Monthly Archives: October 2006

Conkeror and browsers in general

While looking for a Firefox 2 FreeBSD port, I accidentally found a kind of a very interesting browser named Conkeror. No, it is not related to Konqueror in any way, I wonder why they named it so.

Web browsers is a pretty weird kind of software. There are a lot of them, and there is no single one of which I could say “Yes, this is the right thing!”. Among text editors, Vim and Emacs undoubtedly can stand for this position. Among compilers GCC is certainly one of the best things ever. Among mail readers “The Bat!” is the way to go on Windows, and Sylpheed and Mutt on Unix are good too. Qt is a very nice development toolkit, GTK+ hath its own strengths. Troubles usually begin in more specific areas like BitTorrent or instant messaging software, which is understandable.

As for browsers, they always have been a pain in the ass for some reason. IE just sucketh. Opera is a pretty good thing, but hath some trends which do not allow me to call it a really good software. It is just being developed in incorrect way, and there is no way to correct it simply because it is a commercial product. As a result, too many bugs, too many constant changes, crappy quality. Mozilla is another case. They always lacked features, as compared to Opera, for example. With Firefox appearance, this became less of a problem, because of a lot of plugins. There is a plugin to make Firefox understand mouse gestures, like Opera’s, but configurable. There is a plugin to make it load only cached images (again, like Opera). There is a plugin to block flash from loading by default. There is a lot more. But still, these plugins often tend to lag behind Firefox development, so when thou installest new Firefox version, they all just switch off. Thou hast to wait. And if some plugin development just ceased, there is no way to make it work again unless thou art a developer thyself.

On top of all that, there is a lot of web standards and ways to break them in a convenient way. Therefore, any good browser hath to support all of them and be able to handle various broken things, which maketh creating a good browser from scratch impossible. Considering all this, it is not so strange that there are no good browsers, on the contrary, it is rather strange that there are few browsers out there that we can call at least tolerable.

So I was rather surprised when I found Conkeror. No, it is not mythical “good browser”, neither it is that “right thing” that I was mumbling about. It is not even another good browser, it is nothing more than another plugin for Firefox. But I was amazed how much better Firefox hath become with just this one 59 KB plugin! The idea is to make things more convenient by utilizing keyboard instead of mouse. This idea is not new at all, and is exploited in Unix in a lot of possible ways, but I never could imagine that it is applicable even to browsers. Another good idea was to take key bindings from Emacs so Emacs users will not have to learn a lot of new things. Now we have more space on screen (no tabs, no menu, no toolbar), fast way to do almost anything, and great Firefox engine with all its support for JavaScript, Flash, video, Ajax and a lot of other good things.

Bad things about Conkeror are that it is still incomplete (for example, C-k kills text to the end of the line, as in Emacs, but there is no way to get it back with C-y), and, what is the worst, it is incompatible with “normal” Firefox extensions like FlashBlock and such. Not good at all, I can cope with no mouse gestures (why would I need them now, using keyboard?), no cached images only (with a decent bandwidth it is not a problem), but flash block is another story–this flash is too… flashy, yeah. Well, maybe there is a way to make them work together–if flash player plugin worketh with Conkeror, I see no reason why flash blocker plugin should not.

Anyway, it is a pretty fun thing worth trying!