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Safari 5: Great Performance, but Extensions Could Have "Walled Garden" Syndrome

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After a quiet release yesterday afternoon (PST) at the WWDC, Safari 5 is being tested against other browsers for speed, security, and HTML5/CSS3 features.  The main new features include a new 'reader mode,' which lets you pop up an article in a more reader-friendly window, and support for extensions (finally!).

Speed-wise, Safari 5.0 is on par with Chrome 6 in Ajaxian's SunSpider tests.  As you may know, both Chrome and Safari run on Apple's open source WebKit engine, but the JavaScript engines (V8 for Chrome, Nitro for Safari) are completely different, and so are a lot of other features.  According to the BrowserScope tests, Safari 5 and Chrome 6 were in a dead heat on topics such as Rich Text, Selectors API, Network, and Acid3. Chrome 6 did slightly better in security tests.

Extensions are an interesting new feature, since Firefox has been doing it for years, and Chrome has had them for much of its life so far.  This is an area where we could start seeing the "walled garden" philosophy of the App Store taking hold.  Safari extensions will be signed, and the certificate to sign an extension is only available through the Safari Developer Program.  This means that extensions will probably have to be approved by Apple, and they may not be able to do anything with the file system.  Extensions will be sandboxed like they are in other browsers.

HTML5 is becoming a misused buzzword thanks to Apple's ongoing PR war with Flash (Adobe), but at least the Safari 5 announcement didn't mistake CSS3, SVG, or JavaScript for HTML5 specs.  Fullscreen playback and closed captions for HTML5 video will be supported in Safari 5.  Geolocation, sectioning elements, draggable attribute, forms validation, HTML5 Ruby, Ajax History, EventSource, and WebSocket are also newly supported.

Safari's Reader feature has technology from the "Readability" project of Arc90 Labs.  It is enabled by an icon in the address bar that can take certain compatible articles and put them in a more readable format (without ads and other busy page attributes) that pops up in its own window.  The feature has been included in the Instapaper program and in the form of Readability bookmarklets.  The code is available under the Apache 2 licence so users of other browsers who want to make use of the Reader can create their own bookmarklet, with their own custom reformatted page style, font size, and margins.

Here are the other important new features in Safari 5:

  • Hardware acceleration on Windows
  • Bing can be your default search engine
  • URL auto-complete is faster

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