Bill's Browser Ruminations

Note that I've since switched to Google Chrome after using Firefox/Iceweasel for years.

Changing your browser is like breaking up with an old girlfriend. It's hard to do and it takes a long time to find another. But you're usually happier in the long run. The following is a stream of consciouness journal of my quest for a new browser.

If you don't want to follow the dribble, get Galeon, but keep Netscape around for those few sites which confuse Galeon with Javascript or something.

Netscrape 4.77

Netscape screenshot

Netscape 4.77

This is the browser I've been using for years. It crashes all the time, unless you turn off Java and Javascript, but no one (except me) writes a web page without Javascript these days. I could live with that, and I could live with the pages with really small fonts but more frequently, I've hit sites where Netscape would refuse to render the content entirely. So, it was time to ditch the old and ring in the new.

Requirements

Looking at the strengths and weakness of Netscape, I'd like to see a browser that:

Scanning the Debian mail archives, the browsers Opera, Galeon, Skipstone, Konqueror, and Mozilla were mentioned.

Next, I read Karsten's treatise on browsers (previously at http://kmself.home.netcom.com/Linux/FAQs/browsers.html). Now, we have much different requirements, and he is more likely to fire up different browsers in different situations than I am, so it will be interesting to see how our reviews differ.

I'm lazy, so I'll do the easy things first. Let's check the browsers that have Debian (woody) packages first. My prose will tend to cover the negative, in that smoke screen tests that passed will not be mentioned unless the browser did something out of the ordinary.

Performance-wise, I'm running on an older PII-450, but with 356 MB memory.


Mozilla

Mozilla screenshot

Mozilla 5.0 M18

The mozilla package took 26 MB and didn't require any extra packages I didn't already have. It installed without incident.

Started up slightly quicker than Netscape (5 versus 6 seconds). Surprise! A well-behaved program should have NO output normally, and Mozilla has tons like a pre-teen, pimply faced, hacker might put out (no offense intended to pre-teen, pimply faced, hackers, but hackers who have been hacking for over 25 years are no longer pre-teens or pimply faced and don't emit output except when there is a problem or you use the --verbose option).

No tooltips by default. Readable fonts. Easy to increase (or decrease the size of the fonts). Couldn't access Paytrust, AMEX, or Vanguard. Doesn't appear to handle secure (https) sites. Major bummer. When going back, didn't remember the place in the previous page. Very annoying. Adding handlers was easy, except the Browse dialog didn't allow tabs to complete pathnames like the GTK toolkit does. Didn't seem to be the hog that I remember. Oh cool! You can browse while the preferences window is open. Hmmm, changing the preferences for underlined links or changing the location of the Search button didn't seem to do anything. Well, maybe it did. Just took a moment.

The Foo Figher's Site really took Mozilla down. This random site caused Mozilla to peg the CPU. Sucked 46 MB of memory.

Skipstone

Skipstone screenshot

Skipstone 0.7

Added 2 MB to the Mozilla install. Let's see. 8 seconds to start. Sluggish. A bit of output. Actually, more as time wears on. Where are the keyboard shortcuts? Doesn't change the color of the links you've seen. Doesn't render https sites at all. Crashed when playing music at Myplay. Like Mozilla, going back to a page takes you to the top of the page, not where you left it. Annoying. I read that they use the same rendering engine as Mozilla. It appears this is a liability.

The back button doesn't allow you to pick a particular old site. Just one boring page after another. Bookmark handling poor. Doesn't write them in HTML, nor is there a nice bookmark toolbar. Crashed when going to window view, but at least had the decency to restart itself, although it didn't remember my Yahoo! cookies. The keyboard shortcuts that exist are weird. What's this Alt-X to exit? How about C-q?

Dillo

Dillo screenshot

Dillo 0.6.1

This package was a paltry 292 kB. Very quick. Strange sense of a menu bar (e.g., none--menu items are buttons on the button bar). Preferences dialog doesn't display. Lots of output.

Doesn't do cookies, so most sites won't work. Can't jump back to an arbitrary page--one page at a time. Doesn't handle frames so I can view my Java docs. Doesn't handle https, so the financials are out. Doesn't seem to handle even <center>. Couldn't log into myplay for some reason (cookies?). Can't view bookmarks within the browser, but at least the bookmarks are saved as HTML.

They said it was alpha. It's not quite alpha. But it does seem to render pages--those few pages it can--fast. Next!

Konqueror

Konqueror screenshot

Konqueror 2.1.1

This baby added 27 MB, including the packages kdebase-libs, kdelibs3, and libkonq3. Oh, and kdebase-crypto and kdelibs3-crypto for SSL support (717 kB). Yay! Just a few error messages are written out.

