Apple Rekindling the Browser War or Trying to Help?

As it goes with every WWDC, WWDC07 was no different in that there was significant coverage regarding what Steve Jobs discussed during his keynote. What struck me about this particular presentation was the announcement regarding Apple making Safari available on the Windows platform. I had always wondered if that would ever happen, especially after the establishment of The WebKit Open Source Project, but honestly didn’t expect it at this point in time; it was basically out of the blue.

Safari Available for Windows

I’ve read a number of articles that were written as a direct response to this event, a post by Mr. Hicks as well as a reaction from Mr. Snook, among others. While Mr. Hicks offers some intriguing questions, I found myself agreeing with much of what Mr. Snook had to say regarding this release.

He said that the release for Windows really doesn’t do all that much for developers working in Windows, with which I agree 100%. Safari uses WebKit, and Safari 2 uses a completely different WebKit than Safari 3, so a Windows developer getting their hands on Safari 3 isn’t doing anyone much good. The improvements implemented in WebKit are exponential in it’s current form when compared to the version used in Safari 2. If you’re looking to test using various operating system and Web browser combinations, it’s best to use them natively (or at least in a virtual machine) in my opinion.

It can’t be ignored what a big change it will be for Windows developers to be able to test in Safari, but in my opinion, this situation (when Safari 3 comes out of beta) will be very similar to the IE6/IE7 mixed distribution. While it will be nice for Windows developers to be able to test in one browser, it will still require a run-through in Safari 2 as well. As will happen with IE6, Safari 2 will eventually be overrun by Safari 3, but that will take quite a bit of time.

Will anyone really care about the release?

So if the release doesn’t help Web developers, will it have any sort of effect on the general population? In my personal opinion, Safari wasn’t ported merely to give Windows users a better experience on the Internet. It was ported because it was seen as a viable way to show Windows users the way of Apple. Many people refer to this type of thing as the iPod effect, iPod halo effect, Apple Envy, or some sort of variant. Hitting Windows users with an application they can use for free, an application they could theoretically use every day, is one more step for Apple in an otherwise Microsoft-oriented world. A Web browser can be a very personal choice for a person, and Apple wants people to choose them.

Firefox has been ridiculously successful in providing people a better way to browse the Web. Apple has seen this success, and in my opinion, feels it is now the best time to capitalize on the idea that Internet Explorer is not the end all be all Web browser for Windows users. It is their time to show that they’ve got a solution as well, and their solution has anti-aliasing in menus to boot. Let us not forget there are also snappy page loads, a small footprint, and that spiffy interface! Safari is an interactive advertisement for Apple, and porting it to the most widely used platform gives the application a very big stage to present itself.

The newest battle in the Browser Wars?

Personally, I’m a big proponent of open competition. If there are a number of high quality Web browsers openly competing to be the best, I think it will force browser manufacturers to provide the best product they possibly can, or else their user base will shift to a provider who can. A very large number of people have embraced Firefox as an alternative to Internet Explorer after it has proven time and time again to be a sub-par Web browser.

To this day I discover quirks and bugs that have continued to prevail in Internet Explorer 7. While it is a slight improvement over IE6, the entire Internet Explorer family of products is truly a sad state considering what is being released elsewhere. At the very least, it’s my hope that Microsoft starts to take their browser more seriously than they have, and the release of Safari for Windows will help to try and make that happen.

The true issue to keep in mind, however, is that the average reader isn’t going to care whether or not you were able to take your design to the next level because you didn’t have to worry about z-index bugs, the only thing that gets noticed is when things go wrong. Many of the drawbacks to Internet Explorer are not seen, heard, or cared about to many people other than Web designers and developers. What does get noticed is a better feature set, a cooler interface, and any performance differences that may be in place. Superior applications will reign supreme when it comes to that criteria, which will eventually decide a winner in any sort of Browser War.