Why I Wish I Could Use Safari (and Other Task-Focused Mac Apps)

by Matthew Bookspan Mar 27, 2007

In returning to the Mac, I initially tried absorbing every key Mac app to “live the life” of a Mac user. What I found was quite interesting: very task-focused applications designed to do simple things and get them done quickly. These applications include Mail.app, iCal, Address Book, Safari, and more.

For a little background, please understand that I came from the heavy monolithic applications that Microsoft creates, including Internet Explorer, Outlook (aka Lookout!), and the core Office apps, Visio, Project, Messenger, and more. I was not a web application user other than having accounts with MSN/Live Mail (aka Hotmail), Google, Yahoo, and more (mostly to try different services, not for real usage).

After I left Microsoft, I opened my eyes to the use of web applications/services and gave them a hearty try. However, most of those services were centered around social computing, including del.icio.us, LinkedIn, and more. I continued to use the monolithic applications for daily use (especially Outlook).

As I mentioned, within my first few months with the Mac, I truly devoted myself to these task-focused (yet non-web) applications. I liked how Mail.app worked (Smart folders and more), especially with its plugin (mailbundle) architecture. I found great blogs (Hawkwings) that provided excellent tips on how to make the most of Mail.app.

What drove me batty was using iCal and Address Book. Because of my learned experience with Outlook, I enjoyed the integration of email, calendaring, and addresses all in one place. I am not a heavy user of notes and tasks (I still rely on my memory or good old fashioned pen and paper for those items). So, I migrated to Entourage. I know, boo. Hiss. Whatever. Everyone has his own form of workflow. Given how I like to work, Entourage made more sense. However, and for the record, Entourage is highly, highly imperfect. It’s just the only alternative (for now). And yes, I looked into running Mail.app combined with Daylite (I tried the 30-day demo), although that just didn’t do it for me given how clunky Daylite is (I can write more about that in a separate review).

The other problem with iCal and Address Book was the lack of functionality each provided. Address Book has too many limitations for the amount of fields you can use and customize. The Address Book Smart Groups are hard to configure unless you have exacting details. For example, it is annoying to create a “Family” smart group when many family members have different last names. Also, the Smart Groups do not work like Smart Playlists in iTunes as they don’t auto-fill the entry field as you type; this requires that you remember the exact spelling of everyone’s name (which renders the feature relatively useless to me). With iCal, I find that it is too limited in defining and updating meeting requests. It seems non-intuitive to define meeting requests in iCal and not in Mail.app. Lastly, the iCal UI is just unattractive, which is surprising given that Apple makes the product.

Ok, so let’s move on to Safari. Safari is great. It really is. When I run the application, I also use Inquisitor from David Watanabe—what a fantastic extension for enabling smart searching within a browser. This Spotlight-type functionality should be provided by default within Safari (hint, hint, Apple). However, like other users, I paid the small fee for the privilege of intelligent searching (it is now free—so get it while the getting is good).

Now, as much as I was able to extend Safari with intelligent searching, I was still dealing with the impact of not being able to browse specific sites due to rendering incompatibilities (most of these sites are financial sites specifically designed to work with IE). The other problem I was running into was how bookmarks worked. The fact that I had to lose my current navigation to edit/view all of my bookmarks seemed “retro”—to put it nicely. Further, the biggest frustration around bookmarks is that I use del.icio.us rather than saving local bookmarks. Safari has no integration with del.icio.us. Yes, I can add bookmarklets, although these tools tend to lack functionality, and within Safari make you lose focus on your existing page until you complete the action (or remember to command-click the bookmarklet).

Ultimately, I decided to solve the browsing problem with two alternates: Firefox 2.0 and Parallels. Firefox is my daily browser, not because it is faster or simpler (Safari wins on both of those counts). It is my daily browser because of its web site compatibility and extensibility. I get complete integration with del.icio.us, Flickr, LinkedIn, and more. However, and of utter importance, I lose out on Inquisitor. In OS Leopard, I pray that Apple will figure out a way to make Safari more extensible and/or support Firefox add-ons (this will probably never happen; however, one can wish). Alternatively, and if you’re listening David—please make Inquisitor work with Firefox! grin

Next, I have to resort to using Parallels and Windows/IE7 to view very specific sites that have opted not to support any other browser. Yes, we live in an IE world whether we like it or not. I just wish that Microsoft had not stopped development of IE on the Mac, not because the product is better, but because it is more compatible. Until the rest of the web world adopts alternative browser development/support (last I checked, IE still owns 70-80% of the market, and most businesses are too lazy to support anything other than the mainstream), we are all going to suffer. Of course, having to start a virtual machine just to browse web sites seems absurd (and most definitely is), although there is no other choice.

For the record, I have tried all of the Mac browsers out there—Camino, Firefox, OmniWeb, Opera, and Safari. None of them solve the compatibility issues completely, thus the reasoning for my current browsing solution (which is unpleasant, but it works).

So, maybe the title of this article should be about workflow. However, who would read it if I said: “my workflow for browsing is xxxx?” grin

Next week, expect a diatribe on how Apple’s sync services desperately need to be improved. Until then….


  • “having to start a virtual machine just to browse web sites seems absurd (and most definitely is), although there is no other choice.”

