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Web browser offerings compared

By Chris Williams. Published: 17th Mar 2005, 14:02:27 | Permalink | Printable

Not at all like pick'n'mix

Generic web motifIn order to get an overview of the recent web browser news, we've compiled a list of the main advantages and disadvantages for each of the touted applications. The comparisons were drawn up from unofficial features lists and discussions with the developers involved, and should hopefully offer a balanced view and answer a few frequently asked questions. We'll welcome any corrections or updates, but please be aware that what might not be an advantage or disadvantage to you, may very well be an important advantage or grave disadvantage for others.

Firefox port
Announced by Drobe.co.uk writer Peter Naulls, the Firefox port will be a RISC OS version of the popular Mozilla spin-off. Peter has also today published an FAQ (that's frequently anticipated questions) on his website.
Advantages
  • Supports HTML4, XHTML1, CSS1, CSS2 and some of CSS3, DOM1, DOM2 and some of DOM3, SSL, cookies, various XML technologies and more, allowing the browser into over 90% of the Internet's websites
  • Full Javascript support
  • Tabbed browsing, although Peter commented that, "I don't really consider tabbed browsing an advantage on RISC OS - the right click mechanism is much more flexible."
  • Pop-up ad and image blocking
  • Themes and extensions
  • Search as you type
  • Open source software, in that any one can help contribute to the application. This also makes the Firefox port completely free for download, although you're asked to pledge cash
  • Changes to the mainstream Firefox client, which being extremely popular is tested and updated by its large userbase, can be made available to RISC OS users
  • Developing the port will also open up further ports of other X11 based software, such as spreadsheets and other productivity applications

Disadvantages
  • Firefox, being an offspring of the hefty Mozilla client, will likely require a fast computer for reasonable use, ideally requiring an XScale processor and at least 64M of free RAM - although the exact system requirements aren't known yet, and Peter has declined to comment further until he's confirmed how fast the browser runs on various set ups
  • User interface will not be style guide compliant, that is, it won't look like a RISC OS application, until further work is done on the RISC OS port of the GTK2 library
  • Will not initially support RISC OS web browser plugins, which rules out Flash and Java support from RISC OS plugins for the time being


Oregano 3
Proposed by OreganoUK, Oregano 3 would be a RISC OS version of Oregan's Media Browser, as employed by Sony in their Playstation 2 consoles. OreganoUK is currently gauging interest in such a product, although details are sketchy. Some recent screenshots can be found here.
Advantages
  • Supports most of HTML4, DOM2 and some of DOM3, CSS1 and CSS2 plus TV browser CSS extensions, DHTML, cookies and SSL, allowing it into the majority of the Internet's
  • Uses the same Javascript support library that Firefox employs, with DOM support
  • Macromedia Flash 5 compatible player
  • Pop-up ad blocking
  • Playback support for MP3s and other audio formats
  • Themes
  • Bugs found in Oregano 2 by RISC OS users and users of Oregan's embedded client should be fixed for Oregano 3
  • User interface is reasonably integrated with the RISC OS desktop

Disadvantages
  • Does not support RISC OS plugins, and instead relies on built-in media viewers
  • RISC OS platform would be competing for Oregan's time against corporate giants, which could affect support and product updates
  • Oregano 2 was found to be a processor intensive application, and Oregano 3 could require an XScale processor to provide a reasonably fast web surfing experience, although reportedly Oregano 3 is a lot faster than Oregano 2


NetSurf
Considered by some to be the darling of the platform, the NetSurf browser continues to be developed and updated by a team of enthusiasts. We've included it here to add some context to the debate.
Advantages
  • Supports most or some of HTML4, CSS1 and CSS2, cookies and SSL
  • Supports RISC OS plugins, so that for example, the open source Flash 3 plugin is supported
  • Native RISC OS application that integrates well with the desktop
  • Lightweight browser that runs at an acceptable speed, even on a StrongARM processor
  • Open source software, so that any one can contribute to the project and the application therefore enjoys continuous updates and freely available releases
  • Supports image and pop-up ad blocking

