Building a better browser
John O'Brien
SO YOU thought the browser wars were over.

Microsoft might have crushed the competition on the Windows side with Internet Explorer, but in the Mac camp there's more choice than ever before. Although IE for Mac is still the dominant browser, it has to compete with offerings from Netscape and upstarts like OmniWeb, iCab, Opera and the recent Mozilla progeny Chimera.

And at the risk of further straining relations with Microsoft, Apple itself this week released a browser of its own, Safari. This followed last August's expiry of the five-year pact under which Internet Explorer was the Mac's default browser.

Safari is claimed to be three times faster than IE. When the beta version was released on Wednesday, it broke the download record for Apple's website with 300,000 on the first day, tripling the previous record held by iTunes.

Safari is a small (3Mb), nimble browser with a minimalist interface and integrated Google search field, and automatically imports bookmarks from other browsers on your system. It is based on open source, which Apple has been increasingly embracing with its FreeBSD-Unix-based Mac OS X. This has made it the new darling of Unix/Linux aficionados.

Feedback from early adopters has been positive, though Safari lacks features like tabbed browsing, page archiving and saving images with thumbnails. A bug button on the browser lets users report any glitches to Apple.

In a move that will further irritate Microsoft, Apple released its new presentation software Keynote, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs has been secretly trialling with his Macworld presentations.

Keynote aims to simplify the creation of professional-quality presentations, and includes 12 Apple themes featuring co-ordinated backgrounds, fonts, colours, bullets, tables and charts. Users can customise these or create their own. Other features include easy image resizing and transparencies, animated charts and tables, and cinema-quality transitions.

Keynote, which will sell for $199, is fully compatible with Microsoft's PowerPoint, and can export presentations in PDF and QuickTime formats.

Safari and Keynote directly compete with Microsoft's IE and PowerPoint. It's almost as if Apple is arming the battlements for a future when MS cuts the Mac adrift, and locks it out with its Palladium project.