I've been using the beta of macOS 11, also known as Big Sur, for a week now. There are plenty of things to like, and even more to complain about--it is a beta, after all--but there's one thing that could change the way many of us use computers, at least a Mac, anyway.
First, a little context. Google Chrome has been the most popular web browser on both Macs and PCs for a long time. There's really no question that compared with what came before, it was a huge step forward and made web browsing a noticeably better experience.
But, let's be honest here: Chrome has its problems. It sucks battery life and processing power out of your laptop and it's definitely not the fastest web browser anymore. It also does far less than other browsers to protect your privacy and keep your data secure.
Which brings us back to macOS 11, and the latest version of Safari, which comes with a bunch of updates that not only make browsing the web faster and safer, but more productive as well.
Make no mistake, all of these changes are a direct assault on Google's dominance of the web. There are very few things you can do online that don't touch at least one of Google's services, and Apple would very much like to change that.
Among the most important changes is one you can't really see, at least not at first. That's because Safari has new privacy and security features that block a lot of what normally happens while you browse the web. In fact, Apple has built-in a Privacy Report feature that will tell you exactly how many trackers Safari has blocked on each site.
One minor quibble: There's no option for allowing certain trackers on a case-by-case basis, or based on specific sites, which you can do in Brave. You can allow cross-site tracking in Safari's preferences, but it's all-or-nothing.
Safari now allows you to customize your start page with a variety of sections that include your favorites, frequently visited sites, a privacy report, and iCloud tabs. That last one is helpful because it allows you to easily access tabs you have opened on your iPhone or iPad, or even on another Mac. You can even set a background image, which doesn't seem like much, but considering how much time we really spend with our web browser, anything that brings a little humanity is a nice touch.
Apple says you can stream video in Safari for up to three hours longer than you can in Chrome. It's no secret that Chrome tends to be power hungry and resource-taxing. In my use over the past few days, Safari is noticeably faster. Compared with using Safari or Brave running on macOS Catalina, my battery definitely lasted longer, and that's a big deal when you work on a laptop and aren't always sitting at a desk with a power outlet.
This might be one of my favorite features, and it's one of those not-so-obvious things that becomes completely obvious once you've experienced it. In fact, that's probably why I like it, because that's exactly the kind of thing Apple is so good at. When you hover over a tab, Safari will display a small preview of the site. This is especially helpful when you have a large number of tabs open and need to be able to easily switch back and forth.
One of the main reasons people stick with Chrome is that it has a much larger library of third-party extensions that you can use to enhance your browsing experience. Safari has had extensions, but now it will support web extensions, which will make it easy to port Chrome extensions.
Of course, Apple takes a very different approach to privacy than Google, and extensions are often one of the worst offenders. Safari will give you the ability to control what information an extension has access to, and will allow you to limit to even just the current tab. That goes a long way to combining better privacy and productivity, and is why the way you browse the web could very well change for good.