We live in a wonderful world for browsers. Despite the lack of a price tag, Mac browsers are plentiful and just seem to get better with age. Apple claims Safari is the fastest browser. Mozilla claims a gazillion Firefox downloads, Mac and Windows. For Mac users, which is better, Firefox or Safari. I use both.
Without much fanfare, and many years after the first and subsequent Netscape Navigator deaths, browsers are hot again, more useful than ever, more feature-laden, more indispensable than ever.
For Mac users, the default browser, and easily the most popular in use, is Safari. It’s fast, relatively stable, and not prone to featuritis, a disease that afflicts so many utilities these days.
On the other hand, Firefox has matured, still has those wonderful extensions, and the latest version, Firefox 3, which I use regularly is both fast and attractive. Well, if not attractive, at least less Windows looking.
Safari vs. Firefox
Apple’s popular browser gets my nod for day-to-day web page browsing. It’s typical Apple. No clutter, just enough preferences to do the job, not so many that you’d suspect the designer once worked for Microsoft.
Safari’s progress indicator is inside the location field with the URL of the web page you’re loading at the time. That’s a perfect location for those all important visual cues I write about.
Supposedly, subjectively, and depending on who and what you read, Safari is the fastest browser, Mac or Windows. I don’t think it matters because there isn’t much real world difference between Firefox and Safari that I can tell, especially after trying the latest WebKit and Firefox beta versions.
Mac OS X Leopard does a nice job segregating window behavior. The frontmost window is darker, other windows in the background are lighter, another nice visual cue. Firefox doesn’t follow that convention and all windows are the same color in Leopard.
Safari uses the Mac’s system-wide dictionary which Firefox does not, so the experience of selecting text, entering text, and checking spelling is different between the two applications.
Though I only use a couple of Mac OS X Services, Firefox doesn’t support them, and Safari does.
Tabs? Did I fail to mention tabs? Both Safari 3.1 and Firefox 3 beta have improved tabbing conventions, but Safari is better. Both let you move tabs around, but only Safari lets you pull a tab off a page and create a whole new page.
Both Safari and Firefox manage Bookmarks differently and keep History differently. Arguably, Safari’s bookmarks are easier to manage, though Firefox extensions are available to add other features.
Safari’s History is simply easier to use. The most recently viewed URLs, 20 if my count is accurate, are right there. Not too many, not too few. Then each day has its own submenu going back a week.
Firefox users have to open the History menu to see where they went and when.
There are other comparisons which are less important for me, including inline PDF viewing, which Safari handles well and Firefox does not. There’s also AppleScript support for Safari and not for Firefox.
One Firefox feature that I wish Safari had is the auto-restoration of a session of windows and tabs. It’s automatic in Firefox, but manual in Safari via a menu selection.
So, why do I use both? Because both are very good browsers that do different things well. Safari is sleek and elegant and gets out of the way; a true Mac-like utility. Firefox has those wonderful extensions via an official API that Mozilla publishes to encourage developers to create add-on tools.
If I’m doing web work on PixoBebo I’m likely to be using Firefox because of the web site tools. If I’m just browsing around, I’m likely to be using Safari. That tells me that competition is a good thing. Both browser development teams are sharpening themselves against one another.
That brings up another question? How many good browsers can Mac users support? Safari has a default, built-in user base. Firefox, too, though smaller on the Mac side. What of OmniWeb, iCab, Opera, Flock and others?
Finally, what is Apple’s plan for Safari on Windows? What’s the value of supporting another version of Safari on a competing platform? I don’t have answers, but I’m thinking about it.