Disadvantages
  • Lack of Javascript support prevents NetSurfers from using a significant number of websites
  • It's still in active development with no stable version released yet, meaning that users often end up playing Russian Roulette when they download and try out a new version


WebsterXL
Published by R-Comp, this commercial web browser has been around since the mid-1990s, and included here for completeness.
Advantages
  • Supports HTML3.2 (with control over how individual tags are treated), SSL and cookies
  • Supports common Javascript
  • Group websites in terms of security priviledges granted
  • Can act as a HTML rendering plugin for other software and supports RISC OS web browser plugins
  • Customisable user interface than can be 'skinned'
  • Supports WAV audo files
  • Free upgrades, released as problems with popular websites are fixed

Disadvantages
  • Incomplete Javascript and web standards support leaves websites inaccesible
  • Arguably, very little is known about it


Updated at 14:26 25/03/05
Added WebsterXL information.

Links


Firefox FAQ Comments?

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Next: Speed boost for apps from GCC 4 port

Discussion

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Thank You Drobe... this is what I guess many of use have been waiting for... let the (constructive) discussions begin! ;)

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 17/3/05 2:26PM
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I'd disagree that tabbed browsing wouldn't be an advantage on RISC OS. The beauty of tabbed browsing for me is that I can set tabs to open in the background; making it trivial to read a news site like Drobe: read the front page, middle clicking on any stories of interest and then closing the front page tab; read the article open and middle click on any interesting links, close the current tab when finished; repeat.

Of course, it should be trivial to modify NetSurf (or whatever) to pass the current window handle in block+28 on Wimp_OpenWindow to get the same behaviour on RISC OS, whilst still maintaining the "many windows" philosophy of the desktop.

 is a RISC OS UserJaffa on 17/3/05 2:49PM
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Personally I think making any effort to implement "tabbed" browsing in a RISC OS browser would be a waste of time and effort.

But if it comes "for free" with Firefox then you can't really complain I suppose! ;-)

Adam

 is a RISC OS Useradamr on 17/3/05 2:55PM
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Jaffa: I look forward to your patch.

 is a RISC OS Userjmb on 17/3/05 3:09PM
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jmb: Careful, you're starting to sound like Chocky...

 is a RISC OS Userandypoole on 17/3/05 3:18PM
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Well, I reckon it's fair to say both O3 and Firefox will hardly run on ARM610/710/7500 platforms. Even though I do my main browsing on Netsurf using an ARM710 I really think this is a 'good thing', because to keep up with developing web standards supporting those old machines would be crippling to say the least...

For us ARM6/7 users Netsurf is an excellent alternative :)

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 17/3/05 4:13PM
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jmb: I'd already added it to my todo list, but it's a long list and not very high priority item.

Feel free to consider it a suggestion if anyone else wants to hack it.

 is a RISC OS UserJaffa on 17/3/05 4:25PM
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hEgelia> I'd say that an excellent alternative is a cheap StrongARM card from places such as ebay and schools that are junking their stock.

 is a RISC OS Userjonix on 17/3/05 4:51PM
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I think tabbed browsing is very, very useful. Why? Well, Director tells me I have about 50 windows open at the moment. It's not unusual for me to have 100+ windows open at once, except at the moment Netsurf has run out of memory by having too many windows open. How on earth do I find a particular window? Director's menu is a bit clumsy - really I want windows ordered by function. You might say I should close some windows, but how do I know when I've finished with all those Filer windows? Or those Netsurf windows that I right clicked from and are now buried 15 windows down in the stack? Windows everywhere is my main gripe about RISC OS.

