Macworld - I have long been a Safari devotee. But since the introduction of Lionor more accurately the introduction of Safari 5.1Apples web browser quickly fell out of favor with me. Because of a few under-the-hood changes to how Safari does its thing, Ive ended up abandoning the browser in favor of Googles Chromean app I once said couldnt serve as my default browser. Times have changed: Safaris now absent from my Dock, and Chrome has claimed its spot.
The number one motivator for my switch to Chrome full-time is speed. On my system (a Core i7 MacBook Pro), Safari is measurably slower than Chrome, particularly once Ive opened multiple tabs. Whats worse is that Safari actually slows down the rest of my system, too. Chrome suffers neither problem.
Safari Web Content woes
Why did the latest iteration of Safari get slower? Blame Safari Web Content. As Ted Landau reported, thats a new background process that runs in tandem with Safari when you run the browser on your Mac. Safari Web Contents job is to load any plug-ins and render the pages you surf to; the main Safari app that you see is the browser shell.
Ironically, Safari Web Contenta core element of what Apple calls WebKit2, the rendering engine that powers Safariis actually an attempt by Apple to emulate one of Chromes key features: By decoupling Safari (the browser) from Safari Web Content, the browser should remain more resilient if an individual webpage goes haywire. Thus, rather than having a rogue Flash script crash your entire browser, it should only crash the current tab. Thats now true of both Chrome and Safari.
The problem is that Safaris implementation is flawed, and Apple hasnt fixed it yet. I dont know why, but Safari Web Content just doesnt behave very well. Like the iPad and iPhone, Safari for Mac now refreshes tabs content when you go back to them if you havent viewed them in a while, which can wipe out any content youve entered into a form. Even if theres no form data to lose, this behavior still means that you get to wait for the page to load all over again.
When I write a Weekly Wrap for Macworld, or if Im researching a product to buy, I can end up with two or three dozen tabs open on my screen. And that makes Safari 5.1 grind to a near standstill, as tab content is endlessly purged, making the browsing process take much longer than it should. When Safari started behaving that badly, the rest of my Mac would inevitably start choking right along with it. (The fix? Kill that Safari Web Content process in Activity Monitorwhich in turn means all your tabs need to be reloaded again.)