For a long time, the Web browser was something of a poor relation in Apple’s OS X. It’s easy to forget that the primary browser in the first version of OS X was Internet Explorer and in recent years, many Mac users preferred Mozilla’s Firefox to Apple’s own Safari. But in the last couple of years, Safari has come into its own as a much improved application on the Mac and with versions for Windows and the iPhone.

The new Safari 4, available for download in a test version for OS X and Windows, is a big step forward. After just a day or so of use, two things are notable about it. First, it is wicked fast, especially when loading pages that make heavy use of Javascript. Second, it shares a lot of the look and feel of Google’s Chrome.

User interface design is an area where developers have always borrowed very heavily from their competitors, so it's no insult to note Safari 4s debt to Chrome. The two share a minimalist aesthetic, which puts them in sharp contrast to the busy and cluttered look at both Firefox and IE.

Like Chrome, the new Safari has a minimum of menus and toolbars, keeping the focus on Web page contents. Also like Chrome, it arranges all your open pages into tabs displayed above the address bar, a feature that takes a bit of getting used to but makes great sense once it is familiar. Unlike Chrome, which uses a combined address and search field with sometimes surprising results, Safari offers a separate Google search box to the right of the address bar.

Being based on a relatively mature product, Safari 4 is more advanced than Chrome at an assortment of functions, such as bookmark management. I also did not experience any compatibility problems, though my testing was far from exhaustive.

If you are a fan of the latest developments in browsers, Safari 4 seems well worth a try.

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