Safari for Windows Review: A Webmaster's Perspective

A review of Apple's Safari for Windows from a Web Developer's Point of View

Safari for Windows Review: A Webmaster's Perspective

by Christopher Heng,
Date reviewed: 16 June 2007

When Apple released the beta of Safari for Windows, it was greeted with derision in some quarters. Computer savvy people compared it to top-of-the-line Windows browsers like Firefox and Opera and found it lacking in many of the features and conveniences that they have become accustomed to. Some reviewers grumbled that it tended to be more Mac-like in its interface than Windows-like. So far, however, all the reviews that I have come across deal with Safari for Windows from an end-user's point of view. A webmaster or web designer, looking at the port of this Mac browser to Windows, has a different angle on things. This review provides one webmaster's perspective on Apple's new Windows browser, and why I think the browser is a useful tool for many Windows-based webmasters.

The Web Rendering Engine of Safari for Windows: Testing Your Site under Safari without Buying a Mac

As I mentioned in my article How to Check Your Website with Multiple Browsers on a Single Machine (Cross-Browser Compatibility Checking), at the time this was written, it was not possible to test your website to make sure it works on a modern Mac using an emulator or a virtual machine on the PC. As such, the most reliable way to test whether your site displays correctly under the Macintosh is to actually test it in a real Mac. However, far from making webmasters across the world rush out to buy a Mac, this fact merely means that most websites do not get tested on a Mac.

With the release of Safari for Windows, it is now possible to at least get an idea how the Mac version of Safari will render your site. I am assuming here that both the Mac and Windows versions of Safari use basically the same rendering engine. I doubt I'm too far wrong in this; Apple is unlikely to have rewritten their engine just for their Windows version particularly when they are giving the browser away for free. As such, if your site looks horribly mangled in Safari for Windows, you can probably safely assume it will look the same in the Mac version. Of course, if your site looks fine in Safari for Windows, there is no guarantee that it will look fine in the Mac since the implementation of the browsers may differ in some small but crucial details. Indeed, if you code your site using a font that is only available in Windows and not the Mac, the appearance of your site will definitely differ on the Mac since Safari for Mac would have to use a substitute font.

The Font Rendering Technology of Safari for Windows

Much has been said about the difference between the way Apple (and thus Safari) and Microsoft (and hence all the Windows browsers) renders fonts. Apple renders fonts to make them appear similar to how it appears on a printed medium. That is, if you look at a font as rendered on the screen using Safari (whether for Windows or Mac), you have a more accurate idea of how your page will appear on paper than if you look at a font as rendered on a screen using Microsoft's ClearType technology. Microsoft's rendering engine is designed to make the fonts appear sharper on the screen, and the same text on the screen will not look identical to its appearance on paper. To a Windows user, the fonts in Safari for Windows look somewhat blurred, due to the attempt to render the font accurately on a screen. To a Mac user, the fonts in Windows look somewhat uneven, thin in places it should not with lines displaced in position in some areas.

This difference in font rendering technologies has resulted in considerable discussion in some online communities, with some very aggravated users calling for Apple to change Safari for Windows so that it uses the built-in Windows' font rendering method instead.

From my point of view as a web designer, this could not be further away from what I want. As a web designer, I want Safari for Windows to emulate its Mac sibling as closely as possible. This includes using the font rendering technology of the Mac on its Windows counterpart. Whether Apple's method of displaying fonts is superior or Microsoft's is superior is really moot to me. Why would I want Safari for Windows to use Windows' font rendering technology? I can easily check my website in one of the many Windows browsers for that. What I want is a method for me to see how my site (with its warts and all) appears on a Mac. A Safari that tries to work like the other Windows browsers is useless for my purposes.

The User Interface of Safari for Windows

There has been some comment on the user interface for Safari in the online communities as well, with a number of people remarking that the interface tries to mimic the Mac with very little consideration given to adapting for a Windows audience.

However, from the webmaster's perspective, this area probably doesn't matter very much. After all, chances are that most webmasters will only install Safari for Windows as a means to test their website while continuing to use their favourite browser, whatever that may be. The finer points of the user interface in such a case, is not important, since they will only occasionally fire up the browser. In fact, many people suspect that Apple released Safari for Windows for precisely such a purpose: to provide developers a means (and motivation) to develop web applications for their IPhone product, and as a side benefit, make their web applications work in Safari for Mac as well. If this is the case, the release of Safari for Windows benefits both parties — Apple and web developers. Apple gets more developers to support their platform, and web developers finally have a way to support the Apple products with very little additional effort and cost.

Safari for Windows is a Boon for Web Developers

As long as Apple continues to try to make Safari for Windows operate like its Mac counterpart, Safari for Windows will prove to be extremely useful to Windows web developers who don't own a Macintosh. From the webmasters' point of view, it provides an easily accessible and convenient way to test your website and web applications.

Copyright 2007-2014 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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