Safari comes in from the cold

First up let me say that the more competition in a given market, the better I think that market will be for the consumer (this isn’t particularly controversial) – this is especially true, in my humble opinion, in a market which can’t be infected with a toxic race to the bottom mentality, but instead where the competition is on quality, not on price. One example of this is the web browser market, if the product is free, you will simply choose the one that’s best for you. (Though if you’re like most people, you’ll just use whatever you have and probably won’t even be aware of any of the drawbacks, vulnerabilities, or limitations. That’s just what you get for being lazy and uninformed.)

By far (more than all other browsers combined) the dominant web browser is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), it does everything you expect a modern web browser to do, but let’s be honest, it just isn’t super great if you look any deeper than this. It has this dominance exclusively because of the lazy uninformed majority already mentioned – IE comes preinstalled on the super-dominant market leading operating system – Microsoft Windows.

But its dominance isn’t as overwhelming as you might think – if it followed Windows’ dominance, it would be somewhere up over 90%. But to the contrary, Firefox, a free and open source browser which doesn’t come preinstalled – that instead users have to find download and install, has something over 30% of the market.

Why do you think this is? It’s very simple, Firefox is very good. It thrives on word of mouth. People find it, use it, discover how great it is, and the scales fall from their eyes – they never use IE again (excepting the ocassional badly built bank website) – and they get their friends to use Firefox as well.

Firefox is well built – and has a very large developer community that drives innovation like mad.

But look over there on the browser popularity chart, waaay down there, over on the right you’ll see another little browser, down there past Opera, down down down, and there you’ll find Apple’s Safari, with – again depending on who you believe – around 1.5% of the market. Safari is Apple’s version of Internet Explorer – they include it with their OS, so Apple users are very likely to use it instead of any of the alternatives. Microsoft do actually provide a version of IE for Apple’s operating system ‘OSX’, but to be honest it’s just not very good, it’s several versions behind the Windows release, and isn’t actively developed.

So there is very little motivation to move from Safari if you’re an Apple user. But, you can get Firefox for Apple – and Firefox really makes Safari look very poor. Indeed, on my Mac I use Firefox for general browsing, and only fire up Safari if I need to test compatibility of something in active development.

The point of all this jibber-jabber, is that Steve “Reality Distortion Field” Jobs, Apple Co-Founder and CEO has announced that Apple have created a version of Safari for Windows.

Now here’s the thing about Apple, they have great industrial design, fair (though perhaps over rated) user interface design, and completely fabulous application integration. (Apple software works really well with other Apple software. They do a better job at this than just about anyone else.)

Whatever they do well, though, Apple does not write good Windows software. Just look at iTunes & Quicktime. Completely unsympathetic interface design – they don’t look or work much like any other Windows applications. Horrible colour scheme (that brushed metal look is so dated). And very slow update cycle. (This slow update cycle is the same reason that, believe it or not, Microsoft is considered to be more responsive to security vulnerabilities than Apple. Though you could argue that they have to be.)

Any other complaints aside, more competition with Microsoft is a good thing.

Apple will have to provide a pretty compelling product to drag me away from Firefox – I certainly don’t trust them at face value when they claim that Safari is faster than any other browser. You see, Apple made pretty similar claims about the speed of their computer systems – I’m sure you remember when they used to say that Intel processors (as included in many Windows computers) were much slower than Apple’s chosen processor. Only to switch to using Intel processors because they’re… so… much… faster. (Can’t have it both ways guys.)

Never mind that the claimed speed improvements are measured in milliseconds – there are finite steps involved in loading a webpage, and browser rendering efficiency can play only a very small part in that outside of a lab. (And perhaps it’s only faster because it provides less in the way of actual features, but I can’t make that claim with any great authority. Yet.)

All argument either way aside, just like the choice between Apple & Windows in general, the reason you choose a particular browser is down to personal preference – so the best thing to do is try some and see if you like them. If you’re interested in trying out Safari, you can get it from the Apple website. Whatever else I might have said, I do encourage you to have a look.

But I would encourage you more strongly to Download Firefox instead. In my humble opinion, it’s the best browser out there right now, bar none.

(If Safari does, against all the odds, do something better than Firefox, those features will be “embraced and extended” so this really can only be good for Firefox.)