Once exclusive to the Mac OS X platform, the Safari Web browser is an attractive choice for Windows users because it provides the speed you want without a lot of clutter. The latest version, Safari 3.1, may not have the buzz of Google Chrome or the rich feature set of Opera 9.6, but it's a very capable and stable browser that does its job well.
Safari 3.1 sports a simple, clean interface with a soft brushed-metal look. It's not as spare as Google's remarkably stripped-downChrome browser, but it looks less cluttered thanFirefox 3,Internet Explorer 8, orOpera 9.6. This is achieved through a browser frame that's only one pixel wide, and by hiding the status bar by default (you can reveal it by clicking Show Status Bar under the View heading). If the status bar is hidden, a blue progress bar fills the background of the address bar as a page loads; it's a very nice use of the available real estate.
Convenient Navigation Features
Safari 3.1 features the standard address bar and search engine combo, but mixes it up with SnapBack, a feature designed to get you back to your original destination quickly by automatically creating anchor points. For example, after reading CNN.com for a few minutes, we had dug deep into the site when we remembered that there was a video on the main page we wanted to check out. We clicked the orange SnapBack button and returned to the site's homepage. Lest you think that it simply duplicates a site's Home button, SnapBack rather returns you to the first page you visited on any given site. You can also manually set an anchor by going into the History menu and select "Mark Page for SnapBack."
We're fans of Safari's Merge Window feature. If you have a number of separate windows open, you can consolidate them into one window by clicking Window > Merge All Windows; individual windows are converted to tabs. Similar to Opera 9.6, there is also an autofill feature that fills out web forms (Safari pulls information from Mac OS X' and Windows' address books).
Safari 3.1 also uses Apple's Bonjour technology that allows users to access sites and items on the local network (such as printers). However, add-ons are few in number; your choices are limited to Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader, Java, QuickTime, Real Player, and Windows Media Player. Of course, Safari 3.1 has the amenities that you'd come to expect in a modern browser: Tabs, RSS feeds, and an easy-to-use bookmark manager.
To test Safari 3.1's speed, we loaded ten sites (CNN.com, eBay.com, Foxnews.com, Hulu.com, Laptopmag.com, NYTimes.com, Wikipedia.com, Yahoo.com, YouTube.com) in the browser three times over the course of two days and timed how long it took for each page to load. When compared against Chrome (6.1 seconds), Firefox 3 (4.8 seconds), Internet Explorer 8 (5.4 seconds), and Opera 9.62 (5.2 seconds), Safari 3.1 proved to be the fastest browser with an average load time of 4.6 seconds.
Security and Stability
Similar to Google Chrome's Incognito or Internet Explorer 8's InPrivate Browsing, Safari 3 has a private browsing mode (activated by clicking Private Browsing under the Edit heading). While in this mode, Safari won't store your browsing history, cookies, or Google search queries, so you can surf without leaving any footprints. Similar to competing browsers, Safari 3.1 uses Web site verification to show you a site's credentials and help safeguard against phishing attacks. Unlike the others, unfortunately, you aren't shown a symbol or icon in the address bar; a small padlock appears in the upper right corner of the browser that is very easy to overlook.
Safari 3.1 Verdict
If you're looking for a Web browser that does the basics, but tosses in a few snappy extras (Bonjour support, Merge Windows, and SnapBack), Safari 3.1 is a compelling choice. Plug-in hounds will no doubt stick with the highly customizable Firefox 3 or Opera 9.6, but if you can do without the extra features, Safari 3 is worth the download for its speed alone.