Safari: It’s not just a browser

by Hadley Stern Jan 07, 2003

imageAs predicted by many Apple has released its own web browser, Safari. Following in the footsteps of iTunes (anyone still use soundjam, audion, or musicmatch?), iMovie, and the rest of the iApps you can now throw away Internet Explorer, Opera, Omniweb, and Chimera. I was about to write an article about how I had finally switched to Chimera but then Safari showed up.

Like many surfers out there I started out with good old Netscape Navigator. I think it was version 2.0. I followed Netscape through version 3 and 4. Version 4 was great, it was fast and relatively stable. But then this thing called dynamic html appeared along with the notion of web standards. XHTML is the newest W3C recommendation for web development. The idea is to separate, as much as possible, content from design. Netscape 4 is so bad at rendering DHTML, CSS, and XHTML that it was no longer usable accept for legacy table-based sites.

With Netscape 4 out of the picture on the Mac Internet Explorer became the browser of choice—indeed Apple encouraged its use. Microsoft issues aside IE 5 was and is a wonderful browser that more than made up for the pitfalls of IE 4.5. When it came out it rendered more quickly than any other browser out there and was relatively standards compliant. It was also customizable in some nice, user-friendly ways. Today Internet Explorer is still an excellent browser, and Chimera is just as good if not better.

So why on earth would Apple release a web browser? I suspect its not because it is faster than any out there, or because it uses Apples great ability for UI design. It is because of the potential for information integration. Our OS X Macs, with their XML-based preferences files, are becoming, whether we like it or not, more and more unified. Gradually information between the iApps is being shared. Address books can show up in our web browser, audio clips can show up in our iPhoto slideshows. We can click iChat from our address book. Slowly, but surely, Apple is working towards an integrated information-based operating system. If you buy into it (and as we discovered with the .Mac program you literally have to buy into it) it is a fantastic proposition. Who wouldn’t want their applications to be more integrated? For address books to read the history file created by my web browser?

However, from a privacy standpoint there are many concerns. As Apple potentially gains access to all of our preference files suddenly they know which sites I visit, who I know, what music I listen too, whom I chat with, etc. Now I am far from a paranoid conspiracy theorist but it is interesting to note the irony, in these days of Microsoft lawsuits, (whose main issue is the bundling, albeit much tighter than Apple, of the Internet Explorer browser with Windows) that Apple is, before our eyes, taking over the software on our machine. Watson? Just create Sherlock 2 and its gone. IE? Gone. And so on and so on. This integration of information will no doubt be extremely useful; I like the fact that my address book at work and at home can sync up. And Im sure eventually my bookmarks will be shared too. In addition to privacy issues it can lead to a stagnation in software choices. Right now if I dont like iCal (which, compared to Palms application looks very much like a beta) I have a plethora of choices. But if iCal, in the future, is integrated with the rest of my workflow what am I to do? If, three years from now all of your information is stored in iApps and Apple decides to charge a $200 upgrade fee what will you do?

Safari is not, then, just another Mac browser. It, along with the iApps, can either liberate us from our current inability to share information between applications, or tie us down to a propriety information system. Apple would be wise to tread cautiously, and remember OS Xs open source roots. Like they have done with Sherlock Apple should make sure that the Software Development Kit (SDK) is open to developers so that the greater Mac community can innovate along with Apple, not in spite of it.


  • This may be of interest:

    OmniWeb to use Safari engine.

    Steve M

    SteveM had this to say on Jan 08, 2003 Posts: 5
  • Thanks for the reminder; it’s important to remember that anyone, and any company, can be seduced by the power of information, and convince themselves that the ability to collect it gives them the right to do so.

    More relevant to Apple’s history, however, is the likelihood that they’ll get bored with their own technology and abandon it. It’s what they’ve done with everything they’ve made except the Macintosh itself. Anyone here use a Newton? HyperCard? eWorld? Did you know that AOL was a joint Apple/Steve Case venture, and Apple backed out pre-launch? (That’s why eWorld software worked so identically to AOL; it was the same engine, Apple had the rights).

    So more relevant than “will Apple charge a $200 upgrade 3 years from now” might be “will you be retyping all your data 3 years from now”? Apple has walked away from better technology that most companies ever invented. Microsoft, by contrast, went through Windows 1, 2, and 3 over several years before having a selling product with 3.1 ... something to be said for perseverence, no?

    Tony Vazquez had this to say on Apr 07, 2003 Posts: 4
  • Apple is doing now, for better or for worse, what Microsoft has been doing for a long time.

    They’re making all the software that you’re going to need constant access to themselves.

    It pretty much started with QuickTime and iTunes (and to a tiny extent, AppleWorks). Then OS X came out and the iLife package evolved. On top of that, there is iSync, Mail and Address Book.

    But, just to sweeten the deal, there is Safari.

    But that does bring the fearful thought of upgrade charges and stagnated app development. I think we just have to hope that Apple is better than that and makes an effort to keep their software up to date and full of important features.

    One thing I dislike with most Apple-made apps is the lack of customization. From the OS right down to every iApplication or other OS X power-tool, I seem to lack the option for things I want to change! Oh, yay, I can adjust toolbar items and I can resize the window. Thanks. OS 9 had the Appearance control pannel with its themes and that was a really nice feature. Now all we get is Aqua, Graphite and a Desktop picture. Oh, I forgot - A couple of options for what shows up in the menu bar.

    I don’t look at the interaction of Mac apps as a privacy issue. I see it as convenience.

    But any good person should be a skeptic to some extent and should therefor know that convenience always has a cost. We’re just not paying it yet. (Yes, you can argue in the .Mac thing, but I’m not using it and I know no one that is, and we all get by.)

    Waa had this to say on Jul 30, 2003 Posts: 110
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