June 15th, 2009 • 9:36 am
Like many other long-time Mac users, I suspect, when reviewing new pieces of software, I tend to focus on UI issues. They tend to play a big role in my decision to use or not to use a given piece of software. For instance, it might sounds crazy to some, but I can’t bring myself to using Firefox as a web browser, because I feel that its user interface is simply not Mac-like enough. There is an overall lack of polish that I just can’t live with on a daily basis. Here’s an example taken from Firefox 3.0.7:
Am I really the only who’s strongly bothered by the fact that the Firefox developers don’t seem to care about vertical alignment?
This is one of the main reasons why, when it comes to web browsers, I tend to stick with Apple’s own offering, even if I occasionally use other browsers when I have to.
All of this is to say that, while other (non-UI) features in a browser are important too, I tend not to pay as much attention to them. And so I tend not to read about them and only to find out about them when I encounter them in my daily activities.
This is exactly what happened to me yesterday with Safari 4’s Full-Page Zoom feature. I was working on a web site that I am developing, and I wanted to check how the site scaled when using the browser’s zoom feature. This was an issue that I had been struggling with on this particular web site—probably because web site development is not a full-time job for me and my mastery of CSS leaves quite a bit to be desired still.
Much to my surprise, I discovered that my site now scaled almost perfectly! I immediately knew that it had nothing to do with my own code, which had not changed, and that it had to be related to the fact that I was now using Safari 4 instead of Safari 3.
And sure enough, when I went to Apple’s promotional pages for Safari, I quickly found that this was a new feature in Safari 4 and that it even had a name, “Full-Page Zoom.”
I must say that this discovery leaves me mightily impressed. There is just no comparison between how Safari 4 scales pages and how it used to be in previous versions of the browser, or how it still is with several other browsers. Instead of just making the text bigger, with sometimes rather unsightly consequences in the way the page is rendered (depending on how well the site has been designed to scale properly), now Safari scales everything, including the pictures (doing its best to smooth the edges in low-resolution logos and photos), and it does so instantly, with a near-perfect consistency and overall sense of proportion and positioning.
Some other browsers (including Firefox 3) might be attempting to match Safari 4 in that department, but they are simply not as good at it, at least not based on my (admittedly limited) testing.
This is a feature that makes perfect sense and I am glad that both Firefox and Safari are moving forward in that direction. It not only improves the usability and readability of the sites, but it also makes a web developer’s job significantly easier, because he no longer has to worry about how his text will scale when his pictures stay the same size and remain in the same position.
Based on the obvious advantages of full-page zooming, I can’t imagine that it will take too long for it to become the standard behaviour for the zoom feature in all web browsers. And that’s very good news for both users and developers.
(There are still some kinks to iron out. For example, the site I am working on was designed to be horizontally centered on the page, using a position 50% from left and then a negative left margin of half the width of the site—a perfectly legitimate way to do it as far as I know. When I would zoom in too far, however, either with Firefox or Safari, the left-most area of the page would extend beyond the left edge of the window, but there would be no room on the horizontal scroll bar to scroll further to the left. I ended up switching to “
auto” for the left and right margin instead in order to get the page’s contents centered.)