    Actually, there is - you can run the PC version of IE using Crossover. I prefer the Parallels solution, but if you only need web browsing in IE, then Crosover should be good enuff!

    veggiedude had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 6
  • Some pages may yield to the power of the Debug Menu > User Agent trick.

    Marius_Th had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 11
  • Thanks for the tips! I have tried Crossover, although I am not a fan of how it works.

    Matthew Bookspan had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 12
  • What kind of sites are you visiting that require IE?  I visit a LOT of sites, and find that to be very rare, if at all these days.

    sabshire had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 5
  • Financial sites mostly. Even BofA runs into some issues with Firefox and Safari.

    Matthew Bookspan had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 12

    It indexes your del.icio.us bookmarks on the go.

    Invoke quicksilver, start typing your bookmark or tag, and press enter.

    Project had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 2
  • Regarding incompatible sites: let the companies know browser compatibility is important to you. It is simply bad customer service not to deliver a web product that isn’t compatible with at least the Mozilla browsers, cross platform. I’m not even asking for Safari support, just Mozilla/Firefox.  If 25% of the market is using something other than IE, that’s a big group of potential customers those institutions are turning away.

    Regarding email and an integrated calendar, try Thunderbird with the Lightning Calendar add-on.


    applematters_reader had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 2
  • Project: Quicksilver is a great workaround. The challenge I have with QS is that it doesn’t fit into my overall workflow. I have tried changing my workflow to fit QS, although with limited success.

    Reader: thanks for the tip. I did notify the sites - they have it on their radar - but nothing is definitely planned. In regard to T-Bird and Lightning, thanks for the info. I will wait until T-Bird hits 2.0. In the interim, I like Entourage and am looking forward to the 2008 version.

    Matthew Bookspan had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 12
  • Good luck with Entourage 2008.  I’ll only use it and support it at work. I won’t be upgrading to Office 2008 myself at home. They’ve taken out the scripting, andI need the scripting, use it quite extensively, so I’m moving to NeoOffice 2.1. Just started working with it last night. Runs faster than previous version on some G4’s I have, and runs well on Intel Macs.

    applematters_reader had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 2
  • For me, switching from Windows to Macintosh was more about re-thinking how I work. I discovered I didn’t really need all the bloat of Outlook or many of the other apps I had grown accustomed to using under Windows. So what if I could extend and customize Outlook if I never (or hardly) did?

    While many argue that iCal and Address Book could do more, there’s something to be said for simplicity. And it syncs to my Nokia mobile without issue or a 3rd party tool.

    Eric Brodeur had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 23
  • Check out Delibar. It has the del.icio.us bookmarks saved in the menu bar, and it auto updates, and also works with any browser because it isn’t integrated into one single app.

    Beef Jerkey had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 6
  • First off, Matthew, another great piece.

    OK, now dealing with Safari first, I actually have to say I’m really surprised. I use Safari almost exclusively, and on the internet I can’t think of a site I have a problem with, include Bank of A, Amazon, eBay, any of the news sites, etc. I do sometimes have issues with web video, especially (surprise, surprise) sites that use Windows Media Player). There will be the very occasional site that I come across that fail but not enough for me to not use Safari. I do have Camino in my backpocket in those instances. Can you list the sites you have issues with?

    Corporate intranet sites that are built on the Windows/IE platform are a whole other story.

    Now onto iCal and Address Book. I couldn’t agree more. Mail, on its own, is a fabulous application. But the integration with Address Book and iCal is horrible at best. I too am a fan of Entourage with a couple of caveats. One being it sucks to use on an Intel Mac, two the database application that runs in the background takes up way to much processor power, and three, if you have to use Entourage in an Exchange server environment it is scandalous that it isn’t a true MAPI client.

    Those things aside I would love to see Apple take on the Entourage space and come out with a kick-ass integrated mail, cal., and adress-book App.

    Now, finally, crossover. Don’t bother. Parallels rocks.

    Hadley Stern had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 114
  • Matthew, I’m surprised too. Except for those #&^#!* sites with web video Hadley mentions, I too haven’t had any trouble with sites that couldn’t be solved with Safari (if I must) or Firefox.

    The latest update of FF is totally misbehaving for me so I’ve gone back to Opera as I find Safari wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too heavy on the system.

    I like iCal but I stopped using it because whenever an alert came up when it was open, it would broing iCal to the foreground. And that droive me nuts.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • Managing bookmarks without losing the page you’re on is a snap if you understand and get the hang of using tabs (you DO have tabs turned on, right?). Just pop open a tab, and run “Show All Bookmarks from there.

    And if you haven’t activated your “debug” menu, go to versiontracker and download a free one-time script to turn it on. Then run the User Agent, and pretend to be IE6 for Windows. You’d be surprised how many web sites that claim to only work for IE Win work like a charm that way. I believe it’s because Front Page for Win deliberately sticks those restrictions in by default unless programmers decide to eliminate them.

    As far as WMV files, Flip4Mac (free version) will open all of them in QuickTime, except copy-protected ones.

    Another neat Safari feature is right clicking on a picture and sending it directly to iPhoto.

    Apple’s Address book syncs nicely with my Palm.

    revry had this to say on Mar 28, 2007 Posts: 4
  • I had a really good read on this, very detail, and very useful information.

    stehakeem had this to say on Mar 28, 2007 Posts: 1
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