Cléber Zavadniak Website

A quick review of alternative browsers

An unfortunate truth about modern days is that Firefox, once a stronghold of freedom and quality in general, now has come to the point where each new release brings a shiver in the spine of whoever was hoping to just keep using the browser the way it was after spending enough amount of time adjusting his/herself to whatever weirdness or quirks Mozilla decided to bake in last time.

Even the mobile versions (including Focus) are suffering: each new release, a new set of annoyances, not counting the profound disrespect with the user, that spent time learning one way of doing things just to wake up next morning and find that now everything is different for no good reason but the whim of some random “smart” UI/UX designer.

And sometimes I envy people who are just fine with all that, because I’m not like them and these things annoy me a lot.

So I went seeking for a new browser. And I had some constraints:

What I found is disconcertingly sad, however, since I tried many different solutions and only one worked decently enough for me out of the box.

The test procedure

I consume a lot of content on Youtube, so it’s the first “Website” I open on a new browser to assess wheter it can handle a complex beast like that or not.

Other interesting (giant) beast is LinkedIn, specially because it’s not only giant and unnecessarily complex, but also kind of badly written and probably poorly maintained, since they are in the feature creep pit for some years, now.

So, that’s the basic procedure. Try Youtube, search for something, play some random videos, then open LinkedIn and simply press PageDown (it’s amazing how difficult rolling one page down properly can be with “modern Javascript”…).

“Works on my machine”

I’m going to talk about the state of these browsers on my Linux distro of choice and I’m pretty sure lots of people are going to say that “well, it works fine on my machine” – and that is the point.

You see, there’s no “works on my machine” when talking about Firefox or Chrome, right? So a simple “not working on my machine is a problem in itself, specially since Void Linux is not an”obscure" Linux distro - the only possible exception being the fact I have musl as C library on this system (but I don’t think this could explain most of the problems I ran into).

The candidates

Falkon

Falkon should be the best one, with better support for “modern Javascript” and whatever, however, it’s tighly integrated with KDE (at least here in Void Linux world) so I’m skipping it for good.

$ sudo xbps-install falkon
  
  Name                     Action    Version           New version            Download size
  kconfig                  install   -                 5.87.0_1               355KB
  qt5-wayland              install   -                 5.15.3+20211001_1      1083KB
  kguiaddons               install   -                 5.87.0_1               57KB
  ki18n                    install   -                 5.87.0_1               3019KB
  kcoreaddons              install   -                 5.87.0_1               430KB
  polkit-qt5               install   -                 0.114.0_1              61KB
  kauth                    install   -                 5.87.0_1               86KB
  kconfigwidgets           install   -                 5.87.0_1               395KB
  kdbusaddons              install   -                 5.87.0_1               54KB
  kservice                 install   -                 5.87.0_1               305KB
  kwindowsystem            install   -                 5.87.0_1               158KB
  libdbusmenu-qt5          install   -                 0.9.3+16.04.20160218_3 88KB
  knotifications           install   -                 5.87.0_1               125KB
  kwallet                  install   -                 5.87.0_1               409KB
  kjobwidgets              install   -                 5.87.0_1               100KB
  libksolid                install   -                 5.87.0_1               236KB
  kcompletion              install   -                 5.87.0_1               94KB
  kiconthemes              install   -                 5.87.0_1               125KB
  kcrash                   install   -                 5.87.0_1               16KB
  kglobalaccel             install   -                 5.87.0_1               113KB
  kxmlgui                  install   -                 5.87.0_1               723KB
  kbookmarks               install   -                 5.87.0_1               139KB
  sonnet                   install   -                 5.87.0_1               316KB
  ktextwidgets             install   -                 5.87.0_1               314KB
  docbook-xml              install   -                 4.5_5                  97KB
  docbook-xsl              install   -                 1.79.2_2               1687KB
  kdoctools                install   -                 5.87.0_1               461KB
  kio                      install   -                 5.87.0_1               4843KB
  accounts-qml-module      install   -                 0.7_1                  63KB
  kpackage                 install   -                 5.87.0_1               180KB
  kdeclarative             install   -                 5.87.0_1               256KB
  kinit                    install   -                 5.87.0_1               130KB
  signon-ui                install   -                 0.15_1                 96KB
  signon-plugin-oauth2     install   -                 0.24_2                 73KB
  signon-kwallet-extension install   -                 21.08.3_1              11KB
  kaccounts-integration    install   -                 21.08.3_1              119KB
  kaccounts-providers      install   -                 21.08.3_1              74KB
  purpose                  install   -                 5.87.0_1               321KB
  falkon                   install   -                 3.1.0_5                2819KB
  
  Size to download:               20MB
  Size required on disk:          94MB
  Space available on disk:        27GB
  
  Do you want to continue? [Y/n]

Even wayland-related stuff is listed there…

Dissenter Browser

gab.com is an awesome project and those guys are real fighters – against every big corp trying to deplatform them and even being actively opposed inside theoretically open source communities (like Mastodon), they are still there doing this unbelievably obscene thing that is, you know… obeying the law

So, if you don’t know the story, dictators prototypes at Mozilla (Corp or Foundation, I can’t remember) considered that allowing anyone to say anything anywhere about anything they chose was really bad and banned the Dissenter extension from its store. The same with Chrome.

Like… wut???

Bla bla bla hate speech was the excuse and Gab people said “you know what? We’re launching our own Web browser” and so they did, launching the Dissenter Browser - based on Brave, but without all that crazy Brave stuff.

