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Working Mac: Safari Soup-Up

Customization isn't just for Firefox By Kevin Schmitt

To paraphrase T.O., I loves me some Firefox. That said, though, I still find myself using Safari for my day-to-day browsing needs. When you get right down to it, Firefox still doesn't seem polished enough on the Mac for my tastes (just try out the Windows or Linux versions for comparison), and though the situation is improving, Safari often just "feels" better than even the latest Preview Release of Firefox. On the flip side, though, Safari can't hold a candle to Firefox's almost infinite customizability through Extensions and Themes. Or can it?

Safari sez: Me too!

OK, so maybe it's like one of those birthday candles rather than one of those big thick jobbies that the hippies light when they listen to their newfangled "rock and roll" music, but Safari can, indeed, hold its own when it comes to customizability. Well, maybe it's not exactly holding its own, since Safari can't by itself do many of the things we're going to make it do, but you get the idea. And lest I paint myself even further into this particular corner with my continued rambling, let's just get to the bottom line, which is that thanks to a little ingenuity on the part of various third parties out there, Safari can be tricked out but good.

The Categories

How freaky you want to get with this depends on what you want to do. Customizing Safari falls into several categories, which I'll first define (at least the ones relevant to what we'll be talking about today) before getting into the specific tools available:

1) Hidden Options. Some of Safari's features, for whatever reason, aren't readily accessible. These features include:

  • Enabling Safari's Debug menu, which is a treasure trove of options in its own right (fig. 1)
  • Disabling the icon cache
  • Setting the number of items in Safari's History
  • Disabling Safari's built-in PDF display
  • Reducing the default page load delay
  • Importing, reimporting, or exporting bookmarks

Figure 1: Safari's Debug menu offers so many helpful options, I'm left wondering why some of these aren't a little more prominent in Safari's default install.

Those are the big ones. Anyway, they all fall into the category of "switch-flipping," so to speak, in that no actual modification to Safari itself takes place.

2) Theming. Firefox has Themes, and while it boasts a lot more to choose from, Safari can be skinned (to some extent) too. Typically, theming Safari means choosing the interface type (Brushed, Aqua, or Unified on Tiger) and swapping out the widgets (fig. 2), but hey, it's better than nothing, right? Anyway, we're starting to get into actually modding the guts of Safari here to do this, but it's akin to some light arthroscopic surgery rather than, say, organ replacement.

Figure 2: From utilitarian metal to minimalist cool, Safari (with some help) can change its stripes in a number of ways.

3) Search. Safari's search bar is handy, but it offers exactly one option: Google. That's great and all, but sometimes you just need a little more depth. Fortunately, there are options, which we'll get into very soon now. Continuing the surgery metaphor, from here on out we're talking about stuff that doesn't really mod the innards of Safari either, but instead offers bolt-on enhancements that alter Safari's behavior. Think Borg.

4) Development. One of the best Firefox add-ons is the Web Developer Extension, which adds a plethora of features that aid designers and developers when, well, designing and developing. And while there's no 1-to-1 equivalent for Safari, there are options here too, which, again, we'll get to shortly.

5) General functionality. Think of this as the infamous "miscellany" option. As we'll see, a few tools go hog wild and add all sorts of crazy (but cool and useful) stuff to the Safari experience. But for now, this category exists because otherwise I'd have at least a dozen more categories, and I just don't think you want to sit through that. You're probably in enough pain right now as it is.

OK, so those are the basic categories. Now that we're straight on what "is" is, let's get to the utilities that make the magic, such as it is, happen.

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Related Keywords:safari, mac, mac os, mac os x

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