[blfs-support] browsers (was Re: Latest news in GNOME world)

LM lmemsm at gmail.com
Mon Nov 19 05:41:41 PST 2012

Aleksandar Kuktin wrote:
> It was large, arcane and most of all,
>had an abnormal number of bells and wistles, some of them (like
>geolocation, persistent cookies and such) downright bad, in my opinion.

Some of the bells and whistles like geolocation are part of the HTML 5 standard.

Personally, I really liked the XHTML standard that the W3C came out
with.  XHTML 1.0 and 1.1 really simplify and cut down on the number of
tags.  However, the W3C sort of went too far in one direction (part of
the XHTML spec, a web site won't even render if it isn't valid XHTML)
and weren't following what direction the browser developers wanted to
go.  From what I've read, the browser developers took over forming the
WhatWG group and defining HTML 5.  The W3C could either get onboard
with the standard or be left behind.  (The W3C has always been the
HTML standards body in the past.)  A lot of the major people involved
in the WhatWG also seem to be the major developers involved in
developing browsers.  The goal for HTML 5 seems very different from
the goals of HTML 4 and XHTML 1.  XHTML was great for simplicity and
cross-browser use.  HTML 5 attempts to do many of the things that web
plugins like Flash and Silverlight traditionally do such as handle
music, video, database access, geolocation, etc.  Plus, there are lots
of new standard tags for semantic web development (which improves
search engine capabilities and is good for companies like Google).

The decision comes down to whether we want HTML to be very basic and
work on all platforms and have the added functionality done by other
components (like Java, Flash, etc.) or whether we want everything
handled by the HTML 5 standard, JavaScript and the browser itself.
The latter approach makes the browser much more complex and decreases
the number of fully functioning browsers on the market.  However, the
previous approach leads to web sites that don't work because you don't
have plug-in X or your browser can't support it.  I've yet to see a
good compromise for this situation.  If web developers made simpler
web sites that worked on more platforms, you could use whatever
browser you want.  Web developers want more functionality, so fewer
browsers work properly with their sites.

>Since that time, Mozilla foundation went full in and is now releasing a
>new major version every few months (every six months, if I remember).
>If I understood their stance correctly, they will cease supporting all
>previous versions upon releasing a new one. Which means that you, as a
>user, have no choice but to follow the Foundation as it blazes a path
>forward, regardless if that path leads to desirable results or
>undesirable results. I find this oppressive.

Am not at all thrilled with the release early, release often mindset.
>From what I've read, Mozilla is doing this to keep up with Chrome.  A
major issue is that online tools such as Google Mail will typically
only support 2 versions back in software.  However, big corporations
and some web developers like IBM (we use their Cognos BI tools at
work) can't afford to keep up with this development and release pace.
Since Google is developing both an e-mail system (plus other web based
tools) and their own browser, they can afford to keep all their tools
in sync.  I think a lot of the changes they make to their browser are
specifically geared toward getting better feature usage for their
online tools.  It makes sense when the browser developer is also the
web tools developer.  It makes things very hard for businesses that
want stable environments and can't afford to update lots of computers
all the time.

>First, there is Dillo
>which appears to be well-supported, then... well, Links, a text browser,
>can be coerced to display pictures, and w3m (if that is its name) does
>the same by default. So, you know...

I tried Dillo.  Cross-platform portability support is very important
to me.  (Not just that it can work on Linux and Windows, but what
about other operating systems like FreeBSD or variants of Linux with
other C libraries?  I dislike being locked into one operating system
just to be able to use a tool.)  I found D+ (a fork of Dillo) much
better at cross-platform support.  Am using it for some browsing
functions including a replacement for tools like dialog, gtkdialog,

>Uzbl is an attempt to make
>a browser adhering to the UNIX philosophy of "do one thing and do it

I tried this on one of my systems.  Was using it to display a
JavaScript fishtank locally on my machine.  Worked pretty well.  It
has a minimal interface as far as controls, but Chrome and Firefox are
headed that way as well.

Didn't see it mentioned but there's also netsurf.  Not finding it very
easy to build or all that cross-platform portable, but it's another

I've been trying all kinds of browsers that could be built from source
just to find viable cross-platform solutions for various web browsing
and web development tasks.  Am still looking.

I've used lynx for years.  I've read security in many cases is better
for lynx than other more modern browsers.  A Microsoft employee
demonstrating IE 9 laughed at me when I mentioned lynx as a viable
browser alternative.  Personally, I'd be perfectly happy continuing to
use browsers like lynx.  They seem so much faster at loading web pages
compared to a modern browser.  I typically browse the web for content
to read and for articles and information.  (Think of all the ads you
can avoid if you have the graphics and scripting on a web page turned
off.)  However, web designers are touting the interactivity of Web 2.0
as the way to go.  My impression of Web 2.0 is that you have a lot of
complicated functionality designed on top of Open Source (or other)
frameworks.  Many Web 2.0 developers don't even do any real coding any
more.  They grab Drupal or Joomla and a lot of add-ins from various
sources (which may or may not work well together).  I find the Web 2.0
experience slow and bloated compared to many earlier web designs.
There's more possibility that certain web site functions fail too.  I
don't see where there's all that much value added for the bloat and
speed loss either.  There were several protocols for Internet access
such as e-mail (used by mailing lists), newsgroups, RSS feeds, etc.
Web 2.0 tries to do everything with a web site (http).  Web forums
replaced newsgroups, RSS feeds are often part of web page displays not
downloaded to a RSS client, etc.  Would have been nice if time was
spent to improve the separate protocols and their security instead of
bundling them all into one.  Wouldn't it be nice if they'd added
better security to e-mail so you could actually track where spam came

I guess I don't like where most web development and most modern
browsers are headed.  I like the keep it simple philosophy.  Web
development appears to be going towards slower, more poorly designed
and more bloated (but I see that a lot in the entire software industry
these days).  There's also so much breaking away from standards or
lack of implementing them in the available browsers that for a web
design to look good on multiple browsers you have to special case a
lot of things.  That's probably one reason why bloated web frameworks
have become popular.  It's hard to test code on every platform and
still make it work and look good.  Unfortunately, in order to be able
to continue to use more efficient browsers, enough web developers
would have to take a stand and develop web sites that would work with
them.  From my experience, many web developers I run across are only
concerned with specific browser platforms and could care less if their
sites aren't accessible on others.  Sites like
http://www.anybrowser.org/ have been around for decades trying to
encourage better accessibility.  First, IE added a bunch of
non-standard features (not W3C compatible) and web designers jumped on
the bandwagon and their sites only worked on IE.  Now, HTML 5 is the
latest bandwagon and I run across many sites that say they're
specifically designed not to work on IE.  You would think the end goal
of a web design is to reach every potential reader, customer and/or
client out there, not to limit it to a priviledged few.

Sorry to get on my soapbox like that.  I just think it's a shame there
aren't better, more accessible solutions out there.  As long as
average users are okay with sites that require special tools and
applications just to work, we're going to keep having these types of


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