Computer users can be forgiven for yawning at Apple's recent decision to bring its Safari Web browser to machines running Microsoft Windows.

Like many users, I have plenty of complaints about my Windows PC. But a shortage of browsers isn't one of them.

It didn't help matters when Apple Inc. (AAPL) rushed to release a security patch just days after the public "beta" test software was released last week.

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Aside from its appearance, its simplicity and some nonessential bells and whistles, Safari for Windows offers little to browse home about.

If you're running Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Internet Explorer, Mozilla's Firefox or Opera Software ASA's Opera browser, you're covered.

That is, unless you're a big fan of Safari's spartan, brushed-metal look, which it shares with another Apple program ported to Windows, iTunes.

The decision to make a Windows version of Safari probably has less to do with Windows users and a whole lot to do with Windows developers.

Apple is baking Safari into its upcoming iPhone, and a Web application that runs in Safari on either Windows or a Mac should also run on the combo cell phone, iPod and wireless Web gadget.

It's impossible to tell if interoperability promises will live up to Apple's hype. The cell phone won't be available until June 29.

I was able, however, to check out some of Apple's other claims.

The most secure browser ever? The rapid arrival of a security patch seemed to diminish that.

(In its favor, though, Safari — like Firefox and Opera — doesn't support ActiveX, a Microsoft technology that makes Web sites more functional but opens the door to spyware and other malicious programs.)

Apple also says Safari is twice as fast as IE 7 and 1.6 times faster than Firefox 2.

After spending much of the last week browsing exclusively with Safari on my Windows machine, I can say it's indeed very quick at displaying Web pages. Then again, my Internet connection is very fast at delivering them, too.

More important than speed is how a browser displays a site's layout — which sometimes has been a problem for me while surfing with the Safari on the Macintosh.

On that score, Safari displayed my favorite sites, including Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Gmail e-mail service.

In fact, many of the sites looked better in Safari compared with other browsers. Text seemed to pop out on the screen. Colors appeared brighter. In all, the pages seemed cleaner.

Perhaps that has something to do with the browser's spartan look. Besides the industrial appearance, there's very little clutter. The browser's frame is just a thin line — no fancy shadow to help define it even in Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system.

Safari on PCs, in other words, looks and feels just like Safari on Macs.

Safari does offer what you'd expect to find in any modern browser: tabbed browsing, a popup blocker and built-in support for RSS feeds for monitoring blogs and other sites.

There are some nice flourishes, like being able to reorder the tabs and snap back to a page with one click and a "private browsing" mode that keeps information from being stored locally on the computer.

But Apple's entry into the Windows browser market is sure to throw a wrench at some Web sites that try to detect particular browsers.

Google's photo management Web site recognized my Windows machine running Safari as a Macintosh. But the site worked as expected, despite the misidentification.

Importing my Internet Explorer bookmarks seemed straightforward, until I realized that Safari had arranged my favorites alphabetically instead of my more useful personal rankings saved in IE. Apple says it will fix that bug in a future release.

Overall, Safari 3 is fast and fairly stable — especially for software still officially in a test mode. It ran smoothly on my Windows computer, though some colleagues complained about sluggishness especially right when starting up.

Apple says it wants to grow its share of the browser market — currently at about 5 percent, Apple said. It thinks that the faster browsing experience offered by the new browser will help it accomplish that goal.

The launch of the iPhone probably will have a bigger impact.