9 things Firefox should steal from Safari

Written by Des Traynor

Pic of Safari Compass icon

Apple recently launched Safari on Windows. This was done to make it easy for all developers to write applications for the iPhone. While announcing it, Steve Jobs indirectly said that he plans to take Firefoxs throne as the second most popular browser on the market. I don’t think Steve wants to oust Firefox, perhaps he didn’t want to outright declare war on Internet Explorer, but realistically if Safari succeeds it will be stealing I.E users, not Firefox ones. And if you look at the pasting that iTunes has given Windows Media Player, I’d say it’s quite possible that this will happen. I installed Safari recently to have a look, and whilst it’s nowhere near Firefox, it’s still ahead of Internet Explorer, so it could do very well on the Windows desktop, and may take another chunk off the IE market share.

Once Apple bundle Safari, Quicktime and iTunes together as part of the “stuff you need for your iPod/iPhone”, they’ll immediately be able to claim that they’ve beaten the pants off Firefox for downloands, but it’s not a real victory. People who use Firefox will probably ignore or delete the little compass on their desktop. Hopefully Apple won’t piss us off like they do with Quicktime and leave a desktop shortcut and icon in the system tray for it.

Sidenote: Does anyone ever launch Quicktime independently? Quicktime is a means to an end, no one starts it up and then thinks “Hmm, what apple trailer will I now go watch”, they click on the trailer and let Quicktime do its thing. Those shortcut icons are a joke.

Anyways, here are the features that I liked in Safari, that Firefox doesn’t already have by default (i.e. not in plugins)

  1. Highlight the current text field I know this is a Windows issue moreso than a Firefox one, but it’s ridiculous that it hasn’t been copied. If you’re filling out a long form and you regularly use tab and alt-tab, you can lose your cursor during the moment it’s blinking. This doesn’t happen with Safari because it also gives a nice blue glow the current text field. Here are pics of the Yahoo! login box in Safari, followed by Firefox
  2. Font rendering This one is a dividing issue, but I definitely prefer Apples font rendering over Windows. Maybe offer the better rendering as a Preference, or an extension at least.
  3. The Downloads dialog I just think Safaris one is nicer, it offers more useful features in context.
  4. HTML rendering Speeds It is noticeably faster at rendering web pages. Nuff said.
    Update, according to the guys at digg, it’s not enough to say something is “noticably faster”, even though that is all the end user cares about. If you’re going to comment saying Apples benchmarks are flawed, please provide conflicting ones. Bear in mind, a home user doesn’t care if it’s twice as fast, or 7 times as fast. They only care if they actually notice a difference!
  5. The bug reporter Safari has the nicest bug submission system going. Firefox’s one is good, but Apple has shown us the definitive way to report problems with software. It’s a fast unobtrusive dialog that just begs to be filled out. You click the bug, fill in box, and hit send. Then you go right back to whatever you were doing.
  6. The Find dialog – it looks great, it works great. It’s only a minor improvement over Firefox in my opinion, but none the less, it’s worth robbing. It tells you how many matches, highlights all matches clearly. When you close it, it leaves the highlighted text selected. All clever stuff. In comparison Internet Explorer 7 is still using the Internet Explorer 5 dialog from 1999. That company doesn’t give a fuck about the web. Click on the image to view the Safari dialog full size, and you’ll understand.
  7. Detachable tabs You can drag a tab out of the bar and spawn a new instance of Safari containing only that page. You wouldn’t think it, but this is quite useful.
  8. Draggable images You can drag an image right out of a web page onto your desktop. Every browser can do this. Well not really, Internet Explorer once again shows why the Windows Desktop Experience is Truly Fucked. If you drag an image from a web page to your desktop, which of the following do you want…
    • To have the cursor change to indicate a move operation, and then, when you release, have the filed copied to you desktop. (Firefox)
    • All of the above, with a beautiful transparent overlay of the image to show you exactly what’s going on (Safari)
    • To see another pathetic dialog. This is not a joke, although it wouldn’t be out place on Ok-Cancel. This is what IE7 asks you when you drag an image to your desktop?
  9. Resizable Text Areas This is handy, primarily because many companies provide a “Contact Us” form, with an area slightly smaller than an SMS message where you can write your questions. In Safari you just drag the text area to the size you want, and work away?

That’s all I’ve found so far, if anyone finds anything else interesting, please leave it in the comments. You never know, it might even get implemented.

Additions from the commenters

  1. RSS, sorry guys. I just checked that know, I was using Google reader before. That is definitely worth stealing
  2. Privacy Browsing, I only saw it there, but I can see it being useful.
  3. Only starting Media in Active TabWhen opening flash content (e.g. YouTube) in a new tab in the background, the flash content doesn’t start playing until the tab becomes visible.

