Comparing Safari 3.1 and Firefox 3 Beta 4

Since the release of Safari 3, the notion of using it as a primary tool for Web development has crossed my mind more than once. I’ve been a Firefox user for more years than I can accurately estimate, and it has never let me down. Through my switch from Windows to Linux, and then from Linux to OS X, Firefox was always an application I didn’t have to worry about using. While performance is absolutely degraded on OS X, it was still by far the best tool (for me) to use.

Safari has definitely come of age

Safari 3 was a leap ahead for the browser, and I loved (nearly) everything about it. WebKit is phenomenal, and we’re finding it implanted in more applications than ever. I was excited about all the changes going on with Safari 3 during the time of its initial release, and made an effort to use it as a primary browser. Not because I was looking for something different from Firefox, but the performance issues were a constant.

I did my best to try to beef up Safari 3 just enough to make it work for me. I stumbled upon Safari Tidy which is an equivalent to the HTML Validator Firefox extension which I’ve come to know and love. The plugin worked well, and there was a command line adjustment to enable a hidden Debug menu which provided an error console, WebKit’s Web Inspector, and a few other really useful tools. I only used the HTML Validator extension and Firebug in Firefox, so with these two modifications I felt it was fair to see if Safari could work for me.

Screenshot of the Develop menu available in Safari 3.1
Safari’s Develop Menu The Develop menu available in Safari 3.1

I quickly found that I had become extremely spoiled by Firebug. WebKit’s Web Inspector is really great, but the error console doesn’t really compare to the console in Firebug. Safari 3 was not the proper browser for me to use. That is, until Safari 3.1 was released. With the release of Safari 3.1, Web developers were provided their very own Develop menu which, I must say, is spot on with including the tools I make use of most often. Instead of providing a tool for everything under the sun, you’re provided a short list of Web development tools to make your life easier.

The Develop menu in Safari 3.1 summarizes very well the toolset I generally use most often in my work. Web Inspector continues to be an extremely valuable tool for both analysis and debugging in Safari. I was really excited to see integration with the browser window itself a la Firebug. The Safari Tidy plugin isn’t compatible with 3.1, but the error console has been given a bit of a boost and provides some insight regarding any markup errors in the document.

Overall, I think Safari 3.1 has really stepped things up a bit insofar as to include so many valuable tools out of the box. I think that with this release, a number of developers will prefer to work in Safari over Firefox.

How does Safari 3.1 compare to Firefox?

When comparing Safari 3.1 to Firefox 2, I may have found myself making the switch. Had it not been for the release of Firefox 3 beta 4, Safari may be the default browser for me. Firefox 3 beta 4 is a beautiful thing. While not recommended for general use, I’ve adopted it as my primary browser. The performance increase has been substantial and I’ve found myself waiting out delays much less frequently.

While the toolset included by default with Safari 3.1 will be exponentially helpful, I’m going to say that nothing compares to Firebug. Joe Hewitt‘s extension is essentially miraculous for Web developers sprawling the entire spectrum of talent. While still in beta, Firebug 1.1 is the only extension I’ve installed for Firefox, and it’s all I need. I don’t want to make it sound as though I’ve discounted Chris Pederick’s Web Developer extension (because it too is fantastic), but I’ve found that Firebug does anything and everything I need.

What truly sets Firebug apart from anything else for me is the JavaScript interaction capability it offers. Everything from error displays, to AJAX request logging, to JavaScript breakpoints, Firebug offers itself as a more powerful tool than anything I’ve seen. It’s helped me get through quite a bit of work that otherwise may have ended in disaster, and that’s the honest truth. Joe Hewitt has honestly produced a flagship tool for the entire Web design and development industry. It’s no surprise that both WebKit’s Web Inspector as well as the new Developer Tools provided in IE8 have taken a page out of the Firebug book both in form as well as function. Joe Hewitt set the bar for developer tools, and he set it high.

It’s Firefox 3 for me

I gave Safari 3.1 the spotlight for a solid week with production work. I tested it through and through with both basic site development as well as more detailed JavaScript work, and it was Firebug that brought Firefox 3 across the finish line first in my case. I was disappointed to seemingly miss out on the impressive speed of Safari as noted by many. I just didn’t see it. In fact, many times I would be able to launch Firefox and load a target URL before Safari nudged its loading bar. I’m sure it was a bit of a quirk somewhere as I’ve often read that Safari is extremely fast, but unfortunately it’s no speed demon for me.

At the end of the day, I’ll be sticking with Firefox 3 beta 4 as my primary browser, but Safari has truly proven itself as a fantastic platform for Web development.