In to the realm of Text Browsers

Web browsers…. Aah, the necessary evil in our day-to-day computing! To simply browse the web, you need one. Even as I am typing, I am doing it on a Web Browser (No seriously, I am actually typing in in Kate, the KDE text editor!) But we just can’t do without them. Modern web browsers are a chock-a-block full of exciting features, with plugin support, multimedia support and what not! They come preinstalled on almost modern operating systems – on Windoze, you have the crappy Internet Explorer; on Mac OS X, you get Safari; even on cell phones (both the smart and the dumb ones) you have some form of a web browser. Well, modern web browsers come with various fallacies….. Just take a look at Internet Explorer, the classic monopoly web browser, it has more security holes than a used target marquee. Then comes Firefox, with a huge RAM footprint! And I kid you not, just try opening 3 Facebook tabs on Firefox running on Windows 7 on a netbook………. you’ll get the picture! And lastly Google Chrome, with probably the crappiest interface ever, not to forget buggy Flash plugin support! Plus there is JavaScript, PHP, ASP.Net and other scripting languages which in my humble opinion is the worst thing to happen to the Internet since Adobe Flash (when are people going to use HTML5?). For privacy advocates and EFF nuts, it is an absolute nightmare, but the worst part of these scripting systems is the fact that they are in no way system-friendly, or privacy friendly….

No, today I am not gonna talk about the usual web browsers. My post today is about Text-Based web browsers, browsers that you can run from a console or command line. It is a new thing I am exploring, and the gains I get is more than enough to make me want to make one of the following browsers my secondary browser.

I used my Netbook (Asus EEE PC, 1.6GHz Intel Atom Processor with 1GB RAM) for the test purpose with Debian unstable Linux system. I used three common text based browsers for the test – Links, Lynx and w3m….. So gather all ye belongins’ and lets take this epic journey into the realms of console text browsing!

Links

Google

Google

This classic web browser is in my opinion the most comfortable and user-friendly of the ones I have tested. It features an N-Curses style pull-down menu, similar to the classic EDIT text editor on DOS. The menu makes it much more comfortable to navigate through various options, than by using commands.

Wikipedia English Landing Page

Wikipedia English Landing Page

Having partial HTML 4 support, the browser is simply awesome for text-rich and link-rich (forgive the pun) pages such as Wikipedia. It renders complex web-pages in a simple no-frills style and lacks support for JavaScript which in a way is good, since it becomes the perfect browser for Tor and I2P networks. You can find more information at the Wikipedia page (which saves me from content duplication!). I rank it 4/5.

Lynx

Google

Google

This browser is simply a beast! Great style, maximum control and exquisite performance…. I cannot help but compare it to a Sports Bike. You have to be knowledgeable just to operate it properly! It does not feature menus like Links, but is operated by keyboard shortcuts. For those who have studied and mastered those keyboard shortcuts, I reckon it would be nothing short of an orgasm. Named after the animal (and I believe a pun to hyper-LINKS, not after the Ubuntu edition), this browser simply kicks ASS! It is the oldest web browser still currently in development, and it shows! It has full HTML codebase support as well as support for cookies, too!

Wikipedia English Landing Page

Wikipedia English Landing Page

The best part of it is the display…… sleek and colourful in all its 8-bit glory! It still does not support JavaScript, making it a good contender for browsing dodgy networks and webpages. You can find more information at the following Wikipedia page. I give Lynx 3.5/5.

w3m

Google

Google

This is the creme-de-la-creme of Text Browsers. It comes with a shortcut-key approach, similar to Lynx. The browser has the best visual display of all three text-based browsers. For those into Emacs, it is perfect for web-browsing inside a text editor! The browser comes with its own range of goodies. Like the previous two browsers, it does not support JavaScript, but I have not yet found any browser to display HTML with such grandeur. It comes the closest to maintaining the layout of the page, even in text mode. The best part of the browser is that, unlike the other two, where the cursor moves from hyperlink to hyperlink, the w3m browser makes the cursor free to move, allowing you to move it anywhere over the text (and even white space) you please.

Wikipedia English Landing Page

Wikipedia English Landing Page

The w3m browser also uses cookies to store information, which can be de-activated of course! When selecting an Input field, the browser creates a text-entry box at the bottom line, allowing you with greater flexibility to type away! Wikipedia has a great page on w3m. On my end, I rate it 3.5/5.

Conclusion

One might ask, what is the need for text-browsing in the era of Google Chrome and Firefox. Well, I believe, if you are doing serious stuff using the command line, on any one of those tty consoles, and need a browser, a text browser becomes extremely handy. Moreover, with the removal of features such as JavaScript, these browsers become are lightweight, fast and extremely safe. For me though, Links works perfectly – though it has very poor text display, still the presence of menus changes the deal for superior control compared to Lynx and w3m.

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About mcprtk

Well, I'm a serious computer enthusiast who's into Free Software, Heavy Metal Music and lots of trippy craziness. Currently, I'm trying to achieve technical nirvana (whatever that means)

Posted on 13/05/2013, in Computing, Linux and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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