Why I switched to Safari a year ago

December 19th 2017

Why I switched to Safari a year ago

I am a browser geek. I have always been. After all, this is the application that you use the most on your device, whatever the latter may be. Those past 15 years, I have been switching from one browser to another in order to see what's new. Those past twelve months, I have been sticking to Safari.

I first switched to Safari when I bought my new MacBook Pro a year ago. The initial reason was simple : since I spend most of my day in a browser, I wanted to try out the Touch Bar. And Safari logically was the only browser making use of those API.

At first I was a bit reluctant. I have always liked the simplicity of Safari and tried it several times in the past. But after a while, for some weird reasons, it would stop loading pages. Not sure why ; it might have been a cache problem.

Why I do not choose Google Chrome

One thing was pretty clear in my mind: it makes absolutely no sense to use Google Chrome. First, because I do not really want to be tracked by a company all day long - however innovative it might be. Also, Chromium being an open source project, we have plenty of choices when it comes to a Chrome fork. And Google Chrome does not add any value on top of those. Finally, Google seems to be having a hard time to properly tweak Chrome to be efficient on macOS. My guess is that it happened when they forked the WebKit rendering engine for Blink.

I'm not even sure what the real advantages of Chrome are today. The major Chromium-based browsers all have synchronization features and can install official extensions. Those forks have a better UI in my opinion. In fact, at Google, they do not seem to really know themselves how to be more innovative. So they started to restrict the use of several of their websites - like Google Earth on the Web - to Chrome only. It makes no sense ; it's a bad practice that nobody want. And I do not want to support it.

Why I do not choose Firefox

This is one is not easy. Ever since the Quantum upgrade, Firefox feels quite snappy. Also one reason I'd go with Firefox is that the browser is not made by any particular company but by a foundation. Sure, Mozilla collects data, but that's to better understand user interactions and optimize the UI. Not necessarily to target the end-user with adverts all over. Worst case scenario, I get some suggested articles.

I like the idea of using a browser which rendering engine does not directly come from WebKit. There is a dangerous Webkit-based browsers dominance, should it be on the mobile or on desktop (full story in FR). Now that Opera gave up on Presto and that all other Gecko-based browsers sort of shut down, Firefox is the only one bringing a bit of diversity on the market.

Yet, the UI has not really evolved in many years. Whenever, I fire up Firefox to test out some HTML code, I suddenly go back to 2005. It just does not feel very modern. Why should they have overlooked the UI with the Quantum upgrade ? Also, the integration in macOS could be better. Pinch to zoom, for instance, does not work.

It's too bad, as I would feel proud to use this browser.

Why I do not choose Opera

Well, actually I did before. As it is based on Chromium since 2013, Opera is modern and fast. The UI is simple and not dated. In fact, I do enjoy Opera quite much. The only thing that bugs me is : there is no way to properly turn off the Speed dial.

Also, even though we might be talking about few millimeters, the Safari UI, containing the title bar, the address bar and the bookmark bar, somehow is slightly more condensed than Opera's. Yet, Opera is great and whenever testing a website on the Blink engine, this is definitely my browser of choice. Seriously just let me turn off completly that silly speed dial...

Why I do not choose Vivaldi

When I interviewed (FR) Jon von Tetzchner back in 2015, as he and his team were launching Vivaldi, it was clear right from the beginning : the aim is to produce a modern version of Presto-based Opera while taking advantage of Chromium. It's packed with many features. But there is something wrong here.

I do not believe that so-called "power-users" need dozens of options in a browser. Quite the contrary. I'd even say that a geek usually knows what he is doing, what he is looking for. I myself never have more than a dozen of tabs opened. I know what I want from the beginning. I know how to perform a boolean query. I don't have to get lost in several dozens of tabs resulting from a Google search. In my opinion, Vivaldi is an all-in-one browser for beginners as were the original Mozilla / Netscape / SeaMonkey browsers in the past.

I don't need a complex tab management. I do not need a speed dial when I have a bookmark bar. I don't need quick commands (however cool those are) when I have Alfred app - or Spotlight/Cortana for that matter...

So why Safari ?

Well, true, Safari is made by a company, not a foundation. But Apple could not care less about advertising, especially when you consider their anti-tracking tool natively implemented in the browser. Granted it's not open source. But really, it sort of is : in theory, WebKit is open source right ?

Safari does not have hundreds of extensions available but the the main ones are there - at least, the one I use on regular basis. Some features are just relocated outside the browser. For instance, advanced mouse gestures are handled by BetterTouchTool. This way, I can get the same gestures whatever browser I'm using. Safari has a clean, minimal, modern/timeless UI. I actually took the challenge to make use of the MacBook Pro Touch Bar to relocate my most used favorites and to hide the bookmark bar. Pure minimalism! Also, it's fast and does not bug me anymore. Of course the integration in macOS is excellent.

In conclusion

If you were expecting to read about performances and benchmarks well, I'm sorry but this is not a subject anymore. Most of today's browsers are snappy. They all handle new web standards pretty well. No one cares about a ms difference in the execution of a Javascript... Last time I checked, Vivaldi was the slowest, at least, that's how I felt using it. But that was 18 months ago. I believe they managed to optimize it.

Between Safari and Opera, it really comes down to one thing : a cross-device experience. I regularly change my smartphone. Right now, I happen to have an iPhone and an iPad. Since Apple believes I'm too dumb to set my default browser on those devices, I stick to Safari. And quite frankly, I'm good with it. The Handoff feature works great.

Yet, because I like switching devices all the time, I'll probably choose Opera on a future Android-based smartphone and therefore change to Opera on my Mac. It's only a question of time.

The browser market has always been full of innovations and is likely to change in the coming years. Please, note that my opinions are most likely to change as well with time :)