Apple Safari 4 beta raises the bar for speed, compliance
While Safari is officially the world's #3 Web browser, according to the latest data from analytics and research firm NetApplications, that's mainly because of two reasons: It's the Web browser for the iPhone, and it's the principal browser for the Mac. Its Windows user base is relatively negligible. But that might change if Apple were suddenly to emerge with a value proposition that distinguishes it from the rest of the pack, even from Firefox. If the code of Safari Beta 4 stays stable through its testing period, Apple may very well have one.
A virtual machine is a handicap in itself for benchmarking purposes, but what's important is that its an equivalent handicap for each of the contenders. So what matters is the relative speed of the browsers with respect to one another; the proportion of how much faster one is than the other will probably hold reasonably true in any production environment. The host system in our test uses a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 with 3 GB of DRAM.
Finally, in the all-important Acid3 test, yes, Safari 4 turned in a perfect 100% score. This compared to an 85% for Opera, 79% for Chrome, 71% for Firefox, and an appreciably pitiful 12% for IE7.
There is a clear-cut reason -- at least one in the works -- for Windows users to have a browser made by Apple. But as with other Apple software (QuickTime and iTunes), regardless of whether the user chooses not to have Apple's automatic updater during the setup routine, once again, it gets installed anyway.
Apple Software Update showed up in our list of uninstallable programs, even though we explicitly requested it be omitted. Just as an experiment, we wanted to see whether Apple's setup routine would recognize Software Update was already present during a separate Safari installation process -- in other words, would it still give you the option to not have automatic updating, even if you didn't request it in the first place, if it's already installed. Indeed, Apple's setup program omits the option to disinclude Apple Software Update if it's installed -- that's not to say it "greys" the option, it leaves it off. So Apple clearly knows what it's doing, and why.
It would be easier to trust Apple to do a better job with its Web browser if it would have its software do what we lowly Windows users ask it to do.
Despite that, Apple's early victory could bode well for the company at a very opportune time: If the European Commission proceeds as it has threatened to do, Microsoft could be compelled, at least insofar as Europe is concerned, to offer Windows 7 customers the opportunity to install each of the major alternative browsers instead of Internet Explorer 8. If that's the case, Microsoft may find itself at least linking to, if not directly including, a major piece of Apple software with its operating system. And that means Apple Software Update could be installed by those who choose Safari...and that means they could wake up one day, as many already have, and find something new and unexpected called MobileMe.