The Story of Safari

As someone who writes about software (or apps, as we’re apt to say these days) daily for work and fun, I always enjoy reading the story behind the software we use. Folklore.org is one of the most fun sites online, in my opinion, simply because it tells the story behind the early days of Apple and the Mac (as well as a few interesting stories about Microsoft).

If there’s any company we’d be interested in the story behind its apps, it’d be Apple. Over the past month, that’s started happening, to a degree, thanks to Don Melton, a former Apple employee who started the Safari and Webkit projects. He’s quite an interesting guy, having first worked as a member of the Netscape team, then after releasing Safari worked on Calendar, Contacts, Messages, and FaceTime for Mac in Apple. He’s started writing since his retirement from Apple, and has started out with three fascinating short peeks at Safari’s development in Apple.

Melton’s articles so far talk about the lengths the Safari team went to in making sure no one found out about Apple’s clandestine browser project, the difficulties of naming the browser (spoiler: it was initially called “Alexander” internally, and “iBrowse” was one of the proposed names), the nerve-wracking process of having Steve Jobs demo your product onstage, and the surprise of Apple using KHTML as the browser’s engine. He even included a link to the email he sent the KHTML team immediately after Jobs announced Safari to the world.

The articles are short but fascinating, and if you haven’t read them yet, go check them out now:

Looking back, creating Safari seems to make perfect sense, now that most of us are using Safari – or its core, Webkit – for our daily browsing. For Apple in 2003, though, Safari in many ways signaled that it was ready to stand on its own again, since Apple had bundled Microsoft’s Internet Explorer with Macs as part of its 5 year agreement with Microsoft in 1997. Who then could have imagined that Apple’s own browser would be the #1 most important app on its groundbreaking phone a decade later?

Update: On a Hacker News discussion thread, Melton commented on why Apple made a browser in the first place:

We built our own browser because we didn’t want to depend on another company for a critical application.

We built our own browser engine because we wanted to use the technology in more things than a browser.

We built that engine small and fast because Bertrand Serlet would have shot me if I had done otherwise. :)


  • http://sapnis.com N.R.

    Apple usually has simple names that explain the programs. iPhoto, Numbers, Pages, Mail, Calendar. They should rename Safari to Browser or something else. “Safari” is a terrible activity where people go an shoot elephants and other animals (otherwise called a Big-Game hunt). Can’t imagine why it should be supported by Apple.

    • Andy

      Here’s some reading material for you. Learn something new every day…

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safari#Etymology

    • NSDocument

      Before Safari there were (Netscape) Navigator, then (Internet) Explorer so it kinda make sense for Apple’s own browser to be named Safari.

  • Tim

    I want my separate search field back! I think Chrome was the first browser to introduce this? It sucks! It puts internet searches BEFORE my bookmarks. Why on earth would it do that and why would you EVER want that. I have to scroll through this list of stuff with my eyes to find what I actually want. It take MORE time to use this unified search than it did previously.

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