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Need to Know: Safari 4

Apple has taken Safari 4 out of beta, but what new features and improvements does it bring to the table?

Safari logo

At its Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, Apple released version 4 of its Safari browser. Apple has claimed that it has added 150 new features it total, but we're just going to take a look at the major ones that Apple hopes might make you want to switch from your current browser.

What is Safari?

Safari is Apple's own web browser, the equivalent to Microsoft Internet Explorer 8, Mozilla Firefox 3, Google Chrome 2. It's pre-installed on all Macs, but it's also available for Windows.

Apple released the beta (early test version) of Safari 4 back in February and the full version is now available for Mac OS Leopard and Tiger the previous version of Mac OS X, and for Windows. It's also the browser used on the iPhone and indeed iPod touch.

Safari 4 will also now adopt the look and feel of the operating system it's installed on, so you get Aero Glass effects on Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Built for Speed

At its WWDC09 keynote Apple claimed Safari 4 was the "fastest browser on any platform", and this is down to its Nitro rendering engine, which runs JavaScript - the technology that powers many websites - up to three times faster than Safari 3. Apple also claims that Safari 4 runs JavaScript four times faster than Internet Explorer 8 and almost four times faster than Firefox 3. Also, Apple claims that the WebKit technology that Safari is based on runs straight HTML rendering up to three times faster than its competitors.

Apple is also very proud that Safari 4 gets a full 100/100 on the Acid 3 test, which checks to see how well a browser conforms for CSS, JavaScript, XML and SVG standards, which is important for web developers.

Also aimed at devs are a set of development tools built right in. These just need to be turned on in preferences and enable devs to examine and debug JavaScript on page, test databases and test code on the fly.

Safari support HTML 5, the latest version of the browser coding language that helps with creating browsers based apps that work when offline, and CSS 3, for the latest browser animations and effects.

Go with the flow

For end users, Apple has introduced some new features since the beta - such as a Top Sites button. This provides access to a visual preview panel of your most frequently visited sites. This shows 12 thumbnails of sites presented in a rather cool curved wall.

Also added is a search tool that let's you actually see a large image of your previously visited pages, which you can scroll through using Apple's cover flow interface, as first introducing on the iPhone and now present in Mac OS X and now Safari.

Safari even stores all the text of the pages you search, so if you can't recall the name of the site but can recall the content, you can search on a particular word.

Keep it safe

Security is addressed with anti-phishing and malware detectors built-into the browser, with alerts for suspicious pages- something that could help keep the corporate network free of troublesome nasties.

Like Google Chrome, Safari also support a Private browsing' mode, which prevents cookies from tracking any of the sites that you visit.

Time savers

Other notable features are the Smart Search Field' that present a list of search suggestions as you type your search, using Google Suggest, and Smart Address Field, that helps complete your addresses as you type in the address bar.

All in all, Safari's mixture of speed and features means that it at least deserves a place at the browser table and certainly might appeal to Mac users who also use PCs.

Safari 4 is now available for downloaded from the Apple web site.

Want more background on the latest IT topics? Click here for all the tech cheatsheets in our Need to Know series.

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