Started in 3 seconds. Woah. Can read Netscape bookmarks. Seems to suffer from kitchen sink mentality. Default font size small, but was able to easily zoom to a readable level. Nice cookie handling (able to accept or reject all cookies from particular domains). Able to tab through checkboxes and buttons (Netscape can't). Even though chopping off directories in the location bar is easy enough, the up button (or truthfully, the keybinding) is still nice

Handles frames, but the fonts were small in the Java docs and refused to get bigger. Got an "Error 500: Internal Server Error" at Paytrust. I played with the "User Agent" setting, but to no avail. Might have been listing the URL incorrectly. Fonts at Myplay site were also too small and couldn't be adjusted. Couldn't figure out how to launch XMMS with the music. It allowed me to log into the AMEX site, but then all I got was a blank page. Where are the bookmarks stored?

If I can get the secure sites working and figure out how to launch applications (which I'm sure is possible given the otherwise apparent robustness of the browser), this will be a contender.

gnome-help-browser

Gnome help browser screenshot

Gnome Help Browser 1.4.0.4

Already installed on the system. Unfortunately, that's a good as it gets.

Doesn't handle alignment. Only shows a couple of widgets on the Yahoo! site, which stayed on the screen the entire session. Doesn't hack frames. Was totally slow downloading the AMEX site, and then did the same thing it did with Yahoo! Doesn't handle https whatsoever. Unlike Netscape, it *could* show all the photos at the Underwater Cleanup site, but then wouldn't render a blow-up. It renders the Myplay site as a blank page and overlays my photos on top of one another. We'll leave it for rendering the Gnome help,which it does well.

Chimera2

Chimera screenshot

Chimera 2.0a19-3.1

It rendered this page really fast--as advertised. Then crashed. Thus, the only screen shot I could muster was the page Chimera started with.

w3m-ssl

w3m screenshot

w3m-ssl 0.1.10+0.1.11pre+kokb23

Like gnome-help-browser, this was already installed on the system. It's a text mode browser, like Lynx. It's probably a great browser, but you know, text-only browsers aren't for me (except in Emacs, of course). This browser didn't accept cookies (even though I found the options page and turned them on) so the screen shot is just my.yahoo.com's welcome screen.


OK, so that's it with the easy to install browsers. There are two browsers left, Galeon which is still in unstable, and Opera which isn't free (but if it's good, more power to them).

Galeon

Galeon screenshot

Galeon 0.12.1

Installation saga: Grabbed .deb off of unstable. Also had to grab mozilla-browser off of unstable too. Had to upgrade libnspr4 from unstable as well. Don't forget mozilla-psm and libnss if you want to access secure sites (https and SSL). Not too bad. Didn't turn out to be much of a saga at all.

When Galeon starts, it asks you a few basic configuration questions and then starts. Imported my Netscape bookmarks and created a personal toolbar just like in Netscape. Loved that! It has the same look and feel as the rest of the Gnome applications which is nice. Output is minimal (blame it on Gnome). Wonder why back, forward, and up aren't bound to the arrows keys by default? Wonder if it will be possible to bind them?

Cool, you can tab through check boxes, list boxes and other UI components to avoid using the mouse. Font sizes are easily changed via a toolbar widget. Nice URL completion. Like the Google and Merriam-Webster entry boxes on the toolbar.

Launched XMMS from Myplay without question. Got into BofA and AMEX, but couldn't get into Paytrust. Maybe it's related to the redirect problem described below.

Rendering feels perceptionly slower, but only slightly so. Maybe it's because images are shown only after they have been fully loaded, which does provide a crisper browser experience. The Animate Images Once option is very, very sweet. When printing from this page, the images were left-justified, rather than right, but at least they were in color. Bookmarks are stored in both XML and HTML. Ah, you can do stuff while the Preferences window is open. Death to modal dialogs!

Oh oh. Restarted galeon and got this:

    [wohler@gbr:706]$ galeon
    Message: Successfully registered `:0.0,OAFIID:GNOME_Galeon_Automation'
    INTERNAL ERROR on Browser End: Expected a version > 5! Version = 0

    System error?:: No such file or directory

I was able to proceed by nuking ~/.galeon. Haven't seen it since.

My home page settings were forgotten, although other settings were not. The fix proposed in this bug report worked for me.

Perhaps Galeon doesn't handle redirects? Or Javascript bugs? Go to United's site, enter a flight number (any will do) and click Check. The "Please wait..." message should appear briefly and then either the flight status or an "Bad flight number" error message should appear. For me, the "Please wait..." message does't go away. If I can get a handle on this, this is definitely a contender.

Opera

Opera screenshot

Opera

Opera has two Linux browsers, one with a dedicated ad space, and another that you can purchase for $39. For evaluation purposes, I downloaded their dynamically linked .deb because for some reason, I already had libqt2 installed. They also have a statically linked version as well. It installed without any fanfare like any well behaved Debian package.

