Do You Hear That Sound?

That’s the agonized scream of half a million web designers around the globe. Why? Because Apple just added another browser plus operating system combination to their test suite.

I’ll let the trouser-rubbing Apple cultists distill the rest of the keynote news, but I read about this on Digg and needed to get my underwhelmed two cents in.

Like iTunes and Quicktime, this is clearly another probing attack into vast Windows frontier. As more and more applications move from the desktop to the Web, the browser becomes the operating system, the ‘last mile’ where users spend more and more of their time.

So, Apple’s move makes sense for the company, but it’s going to be a pain in the ass for everybody building applications for the web. Assuming Safari gets a toe hold on Windows machines, isn’t this going to cost the industry literally thousands of extra hours of compatability testing? Hopefully people won’t switch browsers, they’ll switch operating systems.

Apple’s messaging on the Safari beta page is telling. There’s no killer app here, no “better by a factor of ten” differentiator. It’s just another browser, with bar graphs claiming somewhat better performance. The message: “we’ve got the same features as the browsers you know, and we’re slightly faster”. This move feels about two years too late.


  1. Honestly, any decent web developer is probably already testing on Safari, at least in my experience. You are right that there are a lot of non-decent web developers out there who don’t, though. But they’re probably not even addressing Firefox.

    While Safari is not perfect in adhering to web standards (especially with Javascript), I expect version 3 is better than before, and that most websites or apps built for Firefox will probably work fine in Safari on Mac or Windows regardless. The outlier is always (and has always been) Internet Explorer. If you’re building for the web, the best idea is to create for Firefox and then make the inevitable tweaks and hacks for IE.

    So, for most web developers who are on the ball, things should Just Work. For those who don’t, they just got another reason why they’re not doing their work properly.

    I just hope that sites don’t look radically different on Windows and Mac versions of Safari!

  2. It’s all in that last sentence, isn’t it? I don’t think we should assume with any certainty that Safari on Mac = Safari on Windows.

    And even if it does Just Work 95% of the time, you unfortunately still have to test every time.

  3. I don’t think they’ll look radically different, they use the same rendering engine. I think it’s great as it’s simple for developers to test their designs quickly and have some level of confidence that their Javascript and CSS are OK. Of course they’ll still have to test on OS X but they have to do that with Camino and Firefox anyway.

  4. I guess I could put it another way: for those developers (especially individuals and smaller shops) who haven’t had Macs so far, they now have an easy way to test in Safari. I suspect the number of those people is pretty large.

    The process also reflects the reality of the way the Web is moving (and the way it ideally should have been all along): because you can’t rely on the user’s client software, whether Netscape, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, iCab, Maxthon, some wacky mobile browser, Lynx, or whatever, if you code to standards you can cast the widest net.

    Even today, as someone who uses Safari on Mac pretty much exclusively, it’s rare that I encounter a site that doesn’t work. Plus it help keeps the fire under the Windows IE team, which from the huge span between IE6 and IE7 they obviously need.

    Of course I’m also a huge Apple fanboy since 1982, so I can’t help but see this as a good thing.

  5. There’s a bigger game at work here. Being able to fast-switch between Windows and Mac OS on a Mac takes away a lot of the pain of cross-os testing, and Apple’s done a good job of providing entry-level support for that scenario with integrated boot camp. If you get Parallels going and run Windows apps alongside Mac apps, testing Safari for Windows becomes fairly trivial, as you don’t even have to switch users.

    The bigger game, though, isn’t just Windows inside Mac; it’s about bringing Mac inside Windows like they did with iTunes and the iPod. It makes Safari a platform that works on Mac, Windows and the iPhone. That’s a lot of potential users, and it removes yet another barrier to Windows users adopting the iPhone. The halo effect is going to get even bigger.

    And yes, I’m a Mac fan, but I’m not a trouser rubber.

  6. I guess time will tell, but as a software developer myself, I have a hard time believing that most of the code base isn’t common, so I would suspect most problems (or lack of problems) with Safari on Mac to manifest themselves on Safari on Windows. I agree, that’s not a for sure though, but time will tell.

  7. Derek: Indeed, I’ve only recently found one site that doesn’t work in Safari, but it’s an irksome one. I’ve recently moved to a two-browser system, where my two Gmail accounts sit open in Safari, and everything else lives in Firefox. Unfortunately, Google Calendar doesn’t support Safari, so I can’t run that where I’d like. Other than that, it’s a fine old browser.

    Brian: To be honest, the browser wars are insanely overblown. Here’s the truth: for the average web user, it doesn’t matter very much. For geeks, it matters some, but not as much as we make out, I think. Safari’s fine, just like Firefox and IE. I won’t switch from Firefox because of the extensive, uh, extension support from the community. That’s very handy.

  8. You are not going to have to worry. Safari is a very friendly browser. Far better than IE. If your site works on IE, it’s going to work on Safari. As much as I love Safari and Apple, I still think Firefox is the best browser out there today.

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