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Safari 4 Beta: Hot or Not?

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Veteran Peachpit author Steve Schwartz discusses the exciting new features in Safari 4 and explains why you should consider it for your new (or updated) browser.
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In February 2009, Apple announced a public beta of version 4 of Safari, its popular web browser, available as a free download for both Mac and Windows. Users who install the beta can preview the new features and test the browser for compatibility with their favorite sites. Apple lists 150 new, improved, and notable features in Safari 4. Rather than rehash the list, this article discusses only the new and changed features that I think will affect you most.

If you decide to check out the Safari 4 beta, be aware of the following:

  • Although the beta is remarkably stable and is designed to give you a preview of what's to come, it also serves to help Apple ferret out any remaining bugs before the official version is released. To emphasize this fact, the beta's toolbar includes a button labeled Report Bugs to Apple.
  • If your computer already has a version of Safari installed, the Safari 4 beta will automatically replace it.
  • The graphical Cover Flow and Top Sites features in Safari 4 require a little graphics horsepower. On a PC, you'll need a DirectX 9.0-compatible video card with at least 64MB RAM. On a Mac, you'll need a video card with at least 16MB RAM that supports Quartz Extreme, either an AGP-based ATI Radeon GPU or an NVIDIA GeForce2 MX or later.
  • Features can be changed or even dropped between any beta and the official release version.

Hot Feature: Top Sites

Sure, you can add your favorite sites to the Bookmarks bar or Bookmarks menu, but Safari 4 provides a cooler—and, arguably, more useful—way for you to revisit sites. If you click the Show Top Sites icon on the left side of the Bookmarks bar or choose History > Show Top Sites, Safari displays thumbnails of the sites you visit most (see Figure 1). Click a thumbnail to go to its web page.

Figure 1

Figure 1 The Top Sites page shows your favorite and other frequently visited sites, indicating whether each one contains new content. Hover the mouse pointer over a thumbnail to view the page's URL.

Initially, Top Sites is populated with major sites such as Wikipedia and the Los Angeles Times. As you continue to use Safari, it tracks your behavior to determine which sites you visit most. Click the Edit button to customize the Top Sites page by deleting thumbnails, pinning any thumbnail into a particular position (preventing it from being moved or automatically replaced), rearranging thumbnails, or changing the size and number of thumbnails (6, 12, or 24).

Because Safari also tracks the content of each Top Sites page, clicking any thumbnail results in an almost instantaneous load. The thumbnail of any page that contains new material is automatically marked with a star.

If you find the Top Sites page useful, you can make it your home page. Choose Edit > Preferences (Windows) or Safari > Preferences (Mac). Click the General icon (see Figure 2) and enter topsites:/// in the Home page text box. Depending on how you use tabs, you may also want to specify that new tabs should automatically display the Top Sites page.

Figure 2

Figure 2 In the General section of the Preferences dialog box, you can make Top Sites your home page, as well as make new tabs display the Top Sites page.

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