When Apple released the first Safari Beta in late February (see my overview), I openly mocked the product for its crazy, non-standard tabs. But now that the company has released the final version of Safari 4, those terrible, title bar-based tabs are gone, replaced by far more conservative, normal-looking tabs that sit under the main toolbar.

My goodness. Maybe Apple does listen to feedback.

If anything, though, the new browser treatment is pretty boring. In fact, Safari 4 is a surprisingly drab looking browser, with a dull-gray fascia, a minimalist toolbar, and no menu bar. The beta, while horrible, was at least a bold move.

Apple Safari 4 for Windows
Before and after: The Safari 4 Beta (above) had misguided, title bar-based tabs. In the final version (below), they're where they belong. Anywhere else.

Once you get past the boring new tab treatment, you'll find a web browser that is surprisingly similar to Google's Chrome. It features the same underlying WebKit rendering technology, which is excellent. Apple goes its own way on JavaScript performance, but my guess is they've got a decent handle on it; in my limited testing, Safari seems about on par with IE 8, Firefox 3.5 Beta, and Google Chrome 2.

Compared to earlier versions of Safari, the new Safari 4 looks and works more like a native Windows application, but it's really more on par with Firefox and Chrome than with, say, IE. (In fact, it looks a lot like a grayscale version of Chrome, with some of the same icons.)

Aside from the general look and feel, Safari provides a handful of Apple-centric design flourishes. The Top Sites display, which appears as the default home page, resembles something you'd see on the Apple TV. And while I find it a bit over the top, it's certainly an attractive display.

Apple Safari 4 for Windows
Top Sites brings an Apple TV-like UI to web site management.

Apple also added its Cover Flow UI to the Safari Bookmarks interface, which provides access to browser history, the Bookmarks Bar and menu, Bonjour, and RSS feeds. Like Top Sites, it's unnecessarily gratuitous, but whatever. Some people will certainly love it.

Tip: Safari 4 automatically (and silently) imports bookmarks from IE and Firefox. You can manage them from this interface.

Apple Safari 4 for Windows
Bookmarks and other saved items are organized using Cover Flow. For some reason.

Put simply, Safari has evolved into a Chrome-like browser alternative that, for better or worse, will never be much more than the fourth or fifth choice for most Windows users. Which is a nice way of saying that it will never be a choice at all, I guess. There's nothing wrong with Safari 4 per se, now that they've trimmed away their horrible early stab at tabs, but nothing to particularly recommend it either. If you're an Apple sycophant stuck on Windows, I guess it's compelling. Otherwise, you have better options out there.