One of my yet-to-be-started projects is to write something that will tab all windows. So you can have parent window holding a set of tabs for Zap windows, another for Filer windows, a third for all NettleSSH and Netsurf sessions combined. Of course windows can be liberated from tabs at any point, or dragged and dropped between them. So you have all those windows easily accessible - recycling Netsurf sessions becomes easy, as does flicking between a dozen source files in Zap. One day I'll get around to writing it...

 is a RISC OS Usercaliston2 on 17/3/05 4:59PM
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I would like tabbed browsing in RISC OS. It's great in firefox for some forums I read, because I can open all the forums with new topics in new tabs, then cross off the index page, and do the same for each topic with a new post.

 is a RISC OS UserAndrewDuffell on 17/3/05 6:53PM
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Agreed! When browsing sites like The Register and eBay I often drop out of RISC OS and use Firefox for just that reason. Cheers!

 is a RISC OS Userfwibbler on 17/3/05 8:52PM
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If you've included one commercial application, Oregano, then you must include them all or be accused of bias. It's also a bit dodgy legally to exclude others. So can I suggeste you extend the article to include WebsterXL and Fresco (not commercial but still supported to some extent).

 is a RISC OS Usermripley on 18/3/05 9:11AM
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But the article is only comparing new browsers that are still pre-release. (Netsurf still being a test version, despite being very usable)

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 18/3/05 9:17AM
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mr: and then by extension all the other free browsers? It's a long list. Chris' intention with this article was to highlight browsers which are undergoing active development and bringing new features to RISC OS. I can't believe that readers would be particularly interested in hearing about WebsterXL or Frescoin this article except in historical context.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 18/3/05 9:21AM
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mripley: "a bit dodgy legally to exclude others"

I'm not sure I understand that. What laws would be involved?

mrchocky: Is WebsterXL no longer undergoing active development?

dgs

 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 18/3/05 9:42AM
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I don't know, but that's not all of what I said, so I think you're just trolling :p Does anyone really believe that WXL will undergo the substantial work needed to bring it up to speed (in both senses of the word)?

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 18/3/05 9:56AM
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mrchocky: "I don't know, but that's not all of what I said, so I think you're just trolling"

Actually it was a serious question. It does seem odd that you'd make such a comment about WebsterXL if you don't actually know and haven't bothered to check.

Not that I use WebsterXL myself, though :-)

dgs

 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 18/3/05 10:20AM
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Serious or not, it's not all of what I said :p But more directly, when was the last time we saw a WXL release, and how many new features did it add, and could that be seriously considered "active developmnt"?

Whilst I'm happy to believe that it might still have bits being poked in it, for all practical purposes it does seem like it has gone down the same road as every single other commerical RISC OS browser.

Which is why I carefully used the wording that I did.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 18/3/05 10:55AM
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To partly answer my own question, RComp did mention updates to WXL at the SW show, but no details of what they were.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 18/3/05 11:06AM
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WXL remains the only RISC OS web browser to handle a number of sites/systems, and remains the only one to offer many features (see previous threads). However, I'm glad chocky didn't include it in the article, for reasons obvious from this thread. Once firefox is ported, maybe my first sentence will be invalid (at least in part), who knows? We'll still continue developing, though, so...

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 18/3/05 11:11AM
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Recent new features

Security window allows control over popups, javascript, and other features on a profile/site basis. Similar to Security settings in IE, this allows users to control what happens from (say) HTML emails and the like. Addition of ability to save page with images, scripts, CSS files etc, in a form which can be guaranteed to reload correctly. Support for many additional Javascript commands and document properties, including the switch/case commands (which I believe weren't part of earlier Javascript specs, although I could be proven wrong) and various other Javascript components. The JS routines have had a number of enhancements to allow openning of more browser/document objects. Table handling via the Javascript has also received much attention. Various additional JS syntaxes and styles of coding (hard to describe, but there are many ways to crack eggs in something like JS) have been added and supported. (pauses for breath).

Code that allows WXL to act as a plugin to other applications has been updated (so other apps can render HTML if required). CSS1 / CSS2 parser has been updated to handle additional properties, and deal with various syntactical issues which we have seen on some sites. Often a browser needs to handle erronious data intelligently, which is a big challenge for browser authors!

Various aspects of page rendering have been enhanced including tables, with some speed optimisations.

I think that covers some part of what we've done post-christmas.

