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WWDC 2008: Safari 4 Seeded To Developers


San Francisco (CA) - Apple has given an early beta of the Safari 4 web browser to developers at its WWDC. Safari 4 promises JavaScript acceleration through the use of the latest SquirrelFish optimization technology. According to Apple, it will bring noticeable improvements in responsiveness and performance of web 2.0 sites and web applications.

Apple made the browser available as a build 5526.11.2 for Mac OS X Tiger/Leopard and Windows, accompanying the next-generation Mac OS X Snow Leopard, which the company also previewed at its developer’s conference. Apple claims that Safari 4 is improved "with the fastest implementation of JavaScript ever, increasing performance by 53%, making Web 2.0 applications feel more responsive." According to the company, Safari 4’s JavaScript engine speed gain is based on a common SunSpider JavaScript Performance test conducted on an iMac 2.8GHz (Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GB of RAM) running Mac OS X Snow Leopard.

JavaScript is a scripting language commonly used on most web sites, especially in combination with web applications such as Google Reader, Gmail, Facebook and Apple’s recently introduced suite of Web applications and services called MobileMe. Apple indicated that, as a result, the performance of the browser’s JavaScript engine will directly translate into more performance and better responsiveness of Web applications and Web 2.0 sites.

It’s widely believed that Apple achieved a 53% speed increase in its JavaScript engine performance mainly by using a new open-source JavaScript interpreter code-named SquirrelFish. The technology comes from the WebKit organization, which also makes the open-source engine used by Safari to render web pages. WebKit claims that SquirrelFish engine delivers 1.6 times faster JavaScript performance over the existing JavaScript engine implementation in Safari 3.1.

Firefox 3 was first to tout a significantly optimized JavaScript engine, earning praises from most reviewers. Safari 4 seems to be Apple’s answer that could trigger a browser speed race. The company is betting on software optimization and performance not only in the next version of OS X but in the browser arena as well. The logic makes sense as JavaScript speed gains are immediately visible to users, translating to a better user experience and faster performance.

Besides JavaScript enhancements, it appears Apple added only minor new features. One of them is the ability to save webpages locally to the computer as stand-alone executable OS X applications. Users can launch a saved webpage like any other regular software that is installed locally on a computer. This feature is similar to what a third-party application Fluid already does. Another addition is a checkbox in Safari settings to set new browser windows to open with tabs from a specific tabs folder or bookmarks bar.

Safari 4 will be included in the OS X Snow Leopard scheduled to ship "in about a year." The browser could easily be polished for a release before Snow Leopard is shipped. Apple did not reveal Safari 4’s system requirements yet, but it’s safe to assume it will run on OS X Tiger/Leopard, Windows XP/Vista and the iPhone/iPod touch.