I know: its both creepy and ridiculous to suggest that an inanimate object like sports cars or even furniture could be “sexy”. But for years, Madison Avenue has been selling us that exact concept. I’m not suggesting that it’s entirely hogwash, but to the pragmatic, it is a silly point of view.

And yet it is with a straight face and firm voice that I’m telling you that Apple’s Safari browser (version 3 and the fresh-new version 4) makes even the most banal of web pages look sublime. Dare I say…sexy.

History: Perhaps it’s the part of my brain that remains equal parts loyal and sympathetic to the Apple brand (with Apple NOW selling at $100 a share, I suppose I can suspend any attitude of sympathy). You see, several years ago I tearfully left the Mac platform and went to the Dark Side with Darth Gates. After several years with Apple and even playing the role of an ardent Mac evangelist, it became too painful to consider the  consequences of losing it outright to Wall Street (support for my machine and the software I had both purchased and planned to purchase). Specifically, seeing Apple stock shares settle in at $8 became to much to bear and I more or less determined then and there that the “Fat Lady” was in the wings, warming up for a solo. And with the release of Windows 95, the time seemed right.

Bringing Sexy Back: As one that creates web pages and keeps a keen eye on usability and functionality for both Windows and PC users, I’ve had ample reason and opportunity to see how pages look in a variety of formats. And without hesitation, my work looks best when viewed on Apple’s Safari browser. In addition to being a peppy piece of software (especially version 4) that clearly speeds up page load times, the text edges are smoother and bordering on creamy smooth. Images look richer and darker (say it with me: “Corinthian Leather“) and the minimalistic metal interface at large is elegant and…well…so Apple.

Even the most fascist Windows can’t deny that Apple’s stellar reputation as a leader in design engineering is one that’s been earned over and over again. I mean when you unpacked your iPod–did you note the packaging? It was pure art! Magic with cardboard and plastic! I still have my box–I don’t have the heart to throw it away.

That’s not to suggest that Safari is perfect. Far from it. For as much as I loved V3 of Safari, I never completely jumped from the Firefox ship (the clock is ticking—but dang it if I don’t rely on a handful of extensions). Safari’s execution of the tab feature was inexcusable. Ordering up a new tab took a trip the the command bar (vs. FireFox 3) and it’s organization of bookmarks was never as intuitive as I needed. I’m sure there’s a keyboard shortcut but my wee-brain has it’s limits on how many of THOSE I can commit to memory.

Safari 4 does a better job of addressing the “new tab” – the tabs are streamlined and wafer thin incarnations of the title bar. If one isn’t paying attention, the new tab could be missed altogether. I’m not sure how I feel about that specific execution, but it’s been less than 24 hours so I’ll withhold judgment. Likewise bookmark management and the additional freedom to position them to my preference has taken a clear, forward step.

The most obvious new feature of Safari 4 is the “Cover Flow” bookmarks. I think it’s more eye-candy than functionality but it IS some sweet candy. If you’ve ever used iTunes, you know what cover flow is–and there’s little reason to describe it here. It’s exactly the same concept and execution. A laundry list of additional, cutting edge features can be found here: http://www.apple.com/safari/features.html

But while someone has to be first to adopt each of these features, I don’t see myself getting too breathy about any of them (“CSS Canvas”) until they gather enough steam to be standard across all major browsers. And that brings us full circle. Apple still struggles to break the double-digit mark when it comes to market share and Safari for PC isn’t ready for it’s close up. My traffic reporting suggests Safari for PC tips the scale at: 0.12% of users–that’s far less than Safari for iPhone.  So while I applaud any price of software that shovels more dirt onto Internet Explorer 6 grave, I don’t have any immediate plans to master Safari’s boutique feature set.

So when you grow weary of IE (and from what I’ve seen of IE8, it “sucks less” but remains a bit of a yawner), commit to a week on Safari and see where you land. I mean even THIS page might look sexy!