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Activate the Developer menu in Safari 4's preferences.

Activate the Developer menu in Safari 4's preferences.

Apple’s Safari web browser was upgraded to version 4 yesterday and with it came an update to the developers tools first introduced in Safari 3.1. The new version is set to give Firefox’s FireBug plugin some very serious competition. Not only does the Development environment look and perform very well, it’s also very full featured.

In the toolset we find inspection of HTML and CSS, JavaScript debugging, page load profiling tools and a Databases inspection tool presumably for HTML 5’s offline storage support. There are also tools to disable caching, spoof user agents and more from the handy Develop menu.

Inspecting Pages

When designing a new web page frequently plenty of time is spent making minor changes, updating the server and then checking the results in the web browser. This three stage process slows down the design process and hampers the creative flow. Page inspection tools allow you to review and edit your page live in the browser, allowing you to easily try out different CSS rules or HTML edits until you know what you want. And what you see is literally what you get – your preview is the actual web browser.

A line of HTML highlighted in the rendering.

A line of HTML highlighted in the rendering.

Safari 4’s “Web Inspector”, shown with Develop / Show Web Inspector, is Apple’s take on page inspection. Reminiscent of Firebug’s equivalent, the inspector area attaches to the bottom of the Safari window. On the left hand you get the HTML for the page and on the right hand you get the full hierarchy of CSS affecting the currently selected element. By choosing the magnifier icon you can click on any element in the page – a headline, an image, a paragraph – and bring it into focus in the HTML view. The same can be done by selecting tags in the HTML source code directly.

When an element is selected it is outlined in blue in the page. A light blue box shows the dimensions of the element itself and a darker blue box behind it outlines the element with margins included. This is helpful when an element is not positioned where you want it or it’s the wrong size. The blue boxes will let you know if the problem is with the margins or if there is something else going on.

Once you have a theory of what you’d like to change you can go in and edit the effective CSS directly using the Styles panel on the right hand side. For instance you could tweak the font-size by double clicking the font-size value and typing in a new number. A set of checkboxes also allow you to toggle individual CSS rules on or off to see how that affects the page as a whole. A great tool for hunting down what CSS rule is doing what. For each section in the Styles panel you also get the responsible selector and the CSS file it comes from, making it easy to copy your changes back to the original style sheet when you are done with your edits.

The CSS editor is well designed but it does not seem to allow adding new CSS rules live, a feature available in FireBug.

What’s Taking so Long?

Another important consideration when designing a website is the page load time. Safari 4 boosts a slick looking Resources inspector which gives the developer a breakdown not only of how long each JavaScript, CSS or image file took to load but also when each download started. All of this is shown in the context of the whole page load from the first millisecond to the last.

Timing the bits and pieces of a web page.

Timing the bits and pieces of a web page.

By laying the load time out in a timeline various sources of delay can be tracked. For example in the screenshot above the main document takes just short of half a second to load. We can also see that the CSS file request goes out even before the main HTML is finished loading, as Safari finds the CSS link in the header almost immediately. For each bar the semitransparent section is the latency – the time until the first byte of the response. So in the above case we can see that the latency makes up the majority of the load time. We can also see that the two images used on the page are loaded concurrently and that they start loading immediately when the CSS has been retrieved. Finally the colorful bar on top breaks the total load time down by type and lets us know the whole page finished loading in 1.2 seconds.

Individual resources can be inspected, allowing the developer to review the size and contents of each resource. In the same section the request and response headers can be reviewed. This is useful for the web server administrator in order to determine compression status and cache expiration headers.¬†Strangely enough POST parameters don’t seem to show up which could be a serious problem for debugging.

This CSS file was gzipped and comes with a far future expires header. Great!

This CSS file was gzipped and comes with a far future expires header. Great!

Breaking Into the Source

Tracing the execution of JavaScript.

Tracing the execution of Javascript.

In the web 2.0 age, JavaScript is almost as important as the HTML and CSS that make up a page. Luckily Safari 4’s JavaScript debugging facilities give you a window into your code as it runs. You can set breakpoints, step through source code and inspect the call stack and variables as you go along.

When a page has been loaded the Scripts tab shows the various JavaScript resources available on the page, by source filename. When a file has been selected the JavaScript is displayed with syntax highlighting and line numbers. Clicking on a source line number sets a breakpoint. Once the targeted code executes Safari automatically launches into single step mode, allowing for the usual controls: Step Over, Step Into and return (called Step Out). At each step you can also inspect the values of the variables available in the scope.

There is also a Console feature which not only shows console messages and errors generated by your JavaScript during runtime but allows you to run commands live. Need to see what happens if a certain variable has a different value? Just set it using the console and watch the results unfold in the active web page.

Executing a JavaScript command in a live page.

Executing a JavaScript command in a live page.

Step Behind the Scenes

Safari 4's Develop Menu.

Safari 4's Develop Menu.

Safari 4’s Develop menu reveals additional tools and utilities useful for debugging and inspecting a web page. Enable or disable caches, images, CSS or JavaScript to see what the page looks like in a degraded state. This allows you to make sure the web page looks good even without images for instance, a great utility for making sure your website is accessible for persons with disabilities. Toggling JavaScript is also an obvious boon when you need to make sure your software runs in text browsers or where JavaScript has been disabled for security or performance reasons. There is also a “Snippet Editor” which seems to allow easy previewing of HTML snippets.

