Is it time to ditch Safari?

by Chris Howard Oct 05, 2005

Apple is very good at making streamlined simple-to-use-software. There are many Apple products that are among my favorites - iCal, Pages, Keynote, GarageBand to name a few. One notable exception is Safari. Apple - I’ve had enough of Safari, okay? I’m ditching it.

What’s wrong with Safari?
Truth is, I only have one complaint about Safari. Problem is, that one complaint I’m fed up with. It gives me too many spinning beachballs. When I’ve had many pages open, sometimes it has quite literally taken 5 minutes to switch to Safari. Yes, I have timed it. I’ve even made a cup of coffee - including boiling the kettle - while I’ve waited. Sometimes Safari will chug away in the background sucking 20% CPU for no apparent reason. I know beachballs might belong on a surfing safari, but there’s no place for them web surfing on Safari.

What are the options
I didn’t have my whole life to compare browsers and options, so have just selected the two major free alternatives - Firefox and Opera. Yes, if you haven’t heard, Opera is now free. The big four in browsers for OS X are Safari, Firefox, Opera and Omniweb and on Version Tracker have the following ratings (out of 5):
- Safari 4.0 (all time)
- Firefox 3.9 (all time)
- Opera 4.3 (current version as previous versions had lower rating due to not being free)
- Omniweb  3.95 (without price rating)

I am aware there are others (eg Camino, Shiira, iCab) but having reviewed the comments by users on Version Tracker, it appeared they had some key issues with rendering and speed. But keep your eye on them, because they do show a lot of promise.

Through experiencing not too dissimilar problems with my news aggregator, NetNewsWire, when having many pages open in it, I have concluded the performance problem is something to do with Apple’s WebKit which is what Safari and NetNewsWire use. So that also ruled Shiira out. With OmniWeb costing money and having also read the comments on Version Tracker about it, I wasn’t convinced it presented any compelling reason to pay money for a browser, so haven’t considered it either.

I had been using Firefox for sometime with one particular banking site that doesn’t like Safari, and also for analysing web pages using its Web Developer toolkit extension. Extensions not surprisingly (given Firefox being Open Source), are its greatest advantage.

On the down side with more intense usage I found it somewhat unstable, with two severe crashes, one which caused an exceptionally rare Windows style domino hang. That is, where one application hangs and even though you Force Quit it, others start to follow, including the Finder until the only option is a cold reset (hold the power button in until the computer turns off). At that point I ditched Firefox as a viable alternative.

Another big problem is it doesn’t import Safari bookmarks - I couldn’t even find an Extension to do that. This should be a mandatory feature as the biggest pain in switching browsers is re-creating bookmarks.

Opera has been around for many years and has developed a good reputation but was always let down by being adware (although you could pay for an ad-free version). Fortunately the folks who make Opera have finally relented and it is now available at no cost.

Some niceties of Opera quickly became apparent. Some I liked are being able to import Safari’s bookmarks; the Window menu shows all open pages in all browser windows (unlike Safari which just shows the current one in each open browser window); tabs can be re-ordered via drag and drop; and on starting, you can have Opera re-open all the pages you previously had open.

Opera’s ability to remember what pages you had open (which NetNewsWire also does) is an excellent feature. After the cold reset mentioned earlier, on restarting Opera, up came the 29 pages I had open. Very, very appreciated.

Things I didn’t like are it’s difficult to get news feeds to be added to a third party news aggregator; some key sequences are different to Safari such as Command-N to open a new tab rather than Safari’s Command-T (which Firefox also utilizes); and occasionally page loading stall near the end.

Opera has at times been using 4 to 10% CPU for no apparent reason but unlike Safari, this has not impacted system performance, and there’s been no beachballs. Considering this anomaly, the likely reason is that when Safari is problematic, it is doing considerable paging to the hard disk.

But the biggest problem I’ve encountered with Opera is sometimes it does not redraw the browser window when you are scrolling. Restarting it clears the problem but it does return in time. (Yet again I appreciated Opera remembering which pages I had open) Without this problem, Opera would have been my favorite browser by a wide margin.

Visually, Firefox and Opera are left in the dust by Safari’s clean and simple interface. But with some customization of the toolbars I was able to get Opera looking very much like Safari. The skin I used is Joergs_Safshiirad_mac

Being able to make Opera visually appealing also improved my enjoyment of using it.

