Prepare thy hoses. The recent announcement of the Safari 5 Web browser got me thinking--just how much of Apple's latest software iteration is already replicated in Firefox? In Google? I've never been a fan of the Safari browser myself--even the few times I would ever let my pristine hands be blackened by an unholy Apple device. But one has to give the company credit, in that they sometimes do come up with some pretty neat ideas.
Has Apple managed to improve Safari 5 leaps and bounds beyond its chief rivals, Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome? In short, no. A number of the new tricks and tidbits are already a part of one browser, or both, in some capacity. Some, that is, but not all. Just to make sure that you're getting the best-in-class experience on the Web, I've put together a short list of ways that you can embed or mimic the spirit of some of Safari 5's features in either aforementioned alternative Web browser.
I realize this is a little bit different than the usual freeware software roundup. And, yes, I realize you're about to flame me to bits for suggesting that anything touched by Apple is, in even the smallest of ways, better than a PC-based piece of hardware or software. Let's head this off at the pass by agreeing that cool features are cool features regardless of platform; I'm out of iPhones to break to prove my loyalty, faithful readers!
One of Safari's more noticeable additions is its "Safari Reader" feature. Click on the "Reader" button next to the URL in the address bar and your current page will transform into a more print-friendly, text-driven layout of what you're looking at. If you just want straight-up text to read with no distractions to steal your attention, it's a pretty nifty feature; it's also a carbon-copy of what you'll find in the Readability add-on or extension for Chrome or Firefox.
Both Chrome and Firefox already contain the ability to search their histories by a site's URL or title, such that you can type parts of either into the browsers' address bars and have a pretty good shot at pulling up the respective page you're looking for. Chrome continues this one step forward by allowing you to actually type a phrase from the page itself into the address bar--with luck, you'll be directed to the previously viewed page containing the phrase you remember.
Though I didn't come across a good add-on that mimics this functionality in Firefox, I did find a fun way to perform Google searches directly through Firefox's address bar in a manner that's similar to searching for previously viewed URLs. It's not a direct copy of the feature, alas, but it does add some additional (and much-needed) search functionality to the browser that makes me somewhat forget about Safari's little tweak. Almost.
Safari 5 adds in brand-new support for a ton of different HTML5 features. That's all well and good--and it's not something that one can replicate in a browser with a simple extension. So, in regards to Chrome, I've beat around the bush and instead found an extension that tells you when HTML5 is correctly present within a page. By correctly, of course, I'm referring to the fact that both the doctype of the page denotes HTML5 and that HTML5 elements are present within said page.
If that's the case, a new little icon in your browser turns green. If not, red. It's as simple as that.
How's that? If you see a word in a piece of text that you want to define, just highlight it and drag/drop it over any blank part of the page. A new browser tab will open in the background with the word's definition already loaded up. As well, drag-and-drop any piece of hyperlinked text in the same fashion to open up a new tab with said target ready to go.
On the Mozilla side of things, I've covered Fasterfox before. Nevertheless, this helpful add-on does its part to help you tweak your browser network settings to ensure maximum speed for your general surfing. The nice thing about the add-on is that it comes with predefined tweaks already set up, such that you don't actually have to go in and learn about the complicated settings that it's happy to adjust for you.
Hey, it's Bing! Safari 5 now supports this search site via the browser... and you, Firefox user, now do as well!
Obviously, this is a pretty crummy way to round out the list. But, to be honest, there just aren't that many extensions that replicate Safari 5's features. Why's that? Because most of them have either been covered to death in previous iterations of my Chrome or Firefox extension/add-on highlights, or because these features themsleves have already been built into either browser in some capacity. I mean, honestly, DNS prefetching and caching? That ain't exactly new in the Web Browser world...
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!