A Comparison of Web Browsers for Macintosh (OS X)

Apple Safari vs. Mozilla Firefox 2.0

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If you are a Macintosh user running OS 10.2.3 or above, two of the most powerful web browsers available to you are Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox. Both browsers are available free of charge, and each has its own distinct advantages. This article deals with Firefox version 2.0 and several versions of Safari. The reason for this is that your version of Safari is dependent on the version of OS X that you have installed.

Why You Should Use Safari

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Apple's Safari browser, now a key piece of Mac OS X, is seamlessly integrated into some of your main applications, including Apple Mail and iPhoto. This is one of the obvious advantages of Apple developing its own browser in-house. Gone are the days of Internet Explorer's icon residing in your dock. As a matter of fact, newer versions of OS 10.4.x do not officially support IE at all, although it may run for you if installed properly.

HTML Page Load Speed

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It is apparent that the developers at Apple did not rush into things when planning Safari's infrastructure. This becomes clear when you first launch the application and notice how quickly the main window draws and your home page loads. Apple has publicly benchmarked Safari v2.0 (for OS 10.4.x) as having HTML page load speeds at almost two times that of its Firefox counterpart and approximately four times that of Internet Explorer.

News and Blog Reading

A screenshot of the MSNBC home page on a Safari browser.

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If you are a big news/blog reader, having a browser that handles RSS (also known as Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary) well is a major bonus. With Safari 2.0, all RSS standards are supported going back to RSS 0.9. What this means for you is no matter what technology your favorite news source or blog is utilizing, you will be able to view headlines and summaries directly from your browser window. The customization options here are also very detailed and useful.

Even More Added Functionality

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Along with all of the features you probably expect in a newer browser, such as tabbed browsing and private browsing settings, Safari offers a great deal of added functionality. This holds especially true for those of you who have a Mac account or use Automator, as Safari hooks into both of these very nicely.

In regards to Parental Controls, Safari features settings that are easy to customize, allowing you to promote a child-safe environment. In other browsers, these controls are not easily configurable and usually require third-party downloads.

In addition, Safari is, for the most part, open source which allows developers to create plug-ins and add-ons to enrich your browsing experience even more.

Why You Should Use Firefox

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Mozilla's Firefox v2.0 for Macintosh OS X is a very popular substitute for Safari. Although it may not be as fast, the difference does not seem to be enough to warrant totally discounting Mozilla's product as your browser of choice. While Safari's speed and its integration with the operating system may give it a leg up at first glance, Firefox has its own unique features that provide appeal.

The Session Restore Feature

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Firefox, for the most part, is a stable browser. However, even the most stable browsers crash. Firefox v2.0 has a great feature built in called "Session Restore". With older versions of Firefox, you had to install the Session Restore extension to gain this functionality. In the event of a browser crash or accidental shutdown, you are given the option to restore all the tabs and pages that you had open before the browser prematurely closed. This feature alone makes Firefox very attractive.

Multiple Searches Saves a Few Steps

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Another cool feature unique to Firefox are the multiple options provided to you in the search bar, allowing you to pass your search terms to sites such as Amazon and eBay. This is a convenience that can save you a step or two more often than you may realize.

Additional Features of the Open Source Platform

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Like Safari, Firefox has fairly comprehensive RSS support built in. Also like Safari, Firefox provides an open source platform which allows developers to create powerful add-ons and extensions to your browser. However, unlike Safari, Firefox has thousands of add-ons available. Although Safari's developer community continues to grow, it pales in comparison to that of Mozilla.

The Winner Is...

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Both browsers have a lot of similar features, as well as some unique functions. When it comes to choosing between the two, you should take a few things into consideration. Here are some factors to contemplate while making your decision.

  • If you use Apple Mail as your email client and you would like to perform several email tasks from within your browser, Safari may be your best choice.
  • If you would like to utilize Automator for many of your common browsing tasks, Safari may be right for you.
  • If you tend to search sites such as eBay, Answers.com, and Amazon often, or if you browse a lot of sites built for Internet Explorer, Firefox may make more sense as your primary browser.
  • If you would like to take advantage of thousands of add-ons and extensions to take your browser to new horizons, then give Firefox a try.
  • If you have children that use your computer and you feel the need for parental controls, Safari is probably your best bet.
  • If the only thing you really care about is speed, then go with Safari.

If none of the unique features really stand out and you are just looking for a quality browser to do your day to day surfing, it may be a toss-up on which browser is actually better for you. In this case, there is no harm in trying both. Firefox and Safari can both be installed at the same time without any repercussions, so there is really no harm in giving both a trial run. Eventually, you will discover that one is more comfortable than the other and that will become your favorite browser.