Lightweight Browser Rundown

We all know that browsers are kinda like religion – everyone has one that they like, and thinks all the other ones are crap. Sometimes people convert, but most of us usually subscribe to the “one true browser” club of one kind or another. And I have to say that Firefox, Flock, Opera, Safari and the others are all great pieces of software (except IE which gets shittier with every version). But not on low end hardware. Most of modern browsers tend to eating up to tons of your memory, and think nothing of it. So here are some browsers designed for fast action, and minimal operating footprint. These are perfect for your old decrepit little computer that you have raised from the dead using some lightweight linux distro.

Text Browsers

It’s probably best to start with text browsers because these always have very minimal requirements. All you need is a bare bones system, even without X.

Lynx

Lynx is probably the most known of the text browsers. Most people heard about it, and there is a very good chance it will be bundled as one of the core utilities with your Unix or Linux system.

Lynx Browser

Links supports rudimentary HTML, but nothing fancy. Especially not css, but that goes for most of the text browsers anyway. Basic, simple and functional.

Installation on Ubuntu:

sudo aptitude install lynx

Links

Links aims for a slightly less spartan look and feel employing a color terminal, and better support for HTML tables and SSL capabilities.

Links Browser

Still very basic, but in some ways provides slightly better browsing experience than Lynx. At least IMHO. Then again if you really want something more than Lynx you should probably look into Links’ variants such as elinks, or links2.

Installation on Ubuntu:

sudo aptitude install links

Elinks

Elinks – is probably the best browser out of the links family. It sports an impressing number of features that cannot be found in the other text browsers like support for wide array of protocols (finger, http, https, ftp, smb, ipv4, ipv6), authentication, persistent cookies, tabbed browsing, background downloads and pretty, colorful interface:

Elinks Browser

Did I mention it is extensible? You can extend it’s functionality using Perl, Lua and Guile scripts. This is probably the best contender in the world of text browsers right now. Still, it’s not perfect – there is no support for CSS or Javascript so you still are browsing slightly handicapped.

Installation on Ubuntu:

sudo aptitude install elinks

W3m

W3m is not as advanced as almost as advanced as elinks. Both have features that are really worth while. Some people prefer it over Lynx because of the way it renders the pages.

W3m Browser

There is a reason why this browser does not seem to aim at kicking as much ass as elinks does (then again, one could argue that it kicks exactly as much ass). It was designed to be a multi-use tool. Not only is it a browser, but also a pager (like more and less) and a text formating tool that lets you parse HTML and spit out clean, readable plain text.

Installation on Ubuntu:

sudo aptitude install w3m

Graphical Browsers

Links2

Links2 – is the only text browser that can display images. This makes it a very attractive choice since it combines the power and simplicity of a text browser without any of the bloat of it’s graphical cousins. Just make sure you run it with the -g option.

Links2 Browser

As you can see from the screenshot, it is still very plain – but the images do show up in almost all the right places which makes a huge difference. Too bad it does not have all the advanced elinks features.

Installation on Ubuntu:

sudo aptitude install links2

W3M-IMG

Yes, our friend w3m can be made to display graphics in pretty much the same way as Links2. Actually, it does it better than Links2 – it does it on the command line using framebuffer without any need for X whatsoever. Big thanks to Joshua Eckroth for pointing this out in the comments.

W3m-img Browser

It actually looks very nice. Note that w3m has completely different key bindings than the Lynx/Links family so it might take a bit of getting used to. It also lacks the Elinks/Links2 curses pull-down menu. But it is a very strong contender nevertheless.

Installation on Ubuntu:

sudo aptitude install w3m-img

Dillo

As lightweight graphical browsers go, Dillo is probably the smallest, fastest and meanest little browser you can find. I dare you to find a fully fledged graphical tool that works faster (links2 doesn’t count because it is still mainly a text browser).

Dillo Browser

Of course the speed and low memory footprint come at a price. Dillo does not support Css or Javascript so the web pages you open in it won’t look much better than they looked in links2 or elinks.

Installation on Ubuntu:

sudo aptitude install dillo

Hv3

Hv3 is a very young browser written in TCL, currently in it’s alpha stage. You can download it from it’s home page as a statically linked, self contained executable. I must say I’m very impressed with it. Just look at the screenshot below:

Hv3 Browser

My blog actually looks the way it’s supposed to look! Unlike Dillo, Hv3 does support a fair chunk of CSS making most of the modern sites look less crippled. It’s almost like using a full fledged browser, but with a small memory footprint comparable to Dillo.

As it is right now, the TCL UI is bit slow – the browser takes a while to show up, and render it’s controls, and blocks whenever it loads a page making it bit annoying to use. Still, this browser is in it’s alpha stage. Give it few years to mature, and I’m confident it will be kicking major ass. Definitely give it a try – just remember it might still be buggy.

