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The benighted PC manikin played by Dave Mitchell in Apple's recent ads must be thinking Robert Webb’s Mac is having yet another coy giggle. Having bubbled on about how much better the software is that's supplied with a Mac, Apple has decided to offer some of it on the platform of its market-leading rival; it has released the Safari Internet browser for Windows.
After the success of iTunes for Windows, there’s clear logic in offering Safari for the OS too. However, there's a pressing reason for a Windows Media Player user to run iTunes, that reason being the iPod. There’s no similarly compelling reason for an Internet Explorer user to switch to an alternative browser. We have Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2, with Opera and Netscape in the wings, so what's so hot about Safari?
Safari is the most popular browser on the Mac, but this is hardly surprising, as it’s bundled with every new machine in the same way Internet Explorer is bundled with Windows. Safari for Windows is claimed to be much faster than other Windows-based browsers and to offer significant new features. It's available free, in its first public beta, from the Apple site and Apple claims over one million copies have been downloaded in its first 48 hours.
It installs simply enough and you have the choice of installing QuickTime as well as the browser. The main screen is deceptively simple, with a menu bar, address bar and set of tabs along the top. Tabs work as they do in the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox, but can also be reordered by dragging and dropping. You can also pull any open tab off the tab bar and it opens as an extra instance of Safari. It's a shame, though, that the tabs you create are not remembered between sessions, as they are in Firefox 2.
There's no bookmark palette down the left-hand side of the screen, but instead a bookmark bar can be turned on, running horizontally across the top of the page pane. This isn't a bad way to do things, but it does restrict the number of first level groupings for your bookmarks. You can import existing bookmarks automatically and a complete bookmarks screen can be opened, though this annoyingly is built into a Safari tab.
Despite Apple's reputation for excellent design, the main screen of Safari is far from ideal. The main problem is the colour scheme and font choice. Embossed black characters set on titanium grey menus and tabs in an unfamiliar font (for Windows users) aren't easy to read. The small text in the status bar at the bottom of the screen is particularly poor.