu.
There is a plugin for Safari called Glims, which among other things, adds support for different search engines.
1Password is a password / identity / wallet storing application that runs as an application. It integrates with Firefox nicely to save all logins for websites. Of course Firefox already does that, but the cool thing for me about 1Password is that I can store the database in my Dropbox and then my web logins are synced between my two computers. 1Password also stores my identity and credit card information so filling out forms online is way easier. I was glad to find out that it intgrates nicely with Safari as well.
LittleSnapper is a screen grabbing application that also organizes all those snaps into an organized library (and integrates with online services like Flickr). You can manually grab snaps, or use the menu bar application to snap the current page from the active browser. Works great with both Firefox and Safari.
Few quick mentions. Cooliris does work with Safari. One plugin I really like for Firefox, Screengrab, doesn’t seem to have an equivalent in Safari. StumbleUpon, as gigantic and wildly popular as it is, doesn’t appear to have a real browser toolbar, although I think you can use the site framing toolbar if you are diehard.
I save my bookmarks I intend to share through Delicious. There is a great Firefox add-on for this. Unfortunately there is no official plugin for Safari, but there is DeliciousSafari which I actually like even better than the Firefox plugin, which tends to forget who I am fairly often. I paid the $9.95 for DeliciousSafari, which I hope I don’t regret as just recently I’ve been having a little trouble with it not saving.*
Local bookmarking between the two browsers is basically the same: add bookmarks, organize bookmarks into folders, basic import and export.
If you use Safari exclusively and also have a MobileMe account (the slightly grown-up but still overpriced and not-worth-it version of .mac), you can keep your bookmarks synced across all computers through that. If you don’t, no problem, you can use the excellent XMarks to keep your bookmarks in sync. The best thing about XMarks is that it is available for Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, and Chrome, so you can keep your bookmarks synced cross browser and cross computer. Awesome.
* I find restarting Safari helps, and can force old bookmarks to save through to Delicious. Apparently it queues them up.
One this is for sure though, I’ll be able to switch back and forth far easily now, knowing that I have things set up just right now and I feel much more comfortable.