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Notes on web browsers under Linux

I have two systems here that run Ubuntu Linux, and two that run Debian. Ubuntu installs Firefox as the default browser. Because of licensing issues Debian does not include Firefox, but has Iceweasel instead.

However, there is a way to Add REAL Firefox to Debian Lenny.

The commands there worked, substituting the current version of Firefox (3.6.2) in the appropriate places.

apt-get remove iceweasel
mv firefox-3.6.2.tar.bz2 /usr/lib/
cd /usr/lib/
tar -jxvf firefox-3.6.2.tar.bz2
ln -s /usr/lib/firefox/firefox /usr/bin/firefox
rm -rf /usr/lib/firefox/plugins
ln -s /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins /usr/lib/firefox/plugins

For some reason the desktop icon for starting Firefox failed. I could get it to work simply by pointing it to /usr/lib/firefox/firefox. However I went to /usr/bin (as root) and did

rm firefox
ln -s /usr/lib/firefox/firefox /usr/bin/firefox
# Deleting and recreating the link.

I pointed the icon back to /usr/bin/firefox and now it works. I don't know what was going on.

The same page also suggested replacing the Flash plugin, by download the deb file from here and running

dpkg -i install_flash_player_10_linux.deb

This morning I went to a presentation on Linux browsers at Penguins Unbound. Several browsers were discussed. The slides are supposed to go up on the web site soon. For now, here are a few notes I made:

Firefox aims for a broad range of functionality

Chrome/Chromium aims for speed, and achieves it

Opera has a lot of features built in. Firefox has lots of add ons.

Chrome has process isolation. Problems in one tab should not crash the entire browser. This is such an obviously good idea that Firefox and others are working towards it.

Chrome and Firefox have antiphishing.

Firefox has lots of themes, IE (see below) has none. Chrome has limited theming.

Netflix does not work on Linux. It uses ActiveX.

FireFox is best for compatibility. If it works on Firefox under Windows, it probably will under Linux

Firefox and Opera have user agent switching. If you want to access a site that only allow Internet Explorer, those browsers can lie for you and pretend they are IE (or whatever).

Chromium is an open source browser with a BSD license. Chrome is Googles's closed source wrapper for it, and makes extra connections to Google with the installation defaults. Chromium is available by itself.

Chrome tries to maximize the space for the web page. Hence no toolbars.

Yahoo has made a deal with Ubuntu so Yahoo is the default search engine on Ubuntu Firefox. You can change this, but you need to know about it first.

The Firefox download is only about 12 MB. Not bad by today's standards. On Ubuntu you can use a Personal package archive PPA to get a later version of Firefox than in the Ubuntu repositories.

Firefox is slower on Linux. Mozilla is more interested in Windows. I suppose this is the rationale for Swiftfox, which, however, is currently a version behind native Firefox.

Opera good on phones. Firefox is moving there.

Gecko is the layout engine for Firefox. Chrome uses WebKit. IE uses Trident.

Chrome and Opera let you synchronize bookmarks with other browsers

Flash is faster and works better on Windows. Uses lots of cpu either way.

Youtube is owned by Google. It uses Flash.

The speaker also showed how you can write a browser in 8 lines of Python. Just invoke the appropriate libraries and you can achieve minimal, but real, browser functionality.

He also talked about Lynx. It shows you what search engines see. I used Lynx a lot in the early and mid 90's.

IE on Linux? Just use Wine. Playonlinux is based on Wine and simplifies the installation, but is buggy. The speaker went through the installation of IE 6 using Playonlinux. The result was a dll error on Linux :-)>

Useful site: What is My IP.


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