Today in Apple history: Safari lands on Windows with a ‘meh’

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Safari on Windows
Safari on Windows wasn't quite the smash hit Apple hoped for.
Photo: Apple

June 11: Today in Apple history: Safari lands on Windows with a mehJune 11, 2007: At WWDC, Steve Jobs unveils Safari 3 for Windows, bringing its web browser to non-Apple computers for the first time.

Apple advertises Safari as the world’s fastest and easiest-to-use web browser, capable of rendering web pages up to twice as far as Internet Explorer and 1.6 times faster than Firefox. It lasts until 2012, but never becomes a major player on Windows.

Safari’s arrival on Windows was not the first time Apple made its software available to PC users. Four years earlier, in 2003, Steve Jobs begrudgingly agreed to port iTunes to Windows. At the time, he likened this to “giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell.”

A whole new audience for Safari

The decision to make a Windows version of iTunes made perfect sense. Although it meant that the iPod was no longer exclusive to Mac owners, it broadened the user base considerably. In theory, Safari could do the same thing. Windows users massively outnumbered Mac users, and having a larger number of people using Apple’s browser was one way of carving out market dominance in another area.

“We think Windows users are going to be really impressed when they see how fast and intuitive web browsing can be with Safari,” said Jobs in a June 11 press release. “Hundreds of millions of Windows users already use iTunes, and we look forward to turning them on to Safari’s superior browsing experience too.”

Apple wasn’t the only company trying to bring a browser to a mass audience. The following year, Google introduced its freeware Chrome web browser, which was available on Mac, Windows and Linux alongside mobile operating systems. Today, Chrome is the world’s most popular web browser.

The issue, then, was Apple’s implementation. Safari offered a few neat features. Apple hailed its speed as the main breakthrough. However, the company also promoted Safari’s SnapBack feature, which offered one-click access to an initial search query. Safari also boasted resizable text fields and private browsing to ensure that information about an individual’s browsing history wasn’t stored.

Safari: One web browser too many?

The problem was that Safari simply wasn’t as good as a lot of other browsers out there. “Who in their right mind would run Safari on Windows?” asked Wired in an op-ed published the following day. “Safari sucks,” the piece continued. “A lot of Mac users won’t run the browser (I’m one of them), so why would anyone run it on Windows?”

Safari had some big limitations, such as its refusal to accept plugins and its failure to remember which tabs you had open after closing it. Many users complained of application-crashing bugs, which were the antithesis of Apple’s “it just works” philosophy.

Cult of Mac wasn’t blown away, either:

“Speed isn’t necessarily a measure of quality. Specifically, Windows Safari sometimes decides to ‘smooth’ the text on a given page into an unrecognizable black line — no text. If, for example, you visit my other blog, you’ll note that all of the headlines are just plain missing. At Facebook, a friend request turned into a page full of incoherent squiggles. I’ve never seen pages render so improperly in my life. It was like visiting an alternate 1995 in Netscape Navigator 1.1 where people devoted web pages to their favorite horizontal lines instead of to puppies.”

The end of the road for Safari on Windows

Ultimately, Safari continued on Windows through May 2012. With the release of OS X Mountain Lion, Apple also released Safari 6.0 for Mac. Unfortunately, the Windows version of Safari didn’t get the update. It quietly disappeared from Apple’s site.

By this point, the iPhone’s dominance meant Safari counted for upward of 60 percent of mobile web browsing traffic. However, it still represented less than 6 percent of desktop traffic.

In all, this experiment proved a noble failure for Apple. Did you ever try Safari on a Windows PC? Do you think Apple could have made this project a success? Let us know in the comments below.