There are some flaws. Two were mentioned above: there does not seem to be a way to inspect POST data, important especially when debugging AJAX, and it does not seem possible to add new CSS rules dynamically as you could in FireBug.

There is also a selection bug: when the Web Inspector is revealed, selecting any text on the page causes the window to immediately scroll to the bottom. This subsequently selects all text on the page below where you started to select. Another bug is that if an element is selected such that the blue outline boxes show up, switching tabs sometimes left the outline hanging around in the other tabs too, now not highlighting anything in particular. Finally the JavaScript debugger seems to freeze up JavaScript in every Safari page – not just the one you are working with. This makes it hard to work with say an online reference in a different window.

A more minor flaw is a missing feature. There is no page optimization analysis tool such as Yahoo’s YSlow or Google’s Page Speed. These tools help analyze pages for performance problems. For example they check for additional compressibility in images and for correct headers.

These flaws aside the Development tools found in Safari leave little to be desired. All the features you expect are there and the package is polished far beyond what’s ordinary for web development. Apple has clearly been looking to FireBug when picking their features and that’s a good thing. FireBug has for a long time been setting the standard for these kinds of tools, but has been suffering from engineers’ syndrome: heaps of features but with little mind to UI design and detail polish. Safari 4’s development environment meets nearly all the same requirements and does it in style, bringing an excellent choice to the web developer’s toolbox.

Read more about the new developer tools at Apple’s What’s New page.

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Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

As I mentioned in my article ‘Save $1,285 per Computer and Still Remain Business-ready,’ I’ve been a long-time user of Open Office, and I really like it. However, there are a few drawbacks that have been bothering me lately. Then again, if you add the price of Microsoft Office into the equation, the choice becomes more complex. Sure, hands down, Microsoft Office is more powerful (even though it has several ‘features’ I’d rather be without).

Until recently, I haven’t found any features that Open Office lacks that I really need. However, lately I’ve been doing a lot of statistics, and within this field Open Office does lack some features that Microsoft Office comes with. There is a set of macros called ‘OOoStat’ which make Open Office a better tool for statistics, but it still doesn’t beat Microsoft Office.

Open Office lacks native support in Mac OS X. Since I switched to Mac, this is something that really has been bothering me. Sure, you can still run Open Office using X11, but it comes with some drawbacks such as long startup-times, low performance, and issues with the clipboard (cut and paste). I know the Open Office team is working on a native-version right now, but no stable release is available. At this time, the only workaround as I know of is NeoOffice, which is a Java-based ‘native’ OpenOffice. I was running this for a while, but went back to the X11-version due to NeoOffice’s low performance and high memory-usage.

Open Office is clean, neat and you know what it is doing. Being open source, you potentially have full control of the software. You also know exactly what information is being sent away from your computer (even though tools like Little Snitch can solve this for other softwares). Another benefit with this is that it is much more likely to be secure. So far I’ve never heard of any macro virus targeting Open Office. Sure, part of the explanation for this is the fact that the number of users is lower, but the code is also more well-written.

Open Office also supports export to PDF, Microsoft Office-files and most other common file-formats. Microsoft’s Office on the other hand only support their own formats. If you want export to PDF-files in Windows using Microsoft Office, you need to purchase Adobe Acrobat (or a similar product). I should probably add that if you’re running Mac OS X, you have the built in PDF-exporter, so this doesn’t apply.

To wrap up, Open Office is a great piece of software, but it comes with some drawbacks such as no native support in Mac OS X, and some lack of features. But still, if I were to choose between paying $400-some dollars for a license of Microsoft Office or live with the drawbacks of Open Office, the choice is quite simple. In my honest opinion, Microsoft Office is far too over-priced and the cost is certainly not justified. If you’re working with regular spread-sheets and text-documents, Open Office is enough. Also, if you’re running windows, Open Office runs natively, so you don’t need X11.

Open Office 2.0.4 running in X11 on Mac OS X.

Microsoft Office 2004 running on Mac OS X.
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Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.
Oct
24.
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This might not be directly related to our startup, but how could I resist writing about Firefox 2.0 on the big day of its release? I’ve only been running it for about 15 minutes, but so far I really like it.

The first difference that strike the user is the new polished design. The design looks very similar to the previous one, but there are some changes, such as the new icons next to the address-bar, as well as the tabs looks a bit smoother with a metallic-look.

One of the new features that I really like is that links now opens in a new tab by default, before you had to right-click on the link, and choose ‘open in new tab’.

The new version also comes with another feature that I really like (and just discovered); the built-in spell checker. Now you don’t need to copy and past your text into a text-editor just to check your spelling before posting a comment or blog-entry.

In addition to this, the browser also comes with a built-in resuming of tabs. What that means is that you can shut down your browser, and next time you open it, you can resume the tabs you were using. Great feature, I use it a lot.

If you want to read about all the new features, visit the Firefox 2.0 Release Notes.

If you haven’t already downloaded Firefox 2.0, go to Getfirefox.com, and download your copy right away. Don’t think about upgrading to Internet Explorer 7, Firefox is the real deal.

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