And I loved it! It’s a very competent browser and even allows me to download torrents directly in it or open IPFS links (by talking to a local node).

Except they abandoned the project and now are planning to create their own Web browser again, but now based on Firefox.

Shit. Things were going so well…

So, yeah, I can still use Dissenter and even created a local Flatpak package so that I could run it easier on Void (instead of chrooting into Ubuntu every time), but the thing has its days counted, now (and I doubt they’ll launch a Firefox-based version, actually).

Nice thing: it has a package for MacOS, so I can use a decent-enough browser in my computer-from-Work.

netsurf

This project started in the RISC OS world and implements its own “layout engine”, that is: it’s not yet another WebKit-based browser, that I find exciting and very important: it’s crucial that we keep creating new Web engines, otherwire we’re in the hands of very few organizations that don’t always have users’ best interest in mind.

That said, netsurf is still kind of a work-in-progress. It’s good enough when dealing with simple Websites like mine, but is unable to load Youtube, for instance.

Youtube on Netsurf

Also, it has zero concerns about… Google, being difficult to change the integrated search engine (I couldn’t find a way via Preferences) and even using Google itself as the internal search engine for their website.

(Weird enough, it can’t render DuckDuckGo page correctly, although the search itself still works properly.)

So, overall, amazing project, specially as an engine. I can use this browser as an alternative when reading my favorite blogs. Very light on resources usage, too.

surf

This is the browser from the Suckless… project?…

It’s WebKit-based and don’t have native tabs, in the good old Suckless fashion. If you want tabs, you must use tabbed. Most of the actions and menus make use of dmenu.

Funny thing is: I’m using spectrwm, now, that is kind of based on dwm (don’t know to what extent), but the combination spectrwm+tabbed+surf results in… not tabbed browser. On the contrary, tabbed becomes a standalone window, the same with any other surf one…

But still, I tried to use surf as my main Web browser and the main problem I noticed was that it consumes a lot of resources. Probably not surf itself, as it’s quite simple, but the WebKitWebProcess processes running for each open page hit quite hard on my machine: the CPU load was already above 2 with something like… five windows.

As a basis for comparison, while using Dissenter Browser, even with a lot of open tabs and windows, the CPU load would be still under 1 (except if I had LinkedIn open and running, of course, because LinkedIn).

luakit

Add some Lua steroids on surf and that’s what you get, basically, with luakit: it’s very customizable and generally very lightweight.

The problem I found with luakit was that it always feel incomplete. It’s the kind of do-it-yourself tool that gives me that feeling of an unsurmountable amount of small tweaks that I’d need to do in order to have an usable browser.

Like… years of work until reaching a satisfying point.

Is that bad? Maybe not. But that’s not what I’m looking for at this moment.

otter-browser

While trying to find a working Web browser for Haiku I noticed some people recommending this browser and both in Haiku and in Linux it failed miserably.

The project “aims to recreate the best aspects of the classic Opera (12.x) UI using Qt5” but I couldn’t find any resemblance of Opera in it, to be honest, and while I hope the project achieve its objectives with much success, well… for now it’s just not working.

Some could say that I should collaborate instead of complain but, yes, I am collaborating with these projects by at least giving them a try. You also should give them a try. What if you fall in love with one of them?

Midori

I tried Midori many times in the past and it’s always almost there. Its rendering is quite okay, but it’s always lacking in some fundamental UI aspect. In this iteration:

Also, it uses a lot of resources, similar to what happens with NetSurf. Right now I opened it again to take a screenshot (what I didn’t, because there’s nothing interesting to show, actually) and the CPU fan already started spinning faster…

So, yeap, it’s still almost there.

Eolie

The problem with most “alternative” Web browsers (and probably with most “alternative” stuff) is that sometimes developers and UI designers try to invent new ways of doing things that don’t really need new ways of being done. So here and there you’re going to see a menu in some weird place and so on and so forth. And that’s kind of expected, right? They’re are starting from scratch, so why not try some new tricks?

And what amazed me the most with Eolie was that there is, indeed, “novelties” in the UI but they are all… quite good!?

The “tabs”, for instance, are not in the top, but vertical at the left side. Amazing, because most people with tiny screens actually prefer to avoid any waste on vertical space. And since most Websites have a proper favicon, it’s enough to show you which sites are open.

Tabs are vertical

Also, if you open many tabs of the same site, it’s not going to fill your sidebar with tabs/buttons, but instead they are all grouped into only one “tab” that will receive a “badge” with the number of open pages “inside” it. Neat!

Clicking on such tab/button, you can choose which page you want to see, but using Ctrl+Tab also works as expected: quick press simply cycle to the next page and by holding Ctrl you’re going to see a list of open pages on that window. Also neat!

Pages screen

The rendering is perfect, as far as I can see (it is WebKit-based), although I managed to catch some bugs, specially on pages with “infinite scroll”: if you press PageDown, the browser gets lost.

(Yeap, you got it: LinkedIn.)

Also, when opening a new tab, if you immediately start typing something the focus is stolen and you have to press Ctrl+l again to go back to the URL bar and continue to type.

Kind of annoying, but passable. I’ve seen worst.

It’s also possible, according to their Website, to sync things with a Mozilla account, but I haven’t tried that.

In theory one could install extensions, too, but I didn’t find a way of doing that.

In short

I’m using Eolie daily, now, and I’m quite happy with it.

I still hope some fork of Firefox will be able to find its way back to when the browser was “the browser hackers love”, though, as well as I wish the best for all these projects I mentioned here, because, you know, it’s good to have many options.


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