Monday, June 11, 2007

Does Windows need another browser?

This week is Apple’s annual developer conference. It used to be in San Jose (an easy trip from where I live now) but Steve Jobs prefers The City, so he switched the annual conference from San Jose in April/May to a small corner of Moscone Center in June. The first SF conference (2003) was my last WWDC — I went to most of the WWDC conferences from 1988-2003, and still have many of the old polo shirts.

Today in San Francisco Steve Jobs did his annual WWDC keynote. Tom Krazit of CNET has a good stream of consciousness blog from WWDC. After the expected OS X 10.5 (“Leopard”) demos, the keynote (as reported by Krazit) took an unexpected turn:

[Jobs On stage]11:09--Safari: The Safari Web browser's got about 5 percent market share across the Internet, Jobs says. He'd like to make that number grow. How to make that happen? A version of Safari for Windows.

11:11--Safari 3 runs on Windows XP and Vista, and it exists today. Steve says Safari's HTML performance is twice as fast as IE using a benchmark Ina and I didn't catch. It's also faster than IE on Javascript performance, Jobs says, and it also beats Firefox (although not as much).

11:13--Jobs switches over to a Windows XP window. "This is strange," he jokes. He demonstrates the Windows Safari browsing through various sites, showing off a new tabbing feature. The benchmark we didn't catch is called iBench, and Jobs does a side-by-side comparison of Safari and IE 7 loading a bunch of Web sites. Safari's twice as fast, as you might expect during a WWDC demo. Try it yourself, he says.

11:15--Distribution is the next topic. There are over 500 million downloads of iTunes for Windows out there. Apple's going to have 3 editions of Safari, one that's for Leopard, one for XP, and one for Windows on Tiger. It's a public beta available today on Apple's Web site.
I must say, I didn’t see this one coming: I thought the browser wars were over almost a decade ago. However, in researching her update of IE and Mozilla plans, Mary Jo Foley (ZDNet’s excellent Microsoft blogger) found that Mozilla saw this coming.

Why did they do it? Here are some possible reasons:
  • This causes the open source WebKit library for rendering HTML to be more widely used. Webkit is already available on the Nokia/Symbia S60 platform, while Swift is a struggling effort to bring WebKit to Windows. Raising the Safari/WebKit market share would mean more sites would care about Safari/WebKit compatibility. (For those who want to do first-hand research, the WebKit team is having a drinking party tonight in San Francisco.)
  • As the TV ads make clear, the iPhone’s success is highly dependent upon Safari and a user experience comparable to a desktop. So maybe building Safari market share and compatibility has now become crucial.
  • Windows-only shops can test for Safari compatibility without buying a Mac.
  • As Foley suggested, maybe there are some Safari/iTunes integration opportunities.
  • Many of Apple’s recent switchers are still running Windows, either at work or at home. So perhaps Apple is trying to give them a clean, consistent user experience rather than have them rely on Firefox (since IE for Mac is gone).
Still, running a Vista shop within Apple just to push Safari seems like a lot of expense; Microsoft has a whole Macintosh division, and they no longer maintain IE. There’s got to be another explanation; perhaps the iTunes for Windows programmers had time on their hands in between updates.

The key note ended a half hour ago. For those who want the new Safari (Mac or Windows), Apple’s download site is now active.

Photo credit: James Martin/CNET

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If the iPhone is a large part of Apple's future, and Safari is the heart of the iPhone, then having Safari on Windows is a defensive move. Apple can't afford to leave iPhone's success to the tender mercies of Microsoft's IE.

They already have XP/Vista experience with iTunes and Quicktime. Of course a lot of that can be leveraged for Safari.

Will they move more applications like the iLife suit to Windows? Why not?