To switch or not to switch?
It is interesting looking at those Version Tracker ratings again, as they fit with my experience too. Firefox and Safari are good but I’ve become enamored with Opera despite the window refresh problem - which interesting only began occurring today after I thought I had this review all wrapped up. Murphy’s Law!

So it comes down to a choice between beachballs and manual refreshes. I’m going to go with the manual refreshes.

Opera will be my primary browser from now on. As I do develop a few websites for myself I will continue to use Firefox for checking structures etc on other sites. Safari? It will be hard to let go. If it wasn’t for Safari’s beachballs, I wouldn’t even have considered switching. So I’ll keep it around and give each new version a spin.

Note to Apple
Besides the performance issue, features Safari could add to entice me back are:
- Remembering open pages on restart
- List all open pages on the Window menu
- Improved RSS viewing eg a three pane layout like NetNewsWire does
- An optional dialog box on downloads asking where to save
- Draggable tabs

As a Mac user, Safari should be the browser of choice, but for me, Opera now is.


  • Firefox 1.5beta allows dragging/dropping of tabs and can import bookmarks from Safari- it should come out of beta soon.

    DevanJedi had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 4
  • Hmm, as a webdeveloper I got back to Safari. On my Mac, a dual 1.8 G5 Safari flies. It opens pages plenty fast and recent updates have made it compatible with the few banking sites I need. I haven’t witnessed a single spinning beachball since the day I bought Tiger. I don’t care about Safari’s RSS capabilities. Got NetNewsWire and NewsFire for that.
    Draggable tabs and remembering open pages on restart would be nice but I can live without them for now. As for ‘List all open pages on the Window menu’: hit the keycombo for the Actitvity window and you get all open pages you’ll ever need…


    Ton008 had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 2
  • Speed issues with Camino? I would suggest checking out the latest 1.0 alpha release. It is an extremely quick, competent browser. I would treat the VersionTracker comments with a hefty dash of salt. Having said that, I had to use Safari to register and log in to this site, as the submit buttons do not work in Camino.

    That aside (and this is the first site on which I’ve encountered this problem), Camino is an excellent choice if you want the power of Gecko with a Mac-like look and feel (a far nicer Mac exprience than Firefox). IMO, by far the best looking browser available for OS X. Oh, and you can drag and drop tabs too.

    Drawing Business had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 4
  • I actually managed to get Safari to slow down the other day, I was checking out PS3 trailers and had about six to eight massive downloads running, each in its own Java-infested, IE optimized, over featured window. That got really slow. Otherwise, 2.0.1 is very nice & stable. Of course it could use less cpu while in the background, they all could. What I dig very much about Safari is the opening of unlimited bookmarks from folders into tabs. My regular sites are all in one folder available from the bookmark dropdown menu, and all I choose is “open in tabs”, boom, 21 tabs spinning. Can the other browsers do that?

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 371
  • I enjoy Safari except sometimes it seems a bit slow.  Though I’m not sure if this is Safari, an error on a page, or my Mac Mini which I’m sure is underpowered being a G4 (though I do have 1GB of RAM).  But, getting control over the address bar sometimes takes a second or two, and what drives me crazy more than anything are frames.  Let me explain:

    It seems some people out there are still using Frames for sites.  I’m am no HTML guru, but if there is an Ad frame starting at the top right, but all the pages content is frame 2 (centered), me pressing the Down arrow should scroll the content frame, being the only one I care about.  Yet some sites I have to click in dead area in the content frame or else I’m relegated to using the mouse to scroll. 

    Oh, the other thing that annoys me about Safari is the character insertion point.  In GMail when I start typing in someone’s email address, it gives me a popup of matched choices.  Usually I just hit a few letters and then press DOWN and Enter to select that one.  At work (with IE on Windows) it selects the name, and moves the cursor to the end of the address.  In Safari, it selects the name and puts the cursor where I stopped typing.  Bwah?  Now I have to manually go to the end of the name or else I am typing into the middle of an email address.

    Other than those couple of things, I really enjoy Safari though.  Nothing a few updates can’t fix, I hope.  There is something to be said about such a basic piece of software written by the same people that do your OS.  The integration just seems so much better.


