Choosing a Web Browser

Web browsers differ in several respects. Most critically, web browsers use a variety of rendering engines—the core routines that interpret the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) files that make up most web pages. Some web pages rely upon HTML features or even quirks of particular rendering engines, and such web pages may not look good on other web browsers. Different browsers also differ in the features that surround their rendering engine cores, such as their method of displaying multiple open pages, tools for manipulating bookmarks, and so on.

January of 1998 marked a watershed event for Linux web browsers: At that time, Netscape announced that it would make the source code for its Navigator web browser available under an open source license. Netscape is a huge program, and so it took the open source community as a whole a while to digest this code, but Netscape's rendering engine (Gecko) has been adopted by many other browsers. Therefore, in effect there are two classes of web browsers for Linux: those built atop Gecko and those with their own unique engines. Some of the most important browsers both categories are listed here:

Galeon This program, headquartered at http://galeon.sourceforge.net, is a Gecko-based web browser that's officially part of the GNOME Office suite. It's designed as a lightweight GUI web browser.

Konqueror This KDE program serves a dual function: It's both a web browser and a file manager. Konqueror does a good job with most web pages. It's fairly lightweight, and so is well worth trying, particularly if you use KDE. You can read more at http://www.konqueror.org.

Lynx Most web browsers are GUI programs that display text in multiple fonts, show graphics inline, and so on. Lynx (http://lynx.browser.org) is unusual in that it's a text-based web browser. As such, it's a useful choice if you run Linux in text mode or if you don't want to be bothered with graphics. Lynx is also useful as a test browser when you develop your own web pages—if a page is readable in Lynx, chances are visually impaired people who browse the Web with speech synthesizers will be able to use your page.

Mozilla This program, headquartered at http://www.mozilla.org, is the open-source version of Netscape. This Gecko-based browser may be the most popular Linux web browser. It's also a huge program that can take many seconds to launch, even on a fast computer.

Netscape Navigator This program is the commercial version of Mozilla, and it too is a huge Gecko-based program. Netscape is still free in the sense of being available at no cost, but most Linux distributions ship with Mozilla. If you'd rather run "real" Netscape, you can find it on the main Netscape website, http://www.netscape.com.

Opera An unusual commercial entrant in the Linux web browser sweepstakes, Opera (http://www.opera.com) claims to have the fastest rendering engine available. Opera features a scaling feature that enables you to enlarge or shrink a web page, which is great for ill-behaved sites that set their margins to absolute values wider than your browser window. You can download a free version that displays banner ads in its icon bar or pay a registration fee to rid yourself of the

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Notably absent from this list is Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which overtook Netscape in popularity in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, some websites just won't work with anything but Internet Explorer. If you must access such sites, you may need to run Internet Explorer in an emulator, as described in Chapter 10, "Using Multiple OSs." Other sites are somewhat picky, but they can work with at least one Linux browser. Thus, you should probably install at least two Linux web browsers. If you install just two, I recommend one Gecko-based browser (such as Galeon, Mozilla, or Netscape Navigator) and one non-Gecko browser (such as Konqueror, Lynx, or Opera).

Those interested in slim browsers should stay away from Mozilla and Netscape, both of which are quite memory-hungry. Although Opera claims to have the fastest rendering engine, you're not likely to notice huge differences between it and other browsers. All of these browsers offer a wide array of configuration options, some of which are important and some of which aren't.

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