Stop Hacking Safari Reader

With the launch of Safari 5 has come a new feature, Safari Reader, which takes a webpage and isolates its main body of text, strips out everything else and presents the text in a large, isolated pane with beautiful type. It makes for a nice, clutter-free reading experience, except for its justified text which is cause for a fair bit of grief among designers and type lovers.

To that end, people have become “inventive” and decided to explore the Safari.app bundle on the Mac OS X file system, dug around until they found the file called Reader.html and started playing with its innards to their heart’s content. So far no harm.

But then they started sharing their efforts in easy-peasy tutorial format, encouraging people who may not know any better to hack their own Safari bundle as well. Whether it’s just to fix the justified text, add a dark/night reading mode, or do a whole bunch of stuff, this is a highly discouraged practice—and I really hope people stop doing this.

Why is this a Bad Thing™? Why am I so concerned by and opposed to people hacking their Safari bundle just to change the Reader? Three reasons:

  1. Telling Apple that the Reader needs some customizability is a good thing to do; backhandedly telling them so by leveraging users’ willingness to hack their own Safari bundle is not.
  2. If Mac OS X were to, at any point, verify the application signature, Safari won’t launch for people who hacked their Bundle. The iOS platform already does this, it would be unwise to assume that Mac OS X will never do this.
  3. In quietly encouraging this practice, you’re creating a bigger and bigger potential security breach in Safari itself. What if a user changes their Reader.html file in the bundle with a file provided (or modified) by an ill-meaning hacker? The security concerns here are numerous.

“But I would never add malicious code in there!” you might say. Perhaps, but if this practice becomes commonplace, someone with malicious intent will try it.

“But only advanced users are capable of following my instructions!” your other argument might be. Except that any average user is capable of reading and following your well-written step-by-step instructions that tell them precisely what to do and where to find the files.

“But, but, but…” No. Stop it. Don’t go down this road.

I’m right there with you in that the Reader needs better typography, more controls over the look and feel, and that Apple needs to make this available sooner rather than later. But this ill-conceived practice is not the way to make that happen. Instead, do the following:

  1. Point your browser at bugreport.apple.com and log in with your Apple ID.
  2. Open a New Problem and write an Enhancement Request, specifying exactly what you think is wrong with the Reader as-is and what features you’d like to see added to it.
  3. Reference or cite Problem ID: 8092718 in your description to point the fine folks at Apple at the bug report I filed for this exact issue. The more bugs (or Enhancement Requests) are reported to Apple pointing to that same Problem ID, the faster this will bubble up to the top of their priority list.

Don’t risk unwitting users’ safety or their user experience with your hacking suggestions. File the bug reports to Apple, suggest ways to improve the Reader, and exert a bit of patience. It’s the best way to get this new Safari 5 feature improved so that we can all enjoy it—safely and happily so.

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