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Tuesday, February 24, 2009, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

Apple releases public beta of Safari 4 browser

Apple on Tuesday announced a public beta of Safari 4, a new version of its share-gaining web browser that packs a powerful new JavaScript engine and support for the latest web standards.

Dubbed "Nitro," the engine in Safari 4 is said to run JavaScript 4.2 times faster than Safari 3. Other new features include Top Sites, for a visual preview of frequently visited pages; Full History Search, to search through titles, web addresses and the complete text of recently viewed pages; Cover Flow, to easily flip through web history or bookmarks; and Tabs on Top, to make tabbed browsing easier and more intuitive.

"Apple created Safari to bring innovation, speed and open standards back into web browsers, and today it takes another big step forward," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. "Safari 4 is the fastest and most efficient browser for Mac and Windows, with great integration of HTML 5 and CSS 3 web standards that enables the next generation of interactive web applications."

Performance

In terms of performance, Apple claims Safari 4's new Nitro JavaScript engine executes JavaScript up to 30 times faster than Microsoft's IE 7 and more than three times faster than Firefox 3. It's also said to load HTML web pages three times faster than IE 7 and almost three times faster than Firefox 3.

Safari 4 also represents the latest chapter in Apple's efforts to maintain its leadership role in defining and implementing web standards, with built in support for HTML 5 and CSS 3 — two technologies critical in supporting an entirely new class of web applications that feature rich media, graphics and fonts.

Safari 4

Safari 4 Beta tracks the sites you browse and ranks your favorites, presenting up to 24 thumbnails on a single page.


Specifically, the Cupertino-based company said the new browser includes HTML 5 support for offline technologies so web-based applications can store information locally without an Internet connection. A recent technology demonstration by Google highlighted the advantages this technology when it showed off a version of Gmail running offline on the iPhone's mobile version of Safari, which already includes support for some HTML 5 standards.

Apple also said that Safari 4 is the first browser to support advanced CSS Effects that enable highly polished web graphics using reflections, gradients and precision masks. Similarly, it's said to be the first browser to pass the Web Standards Project's Acid3 test, which examines how well a browser adheres to CSS, JavaScript, XML and SVG web standards that are specifically designed for dynamic web applications.

Safari 4

Cover Flow offers a highly visual way of reviewing your site history and bookmarked sites, presenting full-page previews.


Safari for Mac, Windows, iPhone and iPod touch are all built on Apple's WebKit, which the company has billed the "world's fastest and most advanced browser engine." Apple developed WebKit as an open source project to create the world's best browser engine and to advance the adoption of modern web standards. Most recently, WebKit led the introduction of HTML 5 and CSS 3 web standards and is known for its fast, modern code-base. Some of the industry's newest browsers are based on WebKit including Google Chrome, the Google Android browser, the Nokia Series 60 browser and Palm webOS.

Safari 4

Safari 4 relocates the tab bar to the top of the browser window to provide "more room for you to enjoy the sites you’re reading".


New features

Safari 4 also includes a handful of new user interface features, including:
  • Top Sites, a display of frequently visited pages in a wall of previews so users can jump to their favorite sites with a single click;
  • Full History Search, where users search through titles, web addresses and the complete text of recently viewed pages to easily return to sites they've seen before;
  • Cover Flow, to make searching web history or bookmarks "as fun and easy as paging through album art in iTunes;"
  • Tabs on Top, for better tabbed browsing with easy drag-and-drop tab management tools and an intuitive button for opening new ones;
  • Smart Address Field, that automatically completes web addresses by displaying an easy-to-read list of suggestions from Top Sites, bookmarks and browsing history;
  • Smart Search Field, where users fine-tune searches with recommendations from Google Suggest or a list of recent searches;
  • Full Page Zoom, for a closer look at any website without degrading the quality of the site's layout and text;
  • built-in web developer tools to debug, tweak and optimize a website for peak performance and compatibility; and
  • a new Windows-native look in Safari for Windows, that uses standard Windows font rendering and native title bar, borders and toolbars so Safari fits the look and feel of other Windows XP and Windows Vista applications.

In total, Apple claims over 150 features in Safari 4. The public beta is available for download here.