One unanticipated result of my somewhat belated upgrade to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion has been my using Apple’s Safari browser again after a long hiatus of several years and OS X versions, during which I pretty much ignored it. I can’t recall precisely, but the last Safari version I used with any frequency was four-point-something.
The biggest reason was that I’ve always liked Opera better, and find the two browsers suited to the same sort of tasks, just as I prefer Firefox and the other Mozilla Gecko based browsers for certain tasks, and Chrome (plus more recently Matrox) best suited for others, respectively.
What brought me back to using Safari is that Opera refuses to start up on my particular installation of Mountain Lion. It works fine on the Snow Leopard boot partition on my MacBook’s hard drive, but it refuses to proceed past the Dock-bounce launch stage in Mountain Lion so far. I’m guessing it’s some sort of conflict, corruption, or incompatibility particular to my setup that can likely be tracked down and fixed, but I haven’t had time to sleuth it out, and it’s not mission-critical because I’ve found that Safari 6—the version that ships with Mountain Lion—is a decently serviceable, albeit unexciting substitute. It still has a bland-looking interface, but it starts up with dispatch (presumably thanks to its close integration with the operating system), loads pages speedily and reliably, and even has some features I like (eg: Reader) that aren’t available with Opera.
The new Combo Address-Search Field with auto-fill—Apple’s answer to Firefox’s multi-function “Awesome Bar”—is a useful efficiency addition, and you can now search within a page with the search dialog invoked by Command-F. However, it’s now necessary to open Safari Preferences in order to switch the browser’s default search engine among the three supported: Google, Yahoo, and Bing. The http:// prefix of URLs no longer shows in the address field, which some probably like, but I don’t. As you type in the field, Safari insists on running ahead to suggest a Top Hit before you’re finished typing, which can be annoying.
A new feature called Tab View has been cross-migrated from the iOS, allowing you to swipe through open tabs using a trackpad if you’re into gesture input on your Mac, which I’m not. My MacBook has a Multi-Touch trackpad, but I usually have a mouse and keyboard connected if I’m not on the road.
Another new iOS-related feature is iCloud Tabs, which makes the last websites you had open in Safari on your Mac available in Safari on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch (requires iOS 6), so you can go from one device to another without having to search for the web pages you were reading. Theoretically convenient, but in practical terms useless to me. For one thing, I usually have three or four browsers running on both the Mac and my iPad, all with multiple tabs open, and not even necessarily the same sets in Safari respectively on the two machines, which get different types of use. Fortunately, this feature can be bypassed.
Speaking of tabs, at least Safari 6 for OS X lets you load them indefinitely, unlike Safari for iOS whose most maddening, infuriating idiosyncrasy is that it won’t load more than nine tabs at a time, and arbitrarily closes tabs if you go over the limit, which I do regularly. However, I still, prefer Opera’s ability to keep all open tabs visible rather than shunting overflow off into a submenu like Safari 6 does.
Still with tabs, probably my favorite Safari 6 new feature is that session restore, which reopens tabs that were open when the browser shut down automatically when you restart the application, even though that’s just playing catch-up with other browsers that have had session restore for years.
Other new stuff making the migration from Safari for iOS to Safari 6 includes the means to share interesting bits you find on the web without leaving Safari. Just click the Share button, then choose how you want to send it off. For example, you can Share web pages using Mail or Messages, post them on Facebook or Tweet links, and even add comments and locations. A single sign-on sets up Facebook and Twitter for Safari, so you need log in only once. If you want to send a web page using Mail, Safari gives you four options. Send it in Reader format so text appears in a clean, clutter-free format; send the entire web page in your message; send the web page as a PDF attachment; or just send the link.
I still want to figure out what’s ailing Opera with my Mountain Lion setup, but in the meantime, Safari is proving an adequate stand-in, and with Safari 6 it’s no longer a browser I don’t like to use. I don’t love the interface appearance, but it’s inoffensive and serviceable. In my seat-of-the-pants estimation, Google’s Chrome (and its Chinese spin-off Matrox) is/are faster overall, Firefox has the all-round stability and compatibility edge, and I like Opera’s user interface best, but Safari 6 is a decent Web browser.
Read more of Charles Moore’s Mountain Lion Foot-Dragger journey.