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….


  • For del.ici.ous integration in Safari, you must use Pukka.

    John Brissenden had this to say on Apr 01, 2007 Posts: 1
  • There’s a lot to look forward to, Leopard promises many improvements.  There’s a new iCal API, integration of notes and todo’s into Mail, and an open source iCal Server (includ. Leopard Server) that can be installed on a Linux box (doesn’t look to easy to setup outside of Mac OS X Leopard Server—lots of dependencies) but iCal meetings should be a whole lot easier if you have a Mac OS X server.  No complaints with that requirement, you need an MS Exchange server to do it under Windows w/Outlook.


    WWDC2007 Sessions:

    - iCal and Calendar Store Lab
    - iCal Server Lab (opensource, BTW)
    - Integrating iCal Events and Tasks into Your Application (ical/todo API)

    Developers are already drooling over what they can do with the iCal Events and Tasks API in Leopard.  There is a huge swelling amoung many different Mac developers to achieve the ultimate Zen GTD (Getting Things Done) environment. 

    http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omnifocus/ - A technological leader in the Mac world. Also checkout OmniPlan (project management) and OmniGraffle (visio like diagramming app). http://omnigroup.com/

    All of this means that within a year the Mac is going to really be kicking some serious productivity butt!  All the foundations are going to be in place and the developers are chomping at the bit to get going.

    whatchamacallit had this to say on Apr 06, 2007 Posts: 2
  • I’m also a little surprised to hear of your site incompatibility troubles with Safari. I, like a few others who also left comments, have run into very few problems in that regard. Safari works fine with my banks web site, as well as Chrysler Financial and some others you might expect to have problems with (but I don’t). Regardless, I hope you find a more workable (and native) solution to your problems.

    BTW, my wife has been using Thunderbird/Lightning for a good while now and it has worked well for her.

    Blackjack had this to say on Apr 07, 2007 Posts: 3
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