I happened to turn my PC on this evening. Not an everyday occurance, I can tell you, what with the vast superiority of my Mac, but sadly the majority of the world still hasn’t come over to the dark side, so every now and then I have to test web sites on that old lumbering beast that is Internet Explorer. In fact, I have both IE7 and IE6, just to be nice to those dinosaurs who are still living in the 90s. I looked at my XP desktop, and thought, oh for a gorgeous Apple-like program to cheer up my poor, left-out PC. And then it hit me – I hadn’t installed Safari yet!
When Microsoft abandoned Mac users by stopping development of Internet Explorer for the Mac, Apple bit the bullet and decided to create their own web browser, with more frills, functionality and fun, and they did a wonderful job. Sure, it’s not perfect even now, nothing is, but it’s a darn sight better than IE, despite Microsoft’s years of experience. And recently Apple decided that PC users could have a slice of the action, and released a PC version of their award winning browser, boasting a faster user experience than any other browser available. A pretty tall claim to make, but so far no one appears to have corrected them, which is a good start.
So, off I toddled to the Apple web site and downloaded the PC Safari installer, and a few minutes of hard disk chuntering later I have a sparkly new browser sitting on my desktop. It did take a while to load up, but then it was its first ever load so I imagine it had a fair amount to do that it won’t have to do again, so I’ll forgive it on this occasion.
Visually it looks very similar to the Mac version of Safari, with its metal grey iTunes look and Mac-style buttons and scroll bars. On the one hand, it would have been nice if the application had blended in more with the native look and feel of the operating system. Then again, it’s running on Windows, so maybe not. Everything I’m used to seeing on my Mac is there on the PC version, with the inclusion of the menu bar so that PC users don’t get confused (as they did with IE7, ironically).
The one thing that really impressed me though was the font rendering, which is as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Comparing Safari alongside Firefox shows a huge difference in quality – Firefox uses the built-in font rendering engine that comes with Windows, which is mediocre at best (“Clear type” is better than no anti-aliasing whatsoever, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s very good), whereas Safari appears to be using something completely different. I’m guessing Apple took one look at Microsoft’s implementation of font smoothing and though “we can’t let our programs look ugly on account of that substandard font rendering, let’s put in our own instead”. So they have. And it’s beautiful. Whether this is exactly the same engine as the one built into Mac OS X I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
I’ve not used Safari for PC long enough to be able to give an adequate critique of its general performance alongside the other major browsers, but I’m sure others have already done that so I won’t reinvent the wheel for the sake of it. But if any of you out there are hankering for a browser that is safe (unlike IE), fast (unlike Firefox), and drop-dead gorgeous (unlike Windows), give Safari a go – you just might be almost as impressed as I was!