Mac Developers Weigh Safari Potential as iPhone App Platform

By Daniel Drew Turner  |  Posted 2007-06-15 Print this article Print

Macintosh developers shrug over reports of security flaws in Safari for Windows.

Apple's Safari browser is finding favor with Windows users. The Cupertino, Calif., computer company disclosed June 14 that visitors to its Web site had downloaded more than 1 million copies of the Windows-compatible beta version of the Safari 3 Web browser in the first 48 hours of its availability.

However, any satisfaction about the browser's popularity was tempered by news that a security researcher found another security hole in the browser before Apple could release patches to fix a host of vulnerabilities that were discovered within hours after Safari for Windows started reaching customers' hands.

The latest flaw, posted by security researcher Robert Swiecki, lets attackers steal a cookie or fill the browser window with arbitrary content.

The newly patched version closes a variety of other security holes, including memory read issues, a JavaScript exploit and URL validation problems.

Most Macintosh developers paid little attention to news of Safari patches because they have little interest in the Windows platform. But one developer applauded Apple for responding quickly to the vulnerability reports that started coming in soon after Safari for Windows was released to the public.

"It's encouraging that Apple is showing commitment to the Windows platform by quickly addressing criticisms and bug reports," said Jeff Atwood, software developer at Vertigo Software.

"Still, it's hard to get excited by what is a glorified Mac emulator, instead of a legitimate Windows application."

Click here to read Larry Seltzer's commentary on why Apple's actions are making Safari for Windows an extremely inviting target for malware writers.

Overall, developers, the audience to whom this new Windows application was unveiled at this week's Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, are skeptical of Apple's agenda with this move.

"Safari is unapologetically a Mac app and does almost nothing the 'Windows way,' with the possible exception of maximizing behavior," Atwood said.

Various software industry observers have noted that Safari for Windows uses Mac OS X-standard interface elements rather than Windows standards. Software developer Joel Spolsky has even analyzed how Safari for Windows uses its own font smoothing and subpixel rendering for fonts.

"Some people have complained about this, but I think it's absolutely by design," said Atwood.

"Safari isn't so much a pretender to the IE/Firefox throne as it is a Mac emulator," he added. "It's intended to facilitate development of Safari-compatible Web apps and iPhone apps by making them dead simple to test. You no longer have to beg, borrow or steal a Mac to see if your Web app behaves under Safari. Just download Safari for Windows and go."

In his WWDC keynote, Apple CEO Steve Jobs made it clear that it is currently his company's position that the only way third parties can place their applications on Apple's upcoming iPhone is by using Web 2.0 technologies and running the applications in the iPhone's built-in Safari Web browser.

Click here to read Jim Rapoza's review of the Safari for Windows beta.

"So from that perspective—and I can't think of any others that make any business sense—the closer Safari's behavior is to the Mac version, the better," said Atwood.

Hao Li, developer of the Saft extension for Safari (the original, Mac OS X version), agreed with Atwood's conclusion.

"[The] only reason I see why Apple releases Safari for Windows is for iPhone development," he said. "I do not think it will affect the browser share on the PC much. It's only for the iPhone developer, which is my guess."

Others noted that although Safari for Windows is a free download, it potentially could be a large revenue source for Apple.

Writing on his Daring Fireball Web site, John Gruber said, "It's not widely publicized, but those integrated search bars in Web browser toolbars are revenue generators. When you do a Google search from Safari's toolbar, Google pays Apple a portion of the ad revenue from the resulting page.

"My somewhat-informed understanding is that Apple is currently generating about $2 million per month from Safari's Google integration," he said. "That's $25 million per year. If Safari for Windows is even moderately successful, it's easy to see how that might grow to $100 million per year or more."

Questions have also arisen in the developer community about the provenance of Safari for Windows.

Although Apple has long developed software for Windows—the QuickTime Player media player and iTunes, for example—some have noted that Safari for Windows brings to that platform some core Mac OS X technologies.

For example, the Safari subdirectory of the Program Files directory includes such elements as CFNetwork.dll, CoreFoundation.dll, CoreGraphics.dll and WebKit.dll.

This has led to some questioning whether Apple will now be able to move other Apple applications to Windows more easily, and if the company has internally a version of its development environment, Xcode, that can produce Windows, rather than just Mac OS X, code.

Apple representatives were not immediately available for comment.

Safari 3.01 for Windows Beta is available from Apple's Web site or through the Software Update Application.

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