Dissing Safari for Windows (And Rightly So)

A rocky Windows trek for Apple’s Safari browser

The first problem for Safari 3.1, Apple’s new Web browser for Windows, was how it arrived on people’s computers. Last week millions who were only marginally connected to Apple — because they’d downloaded iTunes — were prompted to “update” to Safari, even though they’d never expressed an interest in the thing.

The article goes on to compare it to “Microsoftian bundling” [sic], notes the problems (since “fixed”) with Apple’s EULA for this browser they’re sneaking onto people’s computers, and mentions the chronic issues with crashes and security advisories. The concluding sentence says it all: “But this was supposed to be the best browser in the world.”

Not if it comes from Apple.

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One Response to “Dissing Safari for Windows (And Rightly So)”

  1. bishopdante Says:

    I read your letter in the guardian. Impassioned, and very thin on facts, so I thought that I’d comment.

    In my books, it’s sort of the end justifies the means. I’m most keen on results over method. The result justifies the method. And that’s right, sometimes murder is morally right. And context, well, that’s always complex, and I feel that you’ve taken some things a little out of context, and are drawing some parallels that are not quite right at all.

    The issue with Microsoft I find is that they use market strength to supress the competition, even though their product is WORSE, and once they achieve domination, they remove and prevent interoperability with the competitors. Microsoft have this horrible copy-cat knockoff quality thing going. It’s getting better, but Windows Explorer landed them right in the Supreme court for 5 years straight. End Result: people yelling at screens becuase the software is BADLY MADE and has been foisted upon them, and it making the achievement of their tasks an abominable nightmare. The software is bad. For goodness’ sake. There’s about 20 versions of Windows now, and they’re all incompatible! 64 bit/32 bit, 2000 XP Vista, Home Pro Server edition. The planning is all messed up, and the implementation is rushed, their concepts are derivative rather than inspired, and the engineering is not solid, and very bloated/hacky.

    Apple’s business model is equally capitalist, and equally aggressive. However, with apple they are renowned for build quality and usability. Sure, they get their product out, and occupy and protect their platform territory.

    I have used pretty much every OS under the sun, including Be, and I will happily tell you that OSX 10.0 made me believe that apple were doomed, and that Leopard 10.5.0 was a bit buggy. Tiger was bomb proof, would run for up to 6 months under heavy, heavy abuse loads. Leopard is really fast, though. I can also tell you that 6 months of Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon was far more shocking than any version of Windows I’ve ever run. Really quite frankly dodgy, and the software was worse. Took about 4 hours of terminal maintainence a week to keep propped up, used mostly for just surfing, too! The usability was also quite terrifyingly bad, reminded me of late 90s Acorn RISCOS. BeOS was excellent indeed, and basically started up off the back of apple, by an ex-apple employee. But it was not flawless, oh no. Where apple were sensible with NeXT was the internet heritage (first webserver, and client browser) and OpenStep, the programming environment, and the established community that came with it. Let’s face it, NeXT was really hot, and totally underrated to the point of invisibility. Maybe Microsoft should buy Be!

    This is all rather opinion based, and ultimately people can use what they want, and I agree totally with the Linux ethic of “if you don’t like it, change it yourself!” I do that on whatever computer I use, and if it’s doing something I don’t want it to, that’s my fault for not knowing enough, either while using it, or before buying/installing it.

    However, to get back to the point at hand, rather than holding some kind of subjectively judged mass platform competition, I should really inform you that where you’re misinformed regarding the Safari issue is here:

    WebKit. Apple developed webkit for Safari 1.0. It was pretty damn good. The results were great. Apple rather unexpectedly then open sourced it, and gave it to the KDE community, who promptly switched from Mozilla, since WebKit is great, planned out from the beginning, and put together just right. It’s just newer, it has learned from the mistakes of others, and aims to be the best. And apple paid to have it built right, from the start. Are apple being generous, or is this actually devious infiltration of the Linux community, or is it perhaps just plain sensible business, and the best way of establishing a platform? Well, the long and short of it is that WebKit now belongs to KDE, not apple. Apple contributed, and continue to be the major contributor. That’s cool. Also of note, it hasn’t necessarily worked out so financially profitable for Apple, since Google Android uses… that’s right, WebKit. And that will take more than a dent out of iPhone sales.

    So Safari runs WebKit. Itunes music store does, too. Apple like building core service stacks, and while they’re not the fastest, or lightest weight, they are very reliable, and very convenient to use by all accounts.

    Itunes and safari run the same libraries, in effect. The software is so similar that they have effectively conglomerated, and install as a package. You are looking at the matter from rather a superficial perspective, the distinction between the products is much smaller than it seems. And who can blame you, apple’s marketing strategy is to make it one sentence “idiot proof”, and they give their products strong, clean, individual identities.

    The line you take with safari/itunes is very similar to somebody complaining that they only want iMovie, and they got Garage Band too, automatically. Non apple newbs know that all they’re really doing anywhere in that software is manipulating a Quartz skin over the Core Audio and Core Image framework, and that you can actually get into that package and hack away to make it do whatever you want. Same with the pro apps. When you install say Logic, it puts in all the libraries for Final Cut, Shake etc. They’re called the pro support package. Hey ho, it’s bloatware if you only want a single product, it’s integration, streamlining and efficiency should you want a platform. And that’s what apple build, ultimately, the OSX platform, and its associated libraries. They’re making their platform portable, compatible, and rather nicely designed, and with high production values. Sure, FairPlay is a bunch of suckingness, but it’s suckingess is the work of the media owners, not apple’s business sense. Apple have fought with the labels many times over their greed. Same with iPhone and AT&T. AT&T are known for being… oh so lovely.

