Fast, Faster, Webkit Nightlies

What comes in mind when you think about Webkit? Apple, Open Source, KHTML, Safari, Chrome, SPEED

As a friend urged me to give the Webkit nightlies a try I was first hesitating not wanting to install another Browser let alone Apple’s not-so-cool update application, which tries to get every single on of their products on your machine, well that’s another story. In the end, as I was bored as usual I gave it a try anyway and I would not be disappointed.

Once you installed the Safari browser you can get the nightlies. They come as 23MB archives (about 80MB extracted) and contain a batch file (run-nightly-webkit.bat) that pretty much does all the work for running a Safari session using the nightly build of Webkit.

Now that we got the “how” sorted out, let’s talk about the important stuff, the performance. I don’t want to get into the interface of Safari — I don’t like it — it’s only about how well it performs displaying websites, executing javascript, benchmarking and subjective impressions.

My first stop was the acid3 test. How many browsers and renderers have I’ve seen crumble in front of those 6 coloured boxes: Firefox getting 3.0.1 71/100, Chrome 78/100. Well, to be honest I already knew what the result would be but I wanted to see it with my own eyes, on my own machine. It got the 100/100 straight away and did it pretty quick as well. The other browsers actually took longer in failing the test as this shiny little piece of software took to pass. While it’s great that one competitor passes the test it actually doesn’t mean very much for most of the web developers, trying to get their work properly displayed in all or at least most browsers. It’s still remains a question of the lowest common denominator.

Now that we checked the standard compliance, let’s take a look at sheer performance. I headed to the two recently most mentioned benchmarks for javascript performance: Webkit’s SunSpider and Mozilla’s Dromaeo. I thought it’s the most fair approach using both browsers on both projects’ own benchmarks. You can see the results in chart below, shorter is better.

While it should come at no surprise that the Webkit nightly powered Safari beats the others two hands down in it’s own benchmark I was actually quite a bit surprised about the results of the Dromaeo benchmark. Having no initial doubt about Webkit beating Firefox and Chrome in this Benchmark the margin it won by was clearly stunning. And I’m looking forward for the others to catch up. Shiretoko the current development version of Firefox and Minefield already promise improvement.

But enough about benchmarks. What’s my subjective impression? It’s fast, it’s responsive and AJAX applications feel like they’d run on your desktop — localy. It was quite an experience and I see a bright future ahead in  the world of web applications. All browsers are currently dramatically increasing their javascript and general performance and we’ll soon see a whole new digital world.

Just try it yourself, running and comparing applications like Google Maps, 280slides and flickr’s picture management to current stable browser builds.

But be warned, this isn’t stable software so don’t use it in productive environments and expect some stability issues and memory leaking.

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