Comparing Safari 3.1 and Firefox 3 Beta 4

Posted: March 24, 2008 Comments(17)

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.

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  1. Same experience here, though I’m running Vista (for now … *looks at Ubuntu 8.04*). I just can’t replace Firefox for web development, and the last beta has been stable as a rock. I also don’t like safari on principle because it doesn’t handle XHTML sent as XML properly (take a look at my site in it – it applies the print styles on screen).

    Firebug is amazing, though I do use Web Dev Toolbar too, mainly for form-filling during testing, and the Display Topographic Information. FF3 beta 5 should be out on Thursday, looking forward to it.

  2. I agree.

    Firefox’s performance improvements on mac are really impressive. Along with Firebug, I also use “view selection source” rather more than I ought to have to 🙂



  3. I’m a mac-envious windows user, and I love browsing the web in Safari for windows. It’s just so damn quick.

    For windows though, It’s missing a lot of features that I love in Firefox (I don’t really mean dev-related plug-ins). This is mainly due to the lack of Safari-for-Windows plug-ins.

  4. @Matt Wilcox: It’s exciting that you’re seriously considering Ubuntu — I love the OS and I’m sure you will to. The important thing to do is really try and give it a good go-around. At least a month of primary use to really see whether or not you need to tie yourself to Windows.

    @Joe Lencioni: We’re not the only ones to love FF3 — although I honestly only need Firebug installed as my only extension as I’ve never really gone into the realm of other enhancements such as mouse gestures. I’ve got a couple mouse buttons mapped for forward/back browsing and that’s about all I need.

    @JR Tashjian: The benefit of moving to OS X will be to have the option of choosing between a variety of browsers to use. I’ve tried to make Safari my primary browser with each version, and while it’s a fantastic piece of software, Firefox with Firebug trumps it in a number of ways. You’ll be able to run your own tests and come to your own conclusions, however. I know a number of developers who love using Safari as a primary browser.

    I mentioned the Web Inspector a number of times in the article, the piece you’ve linked to was when the tool was first born, and it has come such a long way since then. It’s a very impressive tool which took a few pages from the book of Firebug.

    @Steve S: You’re one of the few Windows users I’ve heard say they actually like Safari. Many Windows users don’t like the way type is rendered in Safari.

  5. @JonathanChristopher: The type rendering is one of my favorite aspects. It’s inconsistent with the rest of the OS, but it’s more readable, in my opinion.

  6. @Steve S: I definitely agree. When sitting down at a Windows machine after using OS X as a primary OS, the type (to me) seems all too jagged which in turn makes it feel… old.

  7. Hmm.. I’ve recently installed safari, in a quest to set up the best web development environment i could for myself, and so far, I’ve noticed it’s speeds great, and that the develop menus “network” utility is adorable.

    I’m not sure how to access it or whether firebug has such a similar feature, it’s definitely useful, and provides good feedback, although it would be more powerful with a tool like YSlow.

  8. @Miksago: Firebug does indeed have an equivalent feature. Check out the ‘Net’ tab in Firebug.

  9. @Jonathan

    Oh I’ve run Ubuntu before as my main OS (6.10 was my last one I think). But when I got my new laptop early last year it couldn’t install Ubuntu. It’s taken until 8.04 to get the bug fixed, it wouldn’t so much as boot the live CD till now. I really like Ubuntu, it’s a great OS. The only thing keeping me on Windows originally was Photoshop, but now I run XP on my old desktop so I use PS on that. And now Ubuntu works on my laptop, I’m thinking of ditching Vista (which I hate with a passion, it is horribly flaky).

    Aptana runs on Ubuntu, Miro runs on Ubuntu, FF and TB run on Ubuntu, and that very last thing holding me back is checking that amaroK can decode my iTunes library (no DRM, but all 320kb/s CD rips encoded in iTunes native format).

  10. @Matt Wilcox: Oh that’s great — I really love Ubuntu and I still use my Ubuntu machine at home as an in house server (development, file, etc) and it’s really quite fantastic. It’s disappointing to read that a bug has prevented you from running it, but the Ubuntu team is really doing great work and it’s good to hear that 8.04 may be applicable for you. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how amaroK will handle your iTunes library, but I’d have to think that if there’s no DRM there must be a way to play your library. Enjoy Ubuntu!

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