Many of my Mac-using colleagues use Web browsers other than Apple’s Safari, and I would be the last person to tell them they are wrong to do so. But I like to use OS X’s default browser, not only because it familiarizes me with the Web-browsing experiences of many millions of other Mac users, but also because it encourages me to explore the software to see all that it has to offer. And Safari has a lot to offer once you know where to look. Here are some less-than-obvious tricks and techniques I’ve picked up in my explorations that can help solve problems and answer common questions.
What’s the Address? — When Safari 8.0 debuted alongside OS X 10.10 Yosemite, many reviewers were disappointed, if not aghast, that its integrated “smart” address and search field displayed only the top-level domain name for the current page instead of the full URL. For example, if you go to any page on our Web site, the address field shows only tidbits.com. That’s not a huge deal, because a single click in the address field reveals and selects the complete URL, making it easy to copy for later pasting. And for many users, showing only the truncated name is a good thing, since hiding the long and often obscure strings that follow the top-level site address makes it easier to see if you are at the site you intended. But it is disappointing if you’re old school and like to see exactly where you are on the Web.
For such advanced users, the solution is simple: take a quick trip to Safari > Preferences > Advanced and select the very first checkbox — Show Full Website Address — to relieve the pain.
(Quick tip: As long as you’re turning on full addresses, click the checkbox at the bottom of the preference pane to show the Develop menu in the menu bar. This menu, full of commands to delight the hearts of Web developers, comes in handy even if you aren’t a Web developer, as you’ll see shortly.)
Total (Un)Recall — Safari 8 brought us the Private Window feature (File > New Private Window), which, when you browse in one, enables you to go to various sites without having Safari store the history of those visits. This keeps anyone else using your Mac from easily seeing where you have been. Private windows can come in handy if, say, you are shopping for an anniversary present for your spouse. It’s a fine feature, but it requires you to think ahead; it won’t do you any good if, while using Safari’s normal non-private windows you happen upon, and then impulsively buy, a great gift for your spouse. Also, when private browsing is active, the sites you visit won’t recognize you, meaning that you have to manually log in to make purchases. When shopping, private browsing may be private, but it’s also inconvenient.
Here’s what will do you some good in those cases: after you finish shopping (or whatever else you were doing) choose Safari > Clear History and Website Data. This produces a dialog that lets you clean up your history after the fact, with a useful pop-up menu that lets you decide just how much history you want Safari to forget. The default is to clear the last hour’s worth of browsing, but you can clear the history for the entire day, this day and the previous day, or all history! (Of course that risks running afoul of an updated version of Santayana’s dictum, that those who clear all history are condemned to repeat it.)
Bypass Flash — Adobe’s Flash, as has been well documented over the years, can present security and performance problems, so much so that many users prefer to run their Macs without installing Flash at all. In fact, Flash isn’t even available for Apple’s iOS devices. On your Mac, it’s often not available even when it is installed, if the version of Flash that you have happens to be a version that has known security issues: Apple, looking out for your best interests, blocks you from using it. Instead, you see a “Flash out-of-date” warning.
However, you can often bypass Flash completely and still have a satisfactory browsing experience, at least when it comes to streaming video in Flash format. That’s because many Web sites provide non-Flash versions of their pages for users of mobile devices like iPhones and iPads. If you have activated the Develop menu (as I recommended above), and encounter a Flashy page, you can choose one of the iOS items on the Develop > User Agent sub-menu (for example, Safari iOS 8.1 — iPad). This command reloads the page, telling the site that you are on iOS. In many cases, you’ll see the streaming content in HTML5 format instead. This doesn’t always work: I’ve found that many local TV stations tend to serve Flash video only on their sites, because doing so enables them to tack ads onto the beginning of their videos. If this trick fails, try the site in Google Chrome, which encapsulates an always-updated version of Flash.
Check Your Cookies — Finally, if you are concerned about cookies — those bits of information that nearly all Web sites store in your browser whenever you make a visit, and that may contain heaven-knows-what information about you and your visit — the Develop menu has another tasty treat for you: Develop > Show Web Inspector (Command-Option-I).
However, if you don’t like what’s in a cookie, you can easily toss it. Click the cookie in question, Control-click the data you want to expunge, and choose Delete from the contextual menu. Cookie crumbled!
Yes, Safari may not be a perfect Web browser, and other browsers, such as Chrome or Firefox, certainly have much to recommend them. However, beneath Safari’s seemingly simple surface is a lot of advanced functionality that may surprise you. If you have abandoned it for something else, it might be worth a second look.