Installation on Ubuntu:

Hv3 is not in the repositories yet. Since it ships as a statically linked, self contained package, you can just download the binary yourself. I’m putting it in /opt cause that just seems cleaner.

wget http://tkhtml.tcl.tk/hv3-linux-nightly-07_0923.gz
gunzip hv3-linux-nightly-07_0923.gz
sudo mkdir /opt/hv3
sudo mv hv3-linux-nightly-07_0923 /opt/hv3/
chmod +x hv3-linux-nightly-07_0923
sudo ln -s /opt/hv3-linux-nightly-07_0923 /usr/bin/hv3

Kazehakase

Kazehakase is a small and agile Japanese browser based on the gecko rendering engine. What does it mean? It means that it can pretty much deal with everything that Firefox can in terms of HTML, CSS and Javascript support. It is really a mozilla browser stripped down for speed.

Kazehakase Browser

It will run faster than Firefox, and has a smaller memory footprint. But it is still a gecko browser making it a tad on the heavy side compared to Dillo, hv3 or the text browsers. Very old hardware probably won’t like it to much – but if you want a full featured browser comparable to FF, this is the way to go.

Installation on Ubuntu:

sudo aptitude install kazehakase

So which one is your favorite? Do you have a preference? Did I forget to mention some awesome lightweight browser here? Please let me know in the comments.

[tags]browsers, lightweight browsers, old hardware, lynx, links, links2, elinks, dillo, hv3, kazehakase[/tags]

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37 Responses to Lightweight Browser Rundown

  1. Harald BELGIUM Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Did you mention Ghostzilla ? The fastest browser to disapear in you gui ?
    I did enjoy it a lot. To bad it’s not supported anymore.

    Reply  |  Quote
  2. Harald BELGIUM Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Hi,

    like those reviews of exotics browsers.
    I did use a little bit links on osX just for the fun.
    Dillo is ok too, as default on Puppy Linux.
    You did’t mention the gecko’s motored K-meleon and the best of the best Ghostzilla.
    This one was the fastest to disappear in your Gui. The funiest browser experience.

    Reply  |  Quote
  3. Harald BELGIUM Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Sorry, didn’t see that my first comment was saved.

    Reply  |  Quote
  4. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    As for *nix web browsers, I’ve found that opera is right on the same level with kazehakase for speed. Epiphany isn’t too far behind either. Galeon and konq are a quite bit slower, and FF is a dog. Midori seems promising, but is pretty empty on features http://software.twotoasts.de/?page=midori

    Part of that is because I load FF up with so many extensions, greasemonkey scripts, and whatnot – all of which improve functionality beyond what any other browser offers, and they are the reasons I keep using FF. I also noticed, when I’ve loaded Kazehakase with ruby scripts, it was noticeably less responsive too (which btw is one of my favorite features).

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @Harald – heh, didn’t really think about Ghostzilla.

    Kmeleon is indeed very fast because of the preloader. It was quite a few years since I last tried it though. Also, I was kinda aiming this article at linux so it kinda got left out as a windows only browser.

    @jambarama – completely forgot about epiphany. Also, I kinda always viewed Opera as on the heavy side seeing how it ships with an email client and all these features. But yeah – it is really fast when it comes to rendering pages.

    And I’m the same way – I have bunch of extensions that make my life much easier but bog down FF a bit. Still, I wouldn’t change them for the world. :)

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  6. Petr Baudis CZECH REPUBLIC Epiphany Debian GNU/Linux says:

    Note that ELinks does support very rudimentary CSS and JavaScript. Not a whole lot, but even the basics help a lot on many sites.

    Reply  |  Quote
  7. jambarama UNITED STATES Epiphany Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Ghostzilla is really just a modded FF. It really isn’t any faster either – it was just designed so you can “hide” your browsing from someone walking by your computer.

    Opera does have a built in mail client, note taking software, bittorrent client, a decent news reader (rss/usenet), and a ton of other stuff, but I’ve found that it still launches much faster than FF and even Konq, not to mention the fast render times. It also doesn’t hog memory, even with all these features, like gecko based browsers.

    I’ve seen that other gecko based browsers, K-Meleon, camino, galeon, etc aren’t much faster than naked FF. Kazehakase is a bit of an exception, Epiphany is also (less so) an exception in my experience. YMMV.

    BTW, great post, I don’t think I mention how much I appreciate your posts enough. w3m, hv, both very new to me. Great work!

    Reply  |  Quote
  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    @jambarama I just found out about hv3 too. I think that K. Mandla should get the credit for digging it out.

    Reply  |  Quote
  9. Jake UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Err, last I checked elinks has very basic Javascipt and CSS. For instance, I can open new Javascript windows and see centered text, but not much else on either side.

