Safari ReaderApple has just released a new version of its web browser, Safari. Apple claims it’s the fastest browser around, but then Opera makes that claim, too, and Google’s Chrome 5 is certainly a contender for the title.

Whether Safari is the fastest browser is not particularly important. Each of these browsers is fast – certainly faster than the current version of Firefox and of Internet Explorer – but a few milliseconds shaved off the page-loading time is probably not going to affect most of us all that much. A much more appealing selling point for Safari (if you can have a selling point for a browser which is given away) is the new Reader feature. Safari Reader gives you distraction-free reading in your browser.

When you surf to a site which Safari senses contains an article, a small Reader icon appears at the right of the address bar. Click that icon, and you’ll be presented with the article in its entirety, minus ads and other clutter. Reader is smart enough to sense when an article extends for more than one web page and it presents such articles in a single, clean view. No more having to click through multiple pages.

Reader isn’t perfect. For example, on the Geekgirl’s site, which is built using blogging software, it can’t always tell where one article ends and another begins, so you’ll sometimes be presented with a long series of articles in one view. But mostly, it works well and if you’re like me, you’ll relish getting to read articles without dealing with flashing video ads and other intrusions.

If you hover your mouse pointer over the bottom of an article displayed in Reader, a set of controls will appear. Using them, you can zoom in or out, email or print the web page, and exit from Reader. You can also exit by clicking the Reader button once more to return to the full web page.

Readability's optionsA readable web without Safari

While Safari is the first browser to provide a built-in article reader, it’s not the first app to make web pages easier to read. There are a bunch of sites and services doing the same thing. My favourite is Readability. Using Readability in any browser, you can select the style, size and margins and have any web page re-displayed beautifully. It will even turn links within a page into footnotes. Readability’s implementation is cleaner than Safari’s and more flexible, but you need to add a bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar to be able to use it.

A similar, and similarly named, app is Readable. It uses a bookmarklet as Readability does, and offers even more flexibility in the formatting of pages.