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Leopard Leak

October 6th, 2006

Maybe he wasn’t supposed to do this, but one Apple developer wrote an article on his blog about new features in Safari 3.0 that have not been released publicly yet. Apparently the information is valid; some say they heard about these features soon after developers received their copies of Leopard. However, this is the first time the features have been released in so much detail, so openly. The guy’s web site is now giving a “Forbidden” error message, but a mirror of the post is still available at the time of this writing. The site is probably down because of the Slashdot Effect, though one could easily imagine more sinister reasons having to do with Apple legal.

The features the author points out are very cool, though it should be pointed out that they are not necessarily unique. Other browsers have them–but usually as plug-ins or extensions, sometimes even requiring payment to activate. To have them come standard in a browser is very nice indeed.

S3Find1One of the features the blog covers was made public some time ago, though not thoroughly demonstrated: a new Find feature. People have compared it to Firefox’s Find, but I like Safari’s implementation a lot better. In fact, I have always been annoyed by the Firefox implementation. I don’t want to have to focus on the bottom of the page, and I’ve never liked the annoying sound it makes when the term I’m typing suddenly doesn’t match anything on the page (I hope Apple doesn’t copy that part). I am still partial to the floating find box, but I’ll take Apple’s top-of-the-page placement over Firefox’s bottom; it simply makes better design sense, being more consistent with usual find actions.

S3Find2But Safari does one better: it highlights all instances of the term simultaneously. When you type something in the find box, the search bar immediately shows you how many times the term appears on the page, while it highlights the first instance in the page. Hit the Return (Enter) key, and the page goes dim with all instances of the search term remaining bright. You can then roll through all the instances, making the one you focus on bright orange (in line with Leopard’s new style). You ask me, I think that’s a better way to run the show–though they could tone down the orange box a little bit.

But the features that I’m really looking forward to are the other two. First, the lesser one: resizable text boxes. This addresses a particular pet peeve of mine. I hate it when I go to a web site where they ask me to type something in a box, and they made the box so tiny that it’s virtually impossible to write comfortable. Reviewing what you typed is extremely uncomfortable. I have often figured that some web sites do this intentionally–for example, business sites where they want to force you to keep your message short so they won’t be so troubled by your complaints or what not. But this is also a common failing in blog comment areas.

The new feature in Safari allows you to resize the text box to whatever feels comfortable to you. Each box will sport a resize handle in the lower right corner; just click and drag, and you have the size you want. I would love to have that feature. Interestingly, some web page designers hate it; apparently, they want to dictate such things to you, and if the reader changes that aspect, the designers feel that the reader is “breaking” the page. I say, nonsense. The web is supposed to be democratic, even anarchistic, not totalitarian. I would actually like to see this philosophy extended to all aspects of the web site. Often the sites break on their own, because everyone seems to design for IE; if you don’t use IE, you know what I’m talking about, with page elements sometimes drifting over others, blocking stuff and generally looking bad and being inconvenient. The ability to simply grab the page element and place it where I like would be fantastic. The ability to select an ad and delete it would be heaven. But for now, I’ll settle for the resizable text box.

S3Tabs1The last feature is the one I’ve been waiting for, though. I’ve seen it available before, but only as a paid software upgrade; if a free version exists, let me know. This is what the blogger called “Tabs on Steroids.” The image at right doesn’t really show the feature well, partly because of the low quality of the streamed movie, but also because the feature doesn’t “photograph” well. What the image shows is the ability to re-order tabs. If you have many tabs open and you’d like to rearrange them, move a few to the left, some to the right, this lets you do it.

S3Tabs2But again, Safari goes one better: you can drag a tab fully off the window. You can then either let it go independently, where it will form a new window with the tabbed URL, or you can drag the tab to another existing window and add it to the tabs there. Safari also allows you to combine all tabs in all windows into one window, consolidating all of your pages in one place.

Like with the resizable text box, this follows the paradigm of allowing a flexible web experience, letting the user dictate what happens rather then letting the application or the web page decide. One other new pet peeve I wish they’d implement along these lines: a working version of setting a default text size, one that overrides CSS settings. I don’t know why they don’t have this–but hey, maybe Safari 3 does. Right now, I find myself sitting in front of my 24-inch iMac, constantly hitting Command-plus two, three, or even four times every time I load a page. Strangely, that command overrides CSS text sizes, but not the default font size preference.

I’m sure there’s more to Safari 3 than this, but what I see, I like. I very much look forward to January, when we will probably get the rest of the scoop on what Leopard overall will bring.

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