    Reply  |  Quote
  10. Joshua Eckroth UNITED STATES Epiphany Debian GNU/Linux says:

    Note, w3m does support images, using debian/ubuntu package w3m-img. Even better, it does this on the console with framebuffer support or an xterm. w3m also supports nearly all those features Elinks supports, including tabs, background downloading, SSL, FTP, table rendering, adaptive page rendering (not waiting until the page is done loading), etc. It’s great as well as a pager. AND it can execute CGI scripts from the command line, interface to a dictionary (dict client), render Japanese text, use bookmark categories, mouse support (console or xterm, even scrolling by dragging or mouse wheel!), read news, etc etc.

    Your review would also benefit from detailing keyboard-navigation differences. Links vs. w3m keyboard shortcuts, for example, mean a lot in typical use.

    Reply  |  Quote
  11. Hans-Werner GERMANY Opera Windows says:

    There’s also a version of Konqueror, called “Konqueror embedded”, that also makes a pretty lightweight browser (good for – say – 64MB machines). It is, however, not easy to get your hands on a precompiled version, though.

    Reply  |  Quote
  12. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    @Joshua Eckroth – thanks! I did not know it could do images. I amended my post to mention that fact. I suddenly have all this newfound respect for w3m. :)

    @Hans-Werner – I’ll need to check it out. Does it require a lot of KDE stuff to be pulled down alongside it?

    Reply  |  Quote
  13. Hans-Werner GERMANY Opera Windows says:

    Hm, I don’t think Konqueror Embedded is really a product for end users ATM. It has moved on somewhat since I had my last look, as it seems, that’s nice. So it might have gotten much better. It does not need KDE stuff, IIRC (the bits it needs are recreated/isolated, which is the main point that makes this browser different from regular Konqueror). But compiling it was a PITA nevertheless.

    In most cases, Konqueror embedded is used in — tada — Embedded Devices, such as internet tablets. I guess that’s why there are so few (if any) precompiled x86 binaries on the Web.

    Reply  |  Quote
  14. Dan THAILAND Safari Mac OS says:

    Hi,

    The reason Hv3 blocked while loading pages was that the hv3-polipo binary did not get installed. Try putting the staticly linked binary in a directory you have write-access to. First time you start it up, it should ask permission to create a binary called hv3_polipo. If you give it permission, the “gui freezing up” problem should be gone.

    Dan.

    Reply  |  Quote
  15. Dan THAILAND Safari Mac OS says:

    Oh, and there are now newer builds at:

    http://tkhtml.tcl.tk/hv3.html

    Reply  |  Quote
  16. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Thanks for the info. Are you the maintainer of hv3? Great piece of work you did there! :)

    Reply  |  Quote
  17. Dan THAILAND Safari Mac OS says:

    Maintainer, developer and sole true believer at the moment :)

    Anyone who can program C, Tcl or wants to make a better website or logo or anything is welcome to join though!

    Dan.

    Reply  |  Quote
  18. Petr Baudis CZECH REPUBLIC Mozilla Firefox SuSE Linux says:

    If we are running a feature contest, ELinks supports all the mentioned w3m features (CGI support, mouse support, etc.) as well, except image displaying. And it can also be configured to support w3m-style page navigation (arrow keys move cursor in tn3270-like way instead of jumping from link to link). w3m’s advantage is that it’s more lightweight, I suppose.

    Reply  |  Quote
  19. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @Dan – again, good job! Unfortunately I never really worked with TCL, but maybe I can help by getting the word out to the linux community. :)

    @Petr Baudis – thanks! Personally I prefer elinks over w3m but I guess it’s all about preference.

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  20. Pingback: The Lightweight Browser Rundown | Tombuntu CANADA WordPress

  21. Ben Sittler UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    The other advantage of w3m over elinks is the internationalization, especially support for Chinese and Japanese text, which are completely missing in links and elinks, and better support for Unicode (UTF-8) and double-byte character encodings.

    Reply  |  Quote
  22. Petr Baudis CZECH REPUBLIC ELinks Gentoo Linux says:

    New elinks versions should support UTF8 and Chinese/Japanese text well enough, though I don’t have first-hand experience and w3m will be certainly better tested in this regard.

    Reply  |  Quote
  23. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Petr – I think you might be my first commenter using Gentoo! :) I don’t think I saw that icon here before.

    Reply  |  Quote
  24. Jake UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    @Luke Maciak: My desktop ran Gentoo on one partition for a while before the hard drive died. However, I usually ran a Firefox downloaded straight from http://ftp.mozilla.org and extracted into my home directory so it never set Gentoo in the user agent string. Honestly though, Gentoo just gets to be a pain. I never got into emerge. apt-get all the way for me now, except for when I’m playing with OS’s in VM’s. I’ve actually been doing this a lot lately now that I have more RAM :P

    Reply  |  Quote
  25. Marti UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Thank you for the info on Kazehakase. I was afraid to use one of the small linux distros -and, hence, install one on this laptop- because of browser incompatibility with secure login sites (banks, mutual funds, etc.) Good to know that Kazehakase “should” support login.