    BergenDog had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 18
  • My regular sites are all in one folder available from the bookmark dropdown menu, and all I choose is “open in tabs”, boom, 21 tabs spinning. Can the other browsers do that?

    Yes, Camino and Firefox can.

    Drawing Business had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 4
  • oddly I was just about to ditch Safari the other day, I mean it was the spinning thing all the time. Then I manually emptied the icons folder and Safari sprang back to life
    Path for interested parties
    I’m sure there are utilities that do this as well..

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 354
  • Having said that, I had to use Safari to register and log in to this site, as the submit buttons do not work in Camino.

    Thankfully, quitting and relaunching Camino has cured the login problem. Working fine now.

    Drawing Business had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 4
  • Omniweb gets penalized for costing and for having a small user base, but Omni constantly makes the best interfaced Mac software out there. Check out OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle.

    I like Opera’s capabilities but find its interface clunky and ugly. Omniweb has a tray that shows tabs as snapshots. Contrary to some people’s quick assumption this doesn’t eat more browser space than the regular top tab-bar because most webpages are full page width. Also, in addition to remembering open pages on start Omniweb can also save several workspaces. It also has individual page preferences so you can have different zoom or language settings for particular pages.

    My only complaint with Omniweb is similar to Chris’s complaint about Safari- it tends to beach ball and crash a lot. It’s also a bit slow. Safari, on the other had is the most stable browser on my Powerbook 12”. and it’s fast. I think each Mac reacts differently to different software. One person commented that since Tiger the beachball has disappeared. For me, Tiger beachballs me much more than Panther did.

    terrandabo had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 7
  • While I’m at it: grab a copy of SafariStand - a great add-on that lets you do a couple of things: open a sidebar with previewable (and draggable) tabs (a bit like OmniWeb), the ability to switch tabs with your mousewheel in case you have one, the ability (again like OmniWeb) to save a series of opened tabs as a Workspace, the colorization of viewed sourcecode, automatically close the Downloads window and a bunch of other tricks.An essential utility if you ask me.

    Ton008 had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 2
  • Correction: most webpages are NOT full page width.

    terrandabo had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 7
  • The only time I ever had those kind of problems with Safari were when 1) the icon cache was corrupted (haven’t had this problem in a long time, though), or 2) when I was having an obscure keychain unlock issue and an app would hang until the keychain unlocked.

    I would recommend deleting the icons, as Chris Seibold said above.

    I am using OmniWeb now, but that’s because they finally got it’s Tiger quirks worked out. I was using Safari with Saft and Pith Helmet, which gave me some of the features I missed from OmniWeb.

    fitzage had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 1
  • Did you know that Opera 8.5 is now free?

    Go to for your free Opera.

    Enjoy the browser!  I love it!

    Best Regards,

    George Lien
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    George Lien had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 4
  • If you are having unique problems with an application stalling and performing poorly, maybe you should investigate to determine what the problem is before you write an entire article about why Safari is flawed because your installation is stalling?

    Have you logged in as a different, clean user, to see if there is some problem with your user? Bad preferences, bad user cache, or a bad Safari cache could all cause problems that Apple can’t fix for you by updating their Application. You can experience the same problems using Firefox, Opera or OmniWeb.

    It’s great to look at alternatives, but it’s stupid to complain about unique problems you’re having, and jump to the conclusion that suddenly Safari “doesn’t work.”

    Daniel Dilger had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 4
  • It gives me too many spinning beachballs.

    Yep yep yep! I am a memory hog, too, lots of open windows/tabs, and I frequently find that Safari bogs waaaaay down. Sometimes I suspect that it’s trying to keep up with all the activity on all open pages (animated gifs and such), even if the page is not currently visible. Just a guess.

    In any case, yes, perhaps there are a number of fixes, cleaning out caches and such, but really, these ought to be done behind the scenes, the user shouldn’t have to do a bunch of housekeeping all the time to keep Safari running well.

    I like these ideas, too:

    Remembering open pages on restart
    Draggable tabs
    List all open pages on the Window menu

    maybe list them in a hierarchy, like:
    .  Tab1
    .  Tab2
    .  Tab3
    .  Tab1
    .  Tab2

    daver had this to say on Oct 05, 2005 Posts: 13
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