Answers to Common Questions

  1. Yes, this is nitpicking. They’re all teeny tiny things, I know that. Firefox is “good enough” in all departments
  2. The download box is nicer in how it presents your options, and gives you more information without clicking. That’s all. Open containing folder is also clickable, rather than in a context menu. Minor stuff, but it’s the little things that make great interfaces
  3. To the people who keep saying “What about Extensions”, bear in mind that most firefox users don’t read digg, and reddit. They don’t install browser extensions, they just check their mail. So if they install Safari, and it has some nice extras, they will presume Safari is just better, regardless of what extensions are available.
  4. Brandon, go fuck yourself.
  5. Jerry, if you think that me skipping the retarded capitalisation that LaTeX promotes means I am ill-equipped to comment on it, then you’re wrong. End of story. I agree it is excellent for formatting scientific documents, I use it. I’ve even written guides to it, and posted them here. LaTeX, whilst the best option available, is frustrating as hell
  6. Supermike – I do serious web app development. I use Firefox full time. I appreciate it, it’s made my life much easier.
  7. xxdesmuxx – I just dragged an image out of Safari, it works. End of story. As for HTML performance, can you show me some of these benchmarks? I’m speaking from experience.
  8. Guys, please relax. It’s not like I’ve shot your kitten. I’ve just posted a few things I’d like to see, that’s all. If you disagree just state why without insult, and with backup. Thanks

Unrelated Links

  1. The beauty of LaTeX

    Everyone knows that LaTeX documents just look better than Word documents. This is an explanation of the font rendering. If Microsoft could copy this, it’d be excellent. Because let’s face it, Latex is a joke as far as markup languages go. Someone needs to make it a bit more like HTML/CSS, then it will be a good language for marking up the structure and presentation of documents.

  2. Look at the Firefox Growth in Europe It’s encouraging to see the recent spikes for Ireland, it’s a shame we’re still second from bottom

21 thoughts on “9 things Firefox should steal from Safari

  1. kramtark

    Really? LaTeX is a joke? That’s funny, because I was just thinking recently how nice it would be if HTML had some of LaTeX’s features like… oh, I don’t know… automatically creating paragraphs based on spacing between lines, easy-to-use, pre-defined and precise document layouts, automagic footnotes (and margin notes, not that anyone uses them any more), one standard implementation that works pretty much exactly the same regardless of operating system……

    And here I was under the impression that LaTeX was the de facto standard for marking up academic papers. Silly me.

  2. David

    Your quote: “Here are pics of the Yahoo! login box in Safari, followed by Firefox”

    Should read “Here are pics of the Yahoo! login box in Firefox, followed by Safari”


  3. mynthon

    it is wrong that browser highlights active fields. Webmasters should use :focus pseudoclass and everything should be ok.

    it is not system issue? use firefox on linux and u will get best antialiasing.

    use extension “download status bar” – it is much better than safaris/operas download panel ๐Ÿ˜›


    …and more – have no time to argue.

  4. Richard Patterson

    Maybe Firefox has an option to do this that I never found, but the number one reason why I prefer Safari to Firefox is that Safari will autocomplete any web address that you have bookmarked…. firefox autocompletes only those in history.

  5. Philip

    First Firefox kicks ass because you can beef up its functionality by the “Add-ons” option in the Tools drop down menu.

    Regarding #3 about the Dialog Box issue, Firefox goes one step further when you add the “Download Status Bar” which eliminates the Download Dialog box altogether by embedding in the browser.

    Regarding #7 about the Detachable Tabs issue, I found that when I open up another browser, I can simply drag and drop tabs into it. I agree that it would be nice to simply be able to do so from a right-click.

    Regarding #9 about the resizable text areas, I found that with all browsers, you can double click the Title Bar (on the top of the screen) to get it to full size, which works great for dialog boxes. As for embedded frames, it usually depends on whether or not the website designer locked the text box sizes.

    Some of the add-ons that I’ve installed are:
    -an embedded music console on the status bar,
    -a whois domain search,
    -a URL reader (great for when URLs are listed but not hypertexted), and
    -about a dozen different themes (including a few that have the Safari interface yet are more creatively designed)

  6. Bobby

    As far as the text area goes, Accessibar highlights every form in light blue when it’s clicked on (I’m not sure how to change the colour, though). I use Accessibar to change the text/BG/link colours and now that they’ve added the form feature I love it even more. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Anon

    All of these features are available in Firefox through the use of addons. I’d rather have it that way than have all this stupid shit by default.

    In conclusion, shut the fuck up.

  8. Adriano CorteReal

    I just came to this site looking to find info on how i can get an extension for FF that would let FF mimic “Resizable Text Fields” I totally agree with all of the items on you’re list though…By the way everyone Safari is now available for windows…and it works VERY WELL…but ill stick to FF, Its amazing…Opera also has a couple of good features, but not many…

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