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Safari at 10: lasting impact on Apple's success

Dan Moren | Jan. 11, 2013
I remember all too well the Browser Wars: Broken plugins on fire off the shoulder of Orion. CSS selectors glittering in the dark near the box model. The screams as people met their demi--OK, nobody met their demise.

I remember all too well the Browser Wars: Broken plugins on fire off the shoulder of Orion. CSS selectors glittering in the dark near the box model. The screams as people met their demi--OK, nobody met their demise.

Still, just as it seems like these days every electronics company in the world is making smartphones and tablets, the same thing was happening a decade ago with Web browsers. In the main arena, Microsoft and Netscape were going head-to-head for dominance; elsewhere, Opera was holding onto its niche territory, and a new challenger by the name of Phoenix had just emerged. (Though you may know it better by its eventual stage name: Firefox.)

So what did a crowded market like that need? Clearly, one more Web browser. On January 7, 2003--ten years ago this week--Steve Jobs took the stage at Macworld Expo in San Francisco and announced that Apple had built its own Web browser, Safari.

At the time, I was working in Web development, building sites for a non-profit humanitarian policy organization. Among my least favorite parts of the job--and there were more than a few--was wrestling with the differences between how different browsers rendered the same code. Every browser seemed to have its own interpretation of what I thought were pretty straightforward instructions on how to draw a webpage.

Much as I'd love to say that Safari came along and fixed all these woes overnight, my overriding thought at the time was more along the lines of: "Great. One more 'standard' to support." At the time, I was already switching between Netscape and Internet Explorer on my Windows PC at work; at home, I relied heavily on Camino, a Mac native browser based on Mozilla's layout engine.

While Safari may not have been a dream come true for a Web developer, it ended up being a key move for Apple and its users.

Websplosion

The late 1990s and early 2000s signaled the shift from the era of online services like AOL, CompuServe, and Apple's own eWorld to the Web. Given the popularity and increasing influence of the Internet and Apple's own status as a company trying to claw itself back from the deathbed, Cupertino desperately needed to have a browser that was under its own control.

At the time of Safari's release, the default browser on Macs was Internet Explorer, as it had been since Jobs's return to Apple in 1997. While Microsoft's commitment to developing Internet Explorer for the Mac ensured that the platform at least had some sort of modern browser, Microsoft never exactly broke its back to keep IE for Mac on the cutting edge.

 

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