    Do you know why people use itunes? Lets face it, people can use it. It syncs to ipod. It presents you with an interface for browsing your music library. And it “just works”. On Windows I don’t use it, but on OSX there is quite simply nothing to beat it. And with windows, all the other players are… how do you say, convoluted, and ugly, or just an iTunes clone. Rockbox seemed rather familiar, too.

    REPLY:
    People use iTunes because it comes with their iPods. The point of the post was that Apple is bundling their third-rate, bug-filled iTunes software with all kinds of stuff like Safari and making users opt-out (if they actually even look — many users set up automatic updating). Funny how you would cut them slack for pulling the same shit that lands Microsoft in courtrooms.

    I, likewise, have read your comments — uninformed as they are. Allow me to make a few points to show where you err.

    1. You wrote that Apple gave Webkit to KDE. Wrong, it was the other way around. Apple used KDE’s khtml/kjs as a base for Webkit. It took many months to get Apple to comply with the terms of the LPGL, under which khtml is licensed. That they finally did is no act of altruism — it was required by the license. No props for that. None.
    http://arstechnica.com/journals/linux.ars/2007/07/23/the-unforking-of-kdes-khtml-and-webkit
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KHTML#KHTML_and_Apple
    etc.

    2. Moreover and in connection with Apple’s reluctance to comply with provisions of the license, there has been continued concern that they only release larger patch sets en masse rather than keep the diffs freely available as the license requires.

    3. The security advisories are usually Safari-specific. They rarely include advisories for other applications using Webkit/khtml — not Konqueror, not Abrowse, not Epiphany. Add to that QuickTime and iTunes vulns across platforms. That alone should tell you whose code is shitty and whose isn’t. Need a clue?

    4. Windows hasn’t been foisted on anyone, so cut the crap. One of the things too many people overlook is how early adopters of any technology drive development. Microsoft made inroads with IBM and made their code work on compatible computers. Apple didn’t, and with the exception of a very brief period of time Apple hasn’t even licensed their OS for third-party hardware — something which requires users to purchase Apple hardware if they want to run Mac OS. During the early and formative years of personal computing, Apple chose instead to market a rinky-dink OS in rinky-dink hardware — as an Apple developer, I had one of the first Macs — that was, for the most part, incompatible with every other personal computer of its time. Microsoft was compliant with more widely accepted standards and also portable (including on the architectures Apple was both using and considering). That’s why Microsoft won the PC wars, because they didn’t restrict themselves to obscure or soon-to-be obsolete architectures. The frustration users have had isn’t from Windows being inferior, but because mass adoption of it has made it a victim of its own fortunes. The more prevalent something is, the bigger target it is. Criminals don’t waste their time on a handful of personal computers running OSX when 92% are using Windows. It also hasn’t helped matters security-wise that Microsoft has done little to discourage things like running in single-user (admin/root) mode. But neither has Apple. That’s why Apples are just as vulnerable, ceteris paribus, as Windows PCs in the wild. The small market share is the only protection Apple has (see below) from the same kinds of attacks Windows users have faced, much less on the same grand scale.

    Much of the rest of your rambling remarks fit in the category you rightly suggested was “opinion based.” That includes the presumptuous claim about Apple’s “build quality and usability.” As to the former, their styling is much more highly respected than the offerings of PC OEMs. That doesn’t translate, though, into superior quality in terms of the hardware. For example, I still have a box of early PowerPC motherboards and other parts that serve as a reminder that Apple had some serious issues with both design and engineering. I also have on top of my computer desk an old Performa. It still boots. However, Apple’s decisions to use peculiar hardware configurations require me to either find another monitor like the one I bought with the Performa or use convoluted adapters to connect it to hardware with more common, prevailing standards — like a VGA monitor. Never mind the bizarre NuBus slots that make connecting it to networks — including the Internet — ever again unlikely. How do you get to the point where you think their quality is any different from anyone else using the same Intel chips, motherboards made by the same companies that make them for PC OEMs, or laptops and other devices assembled in the very same plants where their competitors’ products are assembled? Hint: the quality is similar to that of PC OEMs and below that of higher-end custom systems; you’re just willing to pay more for fancier packaging and stylistic differences.

    As to the former — usability — I’m reminded of a computer magazine in the early ’90s that put together a test of various graphical interfaces available. Windows 3.0/3.1, OS/2, Mac (probably pre-OS7), Geoworks, etc. The tests were designed to measure how well average people as well as users of those platforms could manage routine tasks in each. The winner was Windows. The loser was Mac — even among Mac users. I believe it was PC Computing, probably 1991. I may still have a copy in a box in the garage.

    YMMV, as with anything else.

    Finally and to elaborate a little on the fourth point above, security through obscurity isn’t security. Security through obscurity relies on being in the fringe to be of any benefit — it doesn’t mean what you’re using is inherently better or more secure, it only means you’re inconsequential in the bigger picture. There will be Mac bot herds if Mac ever has sufficient marketshare for criminals to manage them. Whatever comfort zone there is in being part of the five percent willing to buy Macs isn’t mitigated by the inferior quality and security of Apple’s code. That’s not opinion. There are many reasons why Macs are pwned first in nearly every one of these public contests. Chief among them is the way Apple focuses on style over substance. Apple’s small market share allows them a little more latitude in this area than Microsoft can have as the de facto standard for desktop computing. Because of their ubiquity, Microsoft must have an intense focus on security — something with which they’ve risen to the occasion and deserve more praise. Many security analysts have gone on record as such, even those who still use less secure Mac OSX. For example:
    http://www.macworld.com/article/57616/2007/04/daizovi.html

    I intend to revisit this last topic again in greater detail, possibly as early as this weekend.

    I hope this clears things up for you. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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