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July 6, 2004

On The New WebKit Features In Safari //

Although there’s been quite a lot of talk around the Konfabulator / Dashboard controversy there’s been much less talk about the new features added to the WebKit framework which is the underlying rendering engine used in Safari. I suppose this is in part due to NDAs and all that, but since this stuff does seem to be somewhat public knowledge — and is showcased on Apple’s website, I’m curious about other’s thoughts on these new additions.

New form UI elements in the updated WebKit For Mac OS X
New UI Objects in the updated WebKit for Mac OS X

Specifically, I’m referring to the new UI widgets — the Search Field and the Range Slider Control. Although I’m happy to see something new in the way of form widgets for the web (really, has anything new happened on this front in the last, oh, five or six years?), it’s frustrating because they’re (currently) not a part of the W3C spec and may not be for some time, if at all, and therefore obviously won’t validate without tweaking your DOCTYPE declaration.

Do you think they’re useful outside of Safari or Dashboard? Would you like to see these form widgets available in other browsers such as Internet Explorer or Firefox? How can you see using the slider control in a real-world application? Are these widgets a step towards allowing developers to build even more expansive, applications on par with desktop equivalents?

The search input field is clearly designed for a specific purpose but I think if implemented appropriately, provides a more user-focused way of implementing basic text search for websites that is both intuitive and actually useful. The ability to provide a search field that remembers search queries across sessions with no special programming or scripting is a real boon for both designers and developers. Although we could debate the issue of how many ways the same task could be implemented, in the end, would it not be better to work from a standardized, lightweight method that gets the job done and works across browsers and platforms. Perhaps with a bit of luck and a bit of time we’ll get there.

So, what to do.

I’ve been debating implementing the search field as a test though it’s general usefulness would be limited since there’s only a small percentage of visitors who would see the benefit. The upside is that the field degrades gracefully so it behaves the same as a regular text input field in unsupported browsers. Safari 1.3 or the beta of Safari 2 is required to use the new WebKit features in Mac OS X.

Although I haven’t checked my site stats specifically looking for visitors using either of those browser versions, I will be monitoring things and maybe these changes will appear… or maybe not.

So say you…

The search field is just an instance of NSSearchField which has been a part of Cocoa since Panther. And Apple and others before that rolled their own out of a standard NSTextField to get the same thing in iTunes, iPhoto, Safari, and a whole slew of other apps. It’s not even a new feature of Safari, it just is used in a different way when looking at RSS feeds (sorting through the feeds you’ve already downloaded).

Same for the slider, just an NSSlider control, which has been available to all cocoa programmers since Mac OS X Public Beta. For an example, look at the volume slider in iTunes, same thing. The fact that it’s being used in a browser doesn’t make it revolutionary. It’s the right tool for the job Apple’s using it for (expanding and contracting the length of the articles viewed while in RSS mode).

Does this have any effect on web designers or web standards? No. Safari downloads the entire RSS feed (which in most cases is very very tiny compared to the typical media-laden websites of today) and then the search field and the slider let the user select what he wants to read on his computer. The server isn’t involved at all. The beauty of RSS is that it’s content-centric rather than layout-centric, so the client can display the information in any way that the programmer deems programmable and the user decides he wants.

The W3C has no more say in what UI controls Apple uses in its browser than they do over what color computer is used to look at a web page. DOCTYPEs will not need to be changed at all.

Camino and OmniWeb have already begun using a search field to emulate Apple’s implementation in Safari for searching the web.

No, there’s nothing new in the way of web standards or programming architecture in Safari RSS, it’s just a brilliantly designed implementation by Apple of taking an existing technology (RSS) and combining it with existing UI tools to create a much more elegant solution than what’s been out there before. All the tools are available now to any programmer who will take the time to learn Objective-C (or realbasic, for that matter).

anonymouse anonymouse July 7, 2004

forgive me if i’m missing something, but i believe the slider-control is being proposed as part of the Web Form 2.0 specification.

see ian hixon’s blog: http://ln.hixie.ch/

so, its not all bad. :-)

Alex Kent Alex Kent July 8, 2004

Thank you for pointing that site out Alex, I don’t think I’d seen that before. I haven’t kept up with what’s going on at WHAT, but I probably should try harder…

Cheers!

Scott Boms Scott Boms July 8, 2004

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