Well, it has a polished look to it. It didn't right-align the images in this document, but it was the first beyond Netscape to be able to access the Paytrust site.

While loading pages, the location bar is replaced with download information. This is poor UI design as it surprises the user since the fields they expect to see are gone. And it's distracting as well. The download info could easily be stashed in an unobtrustive way down at the bottom of the screen. Not only that, the information it showed was non-sensical. I honestly do not know how far downloads have progressed from all the numbers and bars.

I was also going to complain about the Stop button not appearing up with the Forward and Back buttons, but now I don't see it all. Again, this is Confuse the User tactics. It also appears they use the evil window in a window format which explains why the Stop button is where it is. What's wrong with Alt-N to launch a whole new window? The window managers of the world are much better than the application in the street for managing windows. Whoops. Off topic. Where were we?

Ah, you can turn off the window in a window "feature" and use tabs for the multiple panes. This is slightly easier to access multiple pages than using a window manager menu or Alt-Tab.

Opera, despite its musical name, did not read my mailcap file to see which app to launch. I suppose I could add it, but... Hmmm, after 15 minutes of futzing with the Applications, I still can't get Opera to start XMMS. OK, RFTM. Text too small, make it bigger. Yuck, text now extends past the edges and many words now appear on top of each other.

The dialog used to open files looks just like a Windows dialog. This is not a feature. The GTK dialog is much better with file completion.

Conclusions

None of the browsers passed all of my tests with flying colors. In Karsten's words, "Browsers suck!" The contenders were Netscape, Konqueror, Galeon, and Opera.

Konqueror would be nice if you liked the KDE look and feel, but the inability to access secure sites and set up handlers easily are show stoppers. The kitchen sink feel is a bit much too.

The inability to set up the XMMS handler in Opera at all was a show stopper, and the nauseating Windows look and feel does not encourage one to report bugs and wait until it gets better.

That leaves Galeon. It certainly *feels* the best of the bunch, so that I'd be more likely to endure the bugs until they got fixed. It probably feels good because it is a GTK app, and because it doesn't have the kitchen sink mentality. However, it was not afraid to add a few features that I found worthwhile.

Thus, I'm going to try switching to Galeon, but will leave Netscape in the holster for those instances that Galeon fails. Time will tell how it really performs. If it doesn't crash, and the Javascript bugs are fixes, it will easily be head and shoulders ahead of Netscape. I'll update this space when I'm able to make that evaluation.

Cool!

Here is the journal of my Galeon experiences. I'm hoping most of the entries will be cool rather than bogus.

2001-10-08: Found the Debian smart bookmarks. Simply type in your favorite Debian package in the toolbar and get the package info or bug reports. C-TAB tabs between frames.

2001-12-07: Discovered tabs. Well, actually, I had found them before, but I wasn't quite sure how it was useful to show all the items in a particular menu item in tabs.

But then I read the manual where it said that tabs could be used instead of separate windows. Duh. So, I went into Settings->User Interface->Tabs and turned on Open in tabs by default. Now, middle button opens the new page in a tab. Leave the setting Jump to new tabs automatically off. Now, do a Google search for Galeon. Now, go down the page and hit every link with the middle button (wish there was a menu item to do this). While all the references are loading, use C-Page Down to read the first reference. Hit C-w to close that tab and read the next reference. Very cool.

It's funny how the truth can be right there in front of you, but it takes a few words to make it stand out.

2002-03-07: I'm still using and loving Galeon 1.0.3. Unfortunately, there are still some Javascript bugs that keep some pages from working properly, and occasionally Galeon crashes, but its session recovery works so well, one does not mutter too many obscenities.

I've discovered the context menus on the bookmark toolbar are very handy for adding bookmarks almost exactly where you want them. I use "Copy link location" a lot.

I've also created quite a few smart bookmarks. I'm still using tabs too.

2002-06-12: Yup, still loving Galeon. We're at 1.2.1 now and most of the JavaScript problems have been ironed out. The only thing I use that Galeon can't handle is the Corporate Time calendar. Since I just quit Openwave where we used it, I've removed Netscape from my system. Galeon hasn't crashed in quite some time, so it's getting more robust too. I now dock my history and bookmarks (although I dismiss the windows when not in use to save space).

2006-07-20: A few days ago I started using Google's customized home page. This page crashed Galeon and there didn't appear to be any recovery. So, I gave Firefox 1.5.0.4 a whirl. Firefox lacks the "animate images once" and the "smart bookmarks" feature, but its search engine feature is close enough. Its ability to block popups and its rich library of extensions far outweighs the minor shortcomings. Plus people know what I'm talking about when I mention the name of my browser. So, it looks like I'm going to stick with Firefox now.

References

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