Apple’s Safari Technology Preview Is Good News For Developers

Technology PreviewEarlier this month, Apple announced the introduction of the Safari Technology Preview, a bleeding-edge version of Apple’s browser that will give developers an opportunity to check out technology to be included in future releases of the browser.

Safari is a hugely popular web browser, with many millions of users across Apple’s OS X and iOS platforms. Safari is based on the WebKit layout engine, an open source software project that originated when Apple forked the KHTML project. Until recently, WebKit also underpinned Google’s Chrome browser, but the search giant forked the project and now uses its own WebKit-derived layout engine, Blink.

Google has long made cutting-edge versions of Chrome available. Chrome’s Canary version is basically equivalent to the new Safari Technology Preview, although there are differences. Until now, developers had to be content with the WebKit nightlies, which are not entirely convenient — many of Apple’s services, including iCloud, won’t work with the nightlies. The Safari Technology Preview is essentially a fully functional version of Safari running the most recent technology.

Developers are able to build and test web applications against technology that will be part of the public release in the future. Apple will benefit from bug reports generated by those developers.

A major benefit of the Safari Technology Preview is that developers can run it alongside existing versions of Safari. It’s not simply a cutting-edge version of the default browser, it’s a self-contained application that — although it has to be downloaded from the web — will receive updates from the Mac App Store.

On its first release, the technology preview will include a number of new features. One of the most interesting is what Apple is calling the most complete implementation of Ecmascript 6, which is the next version of JavaScript. The preview will also include a new JIT (Just in time) compiler called B3, which is intended to increase the speed and efficiency of running JavaScript code.

Where Safari is concerned, Apple hasn’t the best reputation among web developers, many of whom refer to Safari as the new I.E. Safari tends to get new HTML5 features later than other major browsers. Because Safari is the default browser on millions of devices, developers can’t afford to ignore it, which means many of the newest technologies are off limits until Apple finally gets around to implementing them (The lack of decent support for OpenType features until recently was a particular annoyance of mine.)

While the release of the technology preview is no indication that Apple intends to pick up the pace, at least the company is opening a dialogue with web developers and showing some concern for their needs.

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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