Alternative Browsers

Monkeying around with web browsers requires, you guessed it, monkeys. A visual metaphor for my free time. (Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov)

I happen to spend a lot of time online—who doesn’t—but lately, I’ve been spending time in browsers other than Safari or Chrome, which has led to some interesting discoveries. First, I don't always want to use javascript, heresy for a web person, but especially when resources are constrained I just don’t want to pay the performance penalty. The same applies to layout, some times, I just need the content on the other side. No frills, no background videos, no fancy layout. Just text and images. Finally, I learned that I don't want to mess about with fiddly UI components, if it can be done on the keyboard or a gesture, then that’s what I prefer.

So what browsers have I been playing around with?

Earlier, I mentioned a browser called Cargo which uses the Blink rendering engine sans almost all UI to create a simple, keyboard-driven alternative to Chrome. When I have a machine that can support it and I’m in a mood, this is a browser I’ll play with. No hamburger menu to hide a million options behind. I'm looking at your Chrome, Opera, Firefox, et al.

Mozilla’s Firefox efforts with the recent Quantum engine seem to be yielding real gains in usability. It also benefits from a wealth of extensions, including my personal life line: 1Password X. Memory usage has come down, so it plays alright with less capable hardware and rendering is pretty spot on.

The Qutebrowser is a wildcard. It is reasonably lightweight and the Qutebrowser is keyboard driven, following a lot of VIM conventions for navigating the browser itself and web pages. I have decent VIM movement muscle memory (ALLITERATION ALL DAY), but if the preceding sentences have been gibberish to you, I would advise you to skip this one. I’ve had some difficulty installing and running reliably. It depends on the Qt library, which my current Linux desktop environment is not well integrated with.1

Dillo has been useful for dealing with memory concerns. It doesn’t run javascript by default, it optionally downloads images and causes every website you visit to become a time machine back to the late 90’s. You quickly realise how speedy the web was before we ruined it. Dillo is awesome for zipping around and getting exactly what you need. No bloat.2

Of the browsers I listed above, I spend the most time in Firefox and Dillo. Reasonable rendering accuracy and performance in one or two tabs and white-knuckle speed, respectively, has been the best balance for my current needs. That said, I still use Safari primarily. I'm trying best to use my linux environment as a tool for cases that require what a desktop best provides, which for me is web development. All my other tasks are handled amiably by other devices.

If you haven’t already, consider taking some time to test outside your comfort zone. Today I focused on browsers, but you never know exactly what’s best for your needs until you test against them. Let me know if you find any interesting projects that I haven’t mentioned—I’m always looking to flush an afternoon away playing with software.


  1. Update: I've played around with it a little more, all it took was forcing it to use an older Webkit engine... thats “all” it took, but it is really mind bending. Linux in general has been warping how I use a computer, but applying VIM bindings to navigating a user interface is, at best, weird and at worst, excruciating. 

  2. I haven’t (yet) broken down to pay with text-only browsers, but at this rate, who knows what I’ll be up to come tomorrow. 

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