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Dillo 2.0 is fast, but limited

By Bruce Byfield on November 05, 2008 (9:00:00 AM)

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The lightweight Dillo Web browser, in development for eight years, has always been a contender for the fastest browser available on GNU/Linux -- so much so that the Google's Chrome will have to be pretty nimble to outpace it. With last month's release of version 2.0, Dillo is faster than ever. If performance is your main priority, you might find Dillo's minimalistic tools and functional limitations an acceptable tradeoff -- but probably not.

Version 2.0 is available as source code or as packages for Debian and RPM-based distros, and OpenMoko. You will also need to install the Fast Light Toolkit, which Dillo uses for its widget set, either from your repositories or via the statically linked tarball on the package download page.

Basic features

In appearance, Dillo's new version is almost identical to earlier versions. The prevailing philosphy is utilitarian: Like previous versions, 2.0 has only a file menu and seven buttons on the toolbar, with several other icons scattered around the window. Investigate the other icons and you'll find that that the red X in the top left clears the URL field, and the looking glass at the top right opens a search engine -- Google, by default. In the lower right of the window you can toggle image display on and off, and see the number of syntax errors in the current page's code, opening up a sub-window to see details of the errors.

Other functions are hidden in right-click menus, whose items vary depending on what you click on. Right-click on a link or graphic and you can bookmark or copy it; right-click on a page and you can view its source or open a find dialog that resembles Firefox's. If you want a history of your browsing, right-click the back or forward buttons. You can also access these functions through a complete set of key commands. About the only feature that is actually visible is the list of bookmarks.

Configuration options do not appear in the Dillo window at all. Instead, if you want to set such features as fonts, the default background color, the default download directory, or the start page, you must edit /etc/dillorc. Should you want to change the configuration for a single account, you can copy /etc/dillorc to the ./dillo folder in your home directory, change the permissions, and edit the copy.

The new version handles cookies using a plugin whose configuration file is .dillo/cookesrc in your home directory. Dillo ships with only one entry in the file: DEFAULT DENY. You have the option of changing the default to ACCEPT or ACCEPT_SESSION, or of defining the option separately for specific sites, one per line.

These manual controls take some adjustment if you are used to a popular browser like Firefox or Konqueror. However, they take only a few minutes to learn, with the possible exception of the key commands.

New features

The switch from GTK to FLTK is the largest difference in the new version. The previous GTK version was already fast, opening as far I could tell in about one-fifth the time of Firefox, but version 2.0 lowers the bar even further. I estimate it to be nearly twice as fast, although an exact estimate is impossible, given that the required time is a matter of barely a second on a modern machine. Even on a laptop, Dillo opens in little more than a couple of seconds.

Other welcome new features include anti-aliasing for fonts and tabbed browsing. You open a new tab by clicking on a link and selecting the option from the right-click menu, and the tab bar appears just below the title bar, instead of below the toolbar, as other browsers may have conditioned you to expect. Apparently, though, Dillo's developers have neglected to provide a way for you to open a blank new tab, or to close those you have open, two oversights that make the new feature less useful than it could be.

Paying for performance

The Dillo way of doing things takes some adjustment. The browser's minimalist interface may be intimidating for new users. For others, the lack of a thriving ecosystem of plugins may be a drawback. Dillo does have a plugin system, but, so far, nobody seems to done anything with it except for the add-on that controls the use of cookies.

More importantly, Dillo's high performance comes at a price for users at all levels of experience. Despite the improvements in the most recent version, Dillo lacks support for JavaScript, Flash, and HTML frames, all of which are which are commonplace on modern sites.

If you are philosophically opposed to Flash, Dillo's lack of support for it may not bother you. But without JavaScript, many business or news sites may not render. True, Dillo does use a text-based alternative page if one is available, but since other pages on a site are as likely to use JavaScript as the home page, that may be almost useless.

Such shortcomings are unfortunate, because otherwise Dillo is appealing for both its speed and design philosophy. Anyone can appreciate its speed, and many may find an appeal in its old-school Unix minimalism. At a time when developers seem to assume that users have gigabytes of RAM available, Dillo's emphasis on efficiency is a refreshing change.

