First Look Review: Safari 4 Beta

Apple released a public beta of Safari 4 for both OS X and Windows on Tuesday, declaring that this new version is loaded with more than 150 features, many of them new. Safari 4 represents quite a technical leap over the previous version of the browser.

So which of those new features are you most likely to find interesting, useful, or possibly even a bit disruptive? (If you’re curious as to why some of these features were added, Jason Snell shares his thoughts on that subject.)

Built for speed

The big behind-the-scenes news is the introduction of the Nitro Engine, a super-fast JavaScript engine that executes JavaScript up to 30 times faster than Internet Explorer 7, and three times faster than Firefox 3.

To get a sense of the speed increase, I ran a quick test using the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark on our 2.66GHz iMac with 2GB of RAM. I ran SunSpider in Safari 3, Safari 4 Beta, and Firefox 3.0.6, to get a sense of the speed differences amongst the browsers.

The results were dramatic - Safari 4 completed the tests in 757ms, versus 2970ms for Safari 3 and 3028ms for Firefox 3.0.6. I also tested Firefox 3.1, currently in beta, which has its own advanced JavaScript engine. It was notably faster than Firefox 3.0.6, coming in at 1419ms, but still well behind Safari 4.

Outside of the JavaScript engine, Safari 4 seems to load pages very quickly, though page loading times on a fast network are quick enough that it’s very hard to hand-time any differences in loading speed.

Still, Safari 4 feels quite peppy on even the heaviest of sites. It also passes the Acid3 test, which checks how well a Web browser follows certain Web standards, with a perfect score.

Safari 4 also adds some bleeding-edge web technologies such as HTML 5’s media support (making it easier to add audio and video to Web sites) and offline support (so developers can write web apps that run even without an internet connection); CSS effects (which enable animations, like this example, without a lot of complex code or Flash); and speculative loading (which loads the files required to view a web page before you need them).

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