Apple releases Safari 5.1 for Snow Leopard, Windows

The hits just keep on coming. Having released new MacBook Airs, new Mac minis, a new display, and — oh yeah — Lion on Wednesday, you’d think Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) had dropped enough products to last a month. But, in the words of Steve Jobs, there’s just one more thing: Safari 5.1.

The new version of Apple’s Web browser is included in Lion, but it’s also available as a separate download for users of Snow Leopard and Windows. Many of the features in Safari 5.1 are Lion-specific, such as multitouch gestures, full-screen browsing, sandboxing, the new downloads popover, and hardware acceleration for the HTML5 Canvas element. But some of the new capabilities have made it to Snow Leopard and Windows as well.

Among those are Reading List, which Jobs demoed at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in June. Reading List is essentially a way to easily bookmark things that you want to read later; click the glasses icon in the bookmarks bar and a new sidebar appears with a list of pages you’ve saved to your list–it can even tell you which articles you haven’t already read. The forthcoming iOS 5 will bring support for Reading List as well, and will sync it between the Mac and your iOS devices.

Privacy’s another new focus of Safari 5.1: Apple has revamped the browser’s privacy preferences to let you see what data sites are storing and easily remove it. Cookie settings can be customized, and you can set how sites can request your location information. In addition, AutoFill has been tweaked to make it more private–you must now specifically select your contact information when filling out a form; it won’t do it automatically anymore.

Safari 5.1 brings a taste of Lion to Snow Leopard with its new Resume feature, which automatically restores your open windows and tabs when you launch the browser. (You can disable this feature in Safari’s General preference pane). And when you log into your AOL, Google, or Yahoo accounts in Safari, you’ll now be asked if you want to set them up to work with OS X’s Mail, iCal, iChat, and Address Book aps.

Under the hood, Apple’s also made improvements to Safari’s stability and performance. For example, unresponsive websites should no longer drag the entire browser to a halt. And searching for items on a page now gives you an option to look for either text containing that term or text that starts with that term.

Safari 5.1 is a free download, and requires Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later; Safari 5.1 for Windows requires Windows XP SP2, Vista, or 7, as well as a 500MHz Pentium process or better, 256MB of RAM, and–for Top Sites and Cover Flow–a DirectX 9.0-compatible video card with 64MB of video RAM. Leopard users can grab Safari 5.0.6, which provides a handful of stability and compatibility improvements.

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