Given that WXL is already more feature-laden than any other RISC OS browser, I hope that passes the test.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 18/3/05 11:27AM
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mrchocky: Frescoin :o

Are you implying that the vigay is getting rich from Fresco? ;)

 is a RISC OS UserMENTAT on 18/3/05 11:58AM
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arawnsley:

If WXL is "more feature-laden than any other RISC OS browser", why have you not sent us a revised features list, and why did you turn down a recent request to review WXL? If WXL is doing well at the moment, why keep it to yourself? If you send me a list of features together with what you consider to be WXL's pros and cons, I'll update the article. Any other WXL users are encouraged to email in too.

mripley:

I would like to say that there is no bias in the article. It was intended to present the pros and cons of Oregano 3 and Firefox (both recently proposed and hence within public interest), and Netsurf was shown as a reference case. There're certainly no laws over what can and can't be reviewed, otherwise reviews sections in magazines would be extinct by now.

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 18/3/05 12:17PM
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A review is different from the above list which implies (and actually written by Mr Naulls) that only those browsers are being developed (I'm assuming that's what Mr Naulls meant by developmnt ;-) ). A review is an opinion of something and thus is fare game. But to provide a comparison list of supposed active browsers and leaving one off is a different thing altogether.

 is a RISC OS Usermripley on 18/3/05 2:40PM
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ok, review was the wrong word to use. Either way, I've invited R-Comp to bring me up to speed on their product. The ommission of WXL from the above list was because it's not been in the news recently.

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 18/3/05 3:06PM
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I think one aspect of the browser wars which deserves more emphasis - is support. Of all the commercial browsers the only one which has had a consistent stream of updates over the years is WXL. This is what in my mind sets RComp above certain other providers.

My main concern with O3 is the track record of updates for O1 and O2. Why should O3 be any different? I would like to hear OreganoUK say warm fuzzy things about how it will remain updated this time around!

Otherwise Firefox seems a far more sane approach to futureproofing a browser than O3.

 is a RISC OS Userbenc on 18/3/05 3:07PM
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Sounds like I need to drop you an email Chris. Don't read my unresponsiveness to email you a free copy of WXL as disrespect for drobe. We've had some bad experiences with non-reviews from some quarters (ie. they get their software and never write about it) and that makes me rather cynical these days.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 18/3/05 4:23PM
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benc:

Hi,

> My main concern with O3 is the track record of updates > for O1 and O2. Why should O3 be any different?

Updates for Oregano 1 stopped because the code was being rewritten to be portable, and updates for Oregano 2 stopped because large sections of the code was rewritten to add support for CSS 2 and DOM 2 (This took slightly longer than expected).

Now that the above work has been completed there shouldn't be a need for any major code changes for the forseeable future. So upgrades for Oregano 3 should be available at about the same time as they are released for the other platforms supported.

Leo

 is a RISC OS UserLeo on 18/3/05 5:59PM
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leo:

Many thanks for the prompt reply! That certainly eases my concerns about O3 (and hopefully a few other peoples as well) :)

 is a RISC OS Userbenc on 18/3/05 6:13PM
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benc:

> Many thanks for the prompt reply!

Not a problem, I think the question has already come up in the Oregano mailing list (Or maybe on the newsgroup) once already this week, but information is so spread out at the moment that its worth mentioning it again here.

Leo

 is a RISC OS UserLeo on 18/3/05 6:28PM
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I use both WXL and Netsurf, very occasionally I use O2. I download the current Netsurf Test Build about once a month and it alsways seems to be better than before (but I have kept a list of changes). Checking back, I find I have updates to WXL in May 2003 (v1.99u1), Oct 2003 (v 1.99u7 32bit) and june 2004 (v 1.99u11 32 bit). I am not sure if I have fallen off a support list or the frequence of updates seems to have dropped off a bit recently.

As far as the browsers are concenred I like netsurf and find most thins the Netsurf can't handle WXL does but is much slower and has one or two annoying features like not covering the whole screen when maximised.

But there again I writing this from Opera on W2k.

 is a RISC OS Userchriswhy on 18/03/05 6:58PM
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One further thing I'd like to say about tabbed browsing is that the comment about use of right click was clearly my opinion only - I'm well aware that many people do like it. But because of its origins in Windows (I believe Opera made this feature popular), I tend to view such UI things with a degree of dubiousness, since they often seemingly are introduced to overcome other UI deficiencies. In the same category as MDI (and in referecent to a recent usenet thread), split windows.

