More ranting about web browsers

12Nov08

I reckon my favourite feature of WordPress has to be its Blog Stats. I have used Blogger and Livejournal in the past, and I find I prefer WordPress over them. Ok, admittedly, my comparisons are a bit dated but here goes: I didn’t like how Blogger was designed and laid out, and Livejournal seemed to be aiming towards forming highly personal cliques which I wasn’t particularly interested in.

With Blog Stats I have the luxury of knowing why people read this blog–the few people, that is. My screenshots post is the most viewed thanks to Kmandla, but the next most viewed is my post on Vimperator. I’m going to take a guess here, but the google searches that bring people here suggest to me that people are looking for something to replace Vimperator.

What I want to say to all those future people conducting searches for Vimperator substitutes is:

There aren’t any good ones.

Now… why did I just say that. Since my earlier post I have been using Conkeror. I have modified its keybindings to become Vim-like. It is definitely lighter than ‘ole Firefox, but Opera still beats it out. And there is a way to configure Opera to give it Vim-like features.

The problem is that none of the alternatives are able to give you the same kind of browsing ease as Vimperator does. Sad but true: everyone and his aunty is a keyboard-phobic mouse addict, so developers will have to follow suit and implement features for them. I’m not saying everyone should throw away their mouse, but I just wish there were better, more comprehensive keyboard shortcuts for all applications. Internet Explorer is a horrible joke.

I’ll first talk about Opera. It really is a good browser, and on first glance through the configurations menu you might be tempted into thinking that it has amazing customisability for keyboard nazis like me. This is far from the truth. The keyboard configuration dialog is an absolute mess to use, and documentation on it is not particularly great. It is more a case of “let’s give the users a default setting so large that they won’t be bothered to configure it further”. Its ability to spatially move between links with Shift+Arrow keys is an easy shortcut to learn, but not a very quick one when you have a massive amount of links in a page to navigate through. Hints mode wins easily in this area.

Opera has such strongly entrenched default keyboard settings that Vimperopera can’t be more than a shallow hack. Its implementation of hints mode is ingenious, sure, but the one-liner code spanning several lines is horrible to look at. Hints mode only works for text links, and has the annoying effect of having the font size of its hints influenced by the font sizes of links themselves Oh, and it doesn’t create hints for images either.

Anything that makes me have to reach for my mouse/touchpad is another negative point towards that browser.

As for Conkeror, it is really set up to be Emacs, so one has to do a fair amount of configuration to get it to behave in a Vimly manner. Strangely enough, I found this easier to do than Opera’s, despite the majority of Conkeror being written in not-very-beautiful Javascript. Conkeror would be far less impressive than Opera if not for its superior implementation of hints, which picks up just about anything you need to click on. Unfortunately, Vimperator is still better at this–sometimes, Conkeror will highlight a link twice, and the hints will overlap each other and make reading the required number difficult. I suspect this is due to a problem with the web pages themselves, but this problem is more prevalent on Conkeror.

Other issues with Conkeror are its bookmark handling. So far, you can only add bookmarks, but you cannot delete them. This is a pretty big feature, one that will probably be addressed in the future. For now, the Conkeror website suggests to use Firefox to delete bookmarks by moving the bookmark database over to where Firefox accesses it. Not a pleasant hack — which probably explains why I have bookmarked very little since I began using Conkeror, as opposed to the +200 favourites that I am too buggered to clean up.

I am not so bothered about bookmarks though. Conkeror’s ability to save files from webpages still not complete yet. If you load a txt file into the browser, you can definitely save it. If you click on a direct link to a file, you can save it. You can save the page itself if you want in all its html and css glory. No, what bothers me is that there is no way to save an image that is shown on a web page.

For an example of what I mean, head over to customise.org. Great web site, has lots of wallpapers and icon themes and other assorted bling to make your OS pretty. When you want to save a wallpaper, it loads the image within a html page. I suppose customise.org is expecting the user to right-click on the image and select “Save Image As…”. Unfortunately this is not available in Conkeror, or any alternative method. There is no way to select the image to save unless you find the direct path to the image, move Conkeror to it, and save it from there.

Conkeror also can’t switch frames in my university’s web site, but that is forgivable since that particular page is a crappy old one that will be phased out next year.

Ugh…. I have this unpleasant feeling that this whole post was a waste of time. I think I will look to spending my time more productively rather than concocting blog posts about web browsers.

Or perhaps I should try text-based browsers….

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