Those Relentless Browser Wars

Apple’s Safari for Windows and Mac
Firefox 3’s Progress
Camino 1.5 for the Mac

In the wake of Microsoft’s IE7 update, other key browsers are revving in the near future. Both Apple and Mozilla are planning browser upgrades, and as you by now know, Apple’s Safari will be released for Windows too.

It’s great to see Apple planning new things for its browser, but it needs to make its product more mainstream on the Internet. If nothing else, Web development teams will be able to test to the Windows version of Safari before they release their code to their Web sites. Although in these betas, the Mac and Windows versions of Safari don’t always render Web pages the same way. Perhaps even more important, Apple’s stance that the iPhone display the exact same Web as other computers, and the fact that its browser is, of course, Safari-based, means that the offering of Safari for Windows will help Web development teams the world over inadvertently make Web pages work better on iPhone. Score one for Apple.

That said, the current beta of Safari for Windows isn’t a great Windows product. Hopefully Apple will attempt to pay more attention to Windows conventions before it ships the product. My guess is that it won’t, though. I don’t think Apple is out to dominate the end-user browser market. It has set it sights on winning the mobile market with iPhone. Lower-priced phones are needed to make that a reality, but Cupertino has a chance to do just that. It has definitely leapfrogged the competition with the iPhone. So look at Windows Safari as a building block for that goal, not something that’s truly aimed at browser market share.

One question I still have for Apple (I keep meaning to ask them): Will Safari 3 be released separately for OS X 10.4 Tiger when or around the time that OS X 10.5 Leopard ships (currently expected in October)? Or will you have to upgrade to Leopard to get the new version of Safari? Given the huge public beta running on Tiger, one hopes that Apple doesn’t stiff its user base on that. The same question applies to Boot Camp, by the way.

In case you haven’t noticed, Mozilla has offered its Alpha 6 release of Firefox 3. You’ll find information and download links for Windows, Mac, and Linux on the Release Notes page. Please read this entire document before installing the Firefox 3 alpha to avoid issues with your current Firefox installation. This Mozilla Firefox 3 Milestone Schedule appears to be the most up-to-date roadmap for Firefox 3. It was last updated on July 9th, as I write this.

It projects one more alpha release at the end of July. Unlike some previous major Firefox efforts, Mozilla appears to be doing more work in the alpha phase. So the notes project that alpha 7 will represent a feature freeze (feature complete) build. So, while they might still tweak features, they’re not expecting to add any features in the beta phase. With the first beta they’re projecting to freeze the user interface of the browser. The wording allows a little wiggle room to add some smaller features at the last minute into the first beta.

Mozilla’s project planners expect the two betas to be released on September 18 and October 16. From past experience, Mozilla’s roadmap is just an estimate. It’s what its engineers hope to do. They make no promises about dates, and that’s as it should be. It does appear that the open-source development team expects to release the shipping version of Firefox 3 some time in November of this year.

I’m not going to try to fathom the features in Firefox 3 for this little story, but if you want to wade through the Mozilla documents yourself, I’d start here, and I’d also look at this page.

For some Mac users, Safari seems a little lackluster and Firefox lacks Mac-specific fit and finish. Those people may adopt the Camino browser, a Mac-only program based on the same Gecko browser engine the powers Firefox. There’s a lot to like about Camino, but the big problem for me is that it doesn’t support extensions. Until recently, it was also using the Firefox 1.5 browsing engine instead of the newer Gecko 1.8.1 Firefox 2 engine. Camino was recently updated to version 1.5, though, and that problem is solved. Camino 1.5 also picks up many of the Firefox 2 features, such Web-based spelling, feed detection, session restore, and upgraded tabbed browsing. (See Camino 1.5 Release Notes for more details.)

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