Of course, I'm hardly about to remove tabbed browsing from Firefox, but a move to a fully RISC OSified browser will mean regular mouse button assignments, so tabbed browsing might become a bit harder to initiate. But, as I say, I think the right click mechanism we see in RISC OS browsers is superior.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 18/03/05 8:49PM
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I'm not a big fan of Webster XL (as Andrew knows) but I think RComp deserves praise for its dedication and charging. The browser continues to improve slowly, I had both 26 and 32-bit updated versions E-Mailed to me about a month ago as part of a continuing support programme from money that I paid ages (years?) ago.

As to the browser, I tend to use it when Oregano2 can't cope which means it gets a hard time. Usually, it fails too but sometimes it will succeed where Oregano can't. It is also able to save pages as Draw files which is sometimes *very* useful.

 is a RISC OS UserTonyStill on 18/03/05 9:47PM
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The Right clicking effect also has its uses, but usually in different situations to those that would suit a tabbed type of click. IMO. Cheers!

 is a RISC OS Userfwibbler on 18/03/05 10:33PM
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The article photo is remarkably similar (but not the same) as used in [link] ([link]). Coincidence ?

 is a RISC OS Userjoty on 19/03/05 2:05PM
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Probably a coincidence. I found the image on the excellent stock image site sxc.hu, which has images for commercial, non-commercial and unrestricted use. It's where quite a few Drobe article gfx come from.

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 19/03/05 2:39PM
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Chocky:

How much extra coding work would be required to add an option to the RISC OS version that controlled the effect of right-clicks? That way, it could either open the link in a new window, or in a tab in the existing window (perhaps with alt-right-click performing the other action, so that both are available), keeping everyone happy.

(Rereading the above, I think I should emphasize that it's a genuine question that I don't know the answer to, and I'm not suggesting that it's easy because I haven't got a clue - it just seemed a possible way of allowing both options.)

 is a RISC OS Userchrisj on 19/03/05 3:01PM
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There's probably already an extension to give you the open of new tab/new window choice, if not it'll be easy to write one. I just use Menu>Open link in New Window or New Tab.

Of course that's current middle click, which is Adjust on unix, right click is Menu. Wonder why Acorn swapped them. Of course it's easy in X11 to remap the mouse buttons to other buttons.

Where's the ability to convert a tab into a window, or a window into a tab in firefox anyway? seems important to me. But all that stuff should be in the GUI, it's just needed in Windows as it sucks, opening 100s of windows in Windows degrades performance and it eventually can't open any more, due to a design flaw that existed in Windows 3 and still hasn't been fixed.

> not covering the whole screen when maximised Why would it? Netsurf doesn't, Fresco doesn't, no correctly written RISC OS apps do. Maybe adjust-maximise should for browsers though.

Netsurf appears to cover the iconbar when I configued it not to be covered though, tut.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 19/03/05 7:26PM
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chriswhy: why do you want your browser window to fill the screen? What benefit does that provide you? Note that you can configure WXL to behave properly and not fill the screen.

 is a RISC OS Usersenduran on 21/03/05 12:29AM
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Why is it proper not to fill the entire screen?

Page 30 of the style guide says "Clicking Select or Adjust on a window's Toggle size icon toggles its size between a maximum size and a standard size". If a documents maximum size is grater than the screen (and for web pages this can be the case) then according to the style guide the propper thing to do is expand it to full screen. As with any rule there may be exceptions and handling of document with no fixed width may be one of them.

So in the case of a web browser both interpretations of the style guide are correct so lets not start slagging off users/applications just because they do not conform to our personal views of how RISC OS application should behave.

 is a RISC OS User_Jez_ on 21/03/05 2:04PM
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if you are running RISC OS at a proper res (i.e. a bloody high one :-) ) you have to have the browsers not taking the whole screen - O2 stand up and be pilloried.

The adjust click in browsing is a *serious* boon - tabbed browsing IHMO just doesn't work as well...

...if you are an actual RISC OS user

 is a RISC OS UserROHC on 21/03/05 7:46PM
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