Miscellaneous Ramblings

Safari 4.1.3 for Tiger Revisited and Redeemed

Charles Moore - 2011.03.22 - Tip Jar

I'm going to have to cop to giving up on Safari 4.1.3 too soon. If you tuned in to our last episode, Safari 4.1.3 for Tiger: Fast, but Not Perfect, you'll recall that I finally got around to installing version 4.1.3 on one of my old Pismo PowerBooks, in hope of escaping a nasty bug in the last Mac OS X 10.4.11 Tiger supported version of my default browser, Opera. The bug causes long stalls when attempting to enter text in webpage fields.

While impressed with the speed of Safari 4.1.3 (relatively speaking - this is a 550 MHz G4 running Tiger), I noted a lot of hard drive activity going on in the background with it running, even when I wasn't doing anything with the browser.

I persisted for a couple of days while the hard drive busywork went on in the background, but I really detest computer noise (memo to self: you need a SSD), and it finally got on my nerves. I had discovered that quitting Safari terminated the noise, so I did that and reverted to Opera 10.6.3. I chronicled my adventure in last week's column, also commenting on some other aspects Safari 4.1.3 that didn't entirely enchant me, such as the necessity of running an installer rather than just dragging the application from a mounted disk image as with most browsers these days.

A Second Chance

However, several reader letters I received commenting on the issue encouraged me to give Safari 4.1.3 another go. Anticlimactically, the hard drive gave a few chatters after the application loaded - and then it quieted down. The background activity hasn't returned in several of days of using Safari as my default browser, happily with no text-entry issues.

Now here's a curious thing. Over the weekend, both for issue-comparison purposes and because I've provisionally decided that Safari 4.1.3 is a preferable option to Opera 10.63 on my Tiger machines, I installed the Security Update 2009-005 and this version of Safari on my other Pismo. I encountered no hard drive background activity issue, and I'm sure it's not because the 4200 RPM 100 GB Seagate hard drive in that unit is a lot quieter than the 5400 RPM 40 GB Toshiba drive in the first Pismo. So go figure. Maybe it was something unique to to that particular hardware/software combo, although nominally both Pismos are running the same software and OS. Go figure.

Consequently, I could no longer test to determine what the issue was on either machine, but reader Patrick suggested it might be the phishing database (SafeBrowsing.db) being updated. That sounds plausible and would explain why the noise spontaneously stopped - coincidentally it was only a minute or two after the point where I had exasperatedly the quit the browser. Patrick also noted that disk access caused by updating the SafeBrowsing.db is a lot less noticeable on a faster computer (less effort to download and process the file, the disk is acoustically quieter, etc.).

Warn when visiting a fraudulent website in Safari
Safari can warn you about fraudulent websites.

Reader Matt wrote to say that he has also experienced earlier builds of Safari causing excessive hard drive activity on a couple of old G3 Macs he uses, and that he was able to work around the problem by disabling the option "Warn when visiting a fraudulent website", which is in the "Security" tab of Safari's Preferences, which he found worked like a charm on both of his elderly computers, and that he's been using Safari as his main browser on both of them for several months.

Of course doing that causes increases your security risk, but I've determined that is a lesser evil on this old machine that is used primarily for researching information on the Web as well as drafting and editing articles.

My intention is once again to use Safari 4.1.3 as the default browser on both Pismos and retire Opera 10.6.3.

Browsers on My MacBook

Incidentally, I downloaded the latest Opera 11.10 beta on Friday and find that it's a rocket sled of a browser on my 2.0 GHz Unibody MacBook running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.

It's hard to keep up with browser updates these days, but at least Firefox 4 Beta and Chrome 10, which I also use on the MacBook, automatically load incremental version updates, and you just have to quit and restart the browser to have the current version. All three of these browsers have issued updates over the past week, and they're all great, but I think Opera may have regained its speed edge with this version 11.10 release.

Back to Safari on My Pismos

Back on the Pismos, as I said, Safari 4.1.3 now seems to be an easier-to-get-along-with alternative to battling the Opera text input bug. However, Safari is not without its own issues. For example, the browser has crashed twice in three days. Browser crashes are something I haven't experienced with a stable version Opera for some time - and very seldom even with alpha and beta builds. Safari also has its own share of spinning beachball time-outs, although thankfully not as frequently or as long as with Opera's 10.6's text entry problem with OS X 10.4.

I'm also less than enchanted with Safari's user interface appearance, and its download manager, although serviceable, is lame compared with Opera's best in class, reliably resumable download manager.

Tab overflow in Safari
After displaying a certain number of tabs, Safari puts the rest in a pulldown menu.

Perhaps most irritating of all, I dislike Safari's pushing open tabs off to a pulldown menu after the tab bar is filled widthwise, rather than just shrinking the tabs smaller and smaller as Opera does.

These are relatively small annoyances, but they do add up. As I've observed here previously, lack of browser compatibility will likely be the issue that finishes OS X 10.4 as a satisfactory production OS.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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