One significant announcement (some say the only one) at WWDC is the Safari 3 Beta, which includes Safari for Windows; at least it’s the one I’ve seen the most varied interpretations of, so far.

Considered as a beta release, Safari 3 is so-so. The Mac version needs a reboot because it also substitutes the Dock (which runs Dashboard widgets) and the system-wide webkit. It also substitutes the standard Safari installations. I had to reinstall Flash afterwards to get some sites to work. For my usual sites, it performed quite well although I had one crash. I don’t have a XP machine to test the Windows version on, but I hear it’s unusable on non-English versions, and very flaky on most English systems as well.

Steve Jobs stated the primary intention was to widen Safari’s marketshare, and the demo concentrated on a supposed serious speed advantage on Windows – “more than twice as fast as Internet Explorer”. And then, in the “one last thing” section, he refers to a “very sweet solution” for developing apps for the iPhone : the full Safari engine, no SDK needed allows Web 2.0/AJAX applications. (The entire section was received with silence by the crowd.) Steve’s statement that this is “a very modern way to build applications” somewhat contradicts what he said at D5:

…I love Google Maps, use it on my computer, you know, in a browser. But when we were doing the iPhone, we thought, wouldn?t it be great to have maps on the iPhone? And so we called up Google and they?d done a few client apps in Java on some phones and they had an API that we worked with them a little on. And we ended up writing a client app for those APIs. They would provide the back-end service. And the app we were able to write, since we?re pretty reasonable at writing apps, blows away any Google Maps client. Just blows it away. Same set of data coming off the server, but the experience you have using it is unbelievable.

And you can?t do that stuff in a browser.

So people are figuring out how to do more in a browser, how to get a persistent state of things when you?re disconnected from a browser, how do you actually run apps locally using, you know, apps written in those technologies so they can be pretty transparent, whether you?re connected or not.

But it?s happening fairly slowly and there?s still a lot you can do with a rich client environment.

So here we have at least two apparent intentions: get more penetration in the global browser “market” (maybe “mindshare” would be a better term as they’re nearly all free for the end-user), and open up iPhone development for Windows owners. Both sound logical.

More market penetration would surely be good for Apple. As John Gruber notes, Apple gets income from the Google search bar – tens of millions of dollars per year isn’t bad. And having Safari available on Windows removes one lame excuse for webmasters that build sites that don’t render properly (or at all) on Safari; it’s no longer necessary to own a Mac for checking that out.

Speaking of rendering properly, Safari for Windows, or rather WebKit, includes the Lucida fonts and several low-level frameworks, among them CoreGraphics, ColorSync, ImageIO and CoreFoundation. Some people believe this is a first step towards reviving the Yellow Box for Windows idea, but Cocoa is much larger than that… Safari is just a relatively thin shell around WebKit, and the Windows version shows no signs of being written in Objective-C, for one. Of course many people are once more complaining that Safari for Windows renders fonts differently. Joel Spolksy explains:

Apple and Microsoft have always disagreed in how to display fonts on computer displays. Today, both companies are using sub-pixel rendering to coax sharper-looking fonts out of typical low resolution screens. Where they differ is in philosophy.

– Apple generally believes that the goal of the algorithm should be to preserve the design of the typeface as much as possible, even at the cost of a little bit of blurriness.

– Microsoft generally believes that the shape of each letter should be hammered into pixel boundaries to prevent blur and improve readability, even at the cost of not being true to the typeface.

I’ve talked to several people about this issue. Beyond the expected bias of familiarity – everyone is used to their main working platform and finds the other’s rendering strange – I found that most graphic artists and font designers prefer the Mac rendering, while most web designers and IT people seem to prefer the Windows rendering.

But beyond that, the fact that Safari for Windows tries to reproduce exactly the Mac rendering is important (and not a bug, as many Windows users are claiming). I’ve seen this myself on my site; tweaking font size etc. so the page looks good on the Mac often produces quite different layout when you view it on a Windows browser, and it’s impossible to get it to look exactly the same, down to line breaks and text heights. This is doubly important when you’re viewing the page on a small screen like the iPhone has. Zooming the page display like the iPhone does seems to mandate the Apple rendering engine: Windows’ pixel alignment is counterproductive there.

Coming back to the “zero-cost iPhone (non)SDK” idea. Reactions in the developer community seem fairly mixed. At WWDC itself, of course, most developers aren’t web app developers, but were looking forward to doing Cocoa on the iPhone. And of course that implies that everybody thought that, when Apple would come out with an iPhone SDK (or even a generic OS X SDK, as I thought before the conference) Cocoa/OS X developers would have a monopoly… after all, they already own the development hardware and software. Nobody seriously believed that Apple would invest in doing a separate iPhone SDK that would include a simulator or even a compiler for one of the existing Windows IDEs, as Palm used to do when their products were still 68K-based (no idea what they do today).

Instead, so “real” Mac developers think, every newbie with a few weeks JavaScript under their belt are now free to declare themselves “iPhone developers”. It’s the same thing that happened with typographers when the original Mac 128K came out, and what will happen with animators when the final Leopard will come out – look for the equivalent of tags or impenetrable DVD menus in most of the new iPhone and Leopard apps. We’ll be pretty sick of moving GUI elements soon, and there’s no hope of standardizing web apps anyway. It’s the millennium of the amateurs… head for the hills!

Well, while I think some of it will be that bad – just as ransom-note typography was in the 80s, and garish pages assaulted us in the 90s (and still do, come to think of it), it’s won’t be all that bad. Apple will have new category for its Design Awards and there will be some cool, well-designed apps out. Let Darwin take care of the rest.