I had a Mac when I was in the Computer Science faculty at the University of York. Never again. Its OS supposedly beat the pants off Windows when it came to multitasking. My experience was that if you tried to do three things at the same time you would soon be doing a fourth thing: rebooting the computer after it hung. Times have probably changed but it will be another couple of decades before I will forgive Apple for all the work I kept having to redo. So, until recently, the only times I have ever used Apple’s Safari web browser was when mooching around an Apple Store. But recently Apple released a Safari 3 beta for both Windows and Mac. As you may have guessed, I spend a fair bit of time on the web. Probably you do too – otherwise you would not be reading this – so the major selling point of Safari should be easy to understand. According to Apple, Safari is the fastest web browser. And since using it, I have to say they were not exaggerating. It is fast. My experience seems to match the boasts that Safari is twice as fast as Internet Explorer and much faster than Firefox too. Given that most of you are reading this with IE, you may want to think about that for a moment. Plenty have already. According to Apple, there were over a million downloads of the Windows version of Safari during the first 48 hours it was available.
Okay, I can hear you sceptics stalking me. But before you pounce like lions on a wounded wildebeest in the Serengeti I want to make it clear I am no starry-eyed Apple lover (for reasons that should be clear from the above). Of course Safari has flaws. Yes, it is buggy. I had to play with the HTML on one of my pages just to workaround an issue peculiar to Safari. Yes, it has security issues and issuing lots of hasty patches suggests a lack of quality control. However, most businesses find that the only sure way to get their software secure is to release it and let the hackers find all the weaknesses for them. And yes, as Steve Jobs said himself, there are a million iTunes downloads and half a million Firefox downloads every single day. So downloading Safari does not mean the same as using Safari. But none of that matters. This is about big business. If web browsers were not strategically important, most of us would still be using Netscape and Microsoft would not have to speak to a judge every time somebody complains about anti-competitive behaviour. I still have fond memories of using Mosaic when I was in York. Those were the days when if you told conventional businesspeople about how they could use the “information super highway” they looked at you like you were an idiot. Now most businesspeople talk excitedly about “web 2.0” without a clue what it is. But I digress. In a perfect world, your choice of web browser would have no impact on what content you access from the web or where you spend your money; but this is not a perfect world. And with web browsers I think Apple has once again worked out the best way to appeal to customers. Speed is king. Why pay for a faster internet connection when a change of browser can make such a dramatic impact on the speed perceived by the user? In terms of gaining market share, eroding the natural advantage of Microsoft and the stubborn preferences of the more tech-savvy users will take time. However, Apple have shown how fast they will move to do so.