    I want to put fluxbuntu on 2GHz CPU with 256MB RAM emachines M2105 laptop. I did run the qemu VM with DamnSmallLinux 4.2. Nifty that everything works…except logging into JS sites.

    I really just want to be free of XP.

    Reply  |  Quote
  26. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Marti – with a 2GHz machine you might actually be able to run full blown Ubuntu. I’m currently running Kubuntu Dapper on a 1.7 Ghz machine with only 512 MB of RAM. It’s slow but fully functional – on your average day I have Firefox, Kmail and Komodo Edit open at the same time and the machine remains responsive. In fact, I think it’s much faster that it could be if I was running XP on the same hardware.

    If you are using Fluxbox I think you can easily run Firefox with this setup. It may start up slowly, but after it loads it should be fine. Add another 256 MB (if you can) and you should be in pretty good shape.

    Reply  |  Quote
  27. ernie UNITED STATES Mozilla SeaMonkey Linux says:

    you might be able to run FF or sea monkey, but why would you want to?
    I used enigma when i was on windows because it was fast and small and worked better than NS5. pretty much since then browsers have bloated and memory leaks are the norm. not to mention the scripts folks keep screwing up. personally i am waiting for Hv3 to come online till then i am still searching for a good small fast browser. thanks for making my search a bit simpler

    Reply  |  Quote
  28. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Have ya heard of prism?

    “It’s a stripped down version of Firefox that essentially lets you load a single web page at a time. No tabs, no useful URL or navigation buttons. But Prism can come in handy if you like to keep a single web site like Gmail open all day, since it uses fewer resources than Firefox.”

    No problems installing on Linux download the tar file, “unzip” it where ya want and it has a bin in the folder. no installation compiling or nothing. here it is running pandora on buntu. apparently it snatched my pandora cookies from firefox because i didn’t have to login in. Seemingly light memory foot print too, didn’t test it but i keep a system monitor on my desktop and it barely affected memory.

    The only thing i don’t like about it is it insist of putting an icon on your desktop for every web site ya open in it. That’s kinda dumb I keep all icons offa my desktop, i use panels and drawers in my panels, and CLI. don’t want bunch icons trashing my desktop. I think i can move the desktop launcher to my menu tho or a panel. still WTF!

    Reply  |  Quote
  29. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I guess it’s not really supposed to be a browser. It’s supposed to be a tool for integrating online apps into your desktop. So for example if you click on a word document it launches prism, uploads the file into Google Docs and loads it there.

    I’m guessing this is why it has that weird behavior with the icons. :P

    Reply  |  Quote
  30. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Yeah you’re right Luke. that is of course the way they intend ya to use it. I recently found out about it and kind of like it because i can play pandora without tying up a tab in FF. Pandora affects FF responsiveness on my system, alot I might add. In windows I use a separate app for it but it still slows FF down. I like prism on buntu because it has a minimal effect on how FF acts. Some effect because of the CPU usage, but it is a good solution to playing pandora in a separate app in linux. ;)

    As to the icon thing I would prefer some choice as to where it puts the icon or even the option of not having one, just entering the url as happens when ya open prism by itself. Pretty neat little app tho, gotta love mozilla!

    Reply  |  Quote
  31. doorknob60 UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    You missed a really nice one, skipstone. It’s based on gecko so it can render pretty much anything, and I find it faster than Kasekahaze. I’m running on my laptop wth Fluxbuntu 7.10 with only 64 MB of RAM and a 400 Mhz CPU, so I really need a lightweight browser, and skipstone is my favorite so far.

    Home Page: http://www.muhri.net/skipstone/
    Ubuntu Packages: http://getdeb.net/app/SkipStone

    Reply  |  Quote
  32. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @doorknob60 – I didn’t know about this one. Will need to check it out. Thanks for the tip!

    Reply  |  Quote
  33. tdrusk UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Great write up. I have been using Dillo and Iceweasel(Debian Firefox). I think both run pretty light and stable . I think Firefox has an advantage because it is full featured and doesn’t have any memory leaks(to my knowledge).

    Reply  |  Quote
  34. AchubaNanoiaBR BRAZIL Safari Mac OS says:

    I know this post is 2 years old, but even still I’d like to congratulate you! As a new Linux user I found this very helpful. Thank your time in sharing this with everyone.

    Reply  |  Quote
  35. fie UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    You might want to update your article.

    Kazehakase does pluggable rendering engines and supports gecko and webkit.

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