If Dillo's developers could overcome its limitations, this lightweight Web browser might become an example for others. Unfortunately, as things are, it is more of a curiosity than a practical alternative.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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on Dillo 2.0 is fast, but limited

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Dillo 2.0 is fast, but limited

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 58.110.202.101] on November 05, 2008 11:26 AM
Quote:
Apparently, though, Dillo's developers have neglected to provide a way for you to open a blank new tab, or to close those you have open, two oversights that make the new feature less useful than it could be.
End quote.

Umm... CTRL+T - opens a blank new tab. CTRL+Q closes a tab... Did you even look at the File menu?

Also, you can open a new tab with middle-click, which is exactly the same as Firefox and most other browsers.

Hard to believe that you missed these rather obvious options.

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Hv3

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.244.89.24] on November 11, 2008 09:32 PM
Hv3 Is Almost as fast as Dillo, but it has very good CSS support. It's worth a shot.

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Dillo 2.0 is fast, but limited

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 193.166.94.185] on November 05, 2008 01:12 PM
"At a time when developers seem to assume that users have gigabytes of RAM available, Dillo's emphasis on efficiency is a refreshing change."

Well said. That's the main reason why I'll follow Dillo's future development with great interest.

There was a period of a year or two when Dillo's development was stalled, but now they seem to have started developing Dillo again. Dillo's home page says that implementing CSS is a high priority goal in Dillo development. So that's probably the next big feature upgrade we can expect from the future Dillo versions, and it should greatly improve the way Dillo shows web pages.

Now, with the 2.0 release, they've just ported Dillo from GTK+ to FLTK2. That's a very welcome change and I expect they'll keep improving the GUI interface (by adding a configuration dialogue) in the upcoming releases.

Hopefully Dillo's current progress will attract more free software developers who want to work on a fast and lightweight web browser. I'd like to see features like javascript added to Dillo, while yet keeping Dillo slim and fast.

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Dillo 2.0 is fast, but limited

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 214.3.151.104] on November 05, 2008 02:05 PM
I am going to have to give Dillo a try again when I get home - I am fast becoming annoyed with the "big" browsers out there and need an alternative. Firefox 3 looks just like IE7, Opera is fast but I hate the interface and I have never really taken to Seamonkey. Epiphany is not bad, but has some weird interface issues I cannot get used to. Dillo should build MUCH quicker than FF does on my Gentoo box also. Thanks for the review - if nothing else, it helped me remember that Dillo exists!

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Re: Dillo 2.0 is fast, but limited

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.244.89.24] on November 11, 2008 09:30 PM
Firefox looking like IE7 is about the worst excuse. Firefox is extremely customizable (even without extensions you can do more than most web browsers) and the look can change drastically.

Plus, in all honesty, I don't see much similarity between IE7 and Firefox. IE6 probably looks more like a default Firefox than IE7 does.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Windows_Internet_Explorer_7_Vista.png
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Mozilla_Firefox_3.0_in_Ubuntu.png

(but for the record, I'm mainly a Konqueror-er)

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Midori (XFCE) is based on Webkit - and is fast *and* lightweight *and* fully-featured

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 87.114.166.113] on November 05, 2008 02:28 PM
Although webkit comes in at a whopping 10mb on its own, browsers based on it are blindingly quick, small and fully-featured. Midori is one such browser.
So, unless you're _truly_ looking for that completely cut-down experience...
And there is one other option - again, webkit-based: the demobrowser.py that's in pywebkitgtk. Whilst it may sound strange - to run python as a web browser - it's actually very much "hands-off". PyWebkitGtk is purely a "wrapper" around the GTK widget that webkit sits in: there's no actual "python" being executed - at all - in the rendering. the only times that python gets involved is in loading of urls, interacting with the back / forward / go buttons, displaying a console dialog, that sort of thing.
and those are all done using pygtk2 - so if you don't _like_ the way that the browser looks, you get to edit it - yourself :)
lkcl.

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Limited by no javascript?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 199.164.56.5] on November 05, 2008 05:56 PM
That's not a limit, that's a feature! Sounds great! Downloading now.

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Re: Limited by no javascript?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 90.197.21.113] on November 05, 2008 06:33 PM
agreed. can anyone direct me howto restrict web-search results to those i can actually view with dillo? There must be a string of clever google commands for this. What would be involved in getting google to identify dillo and offer dillo-friendly results as an option? or any other search-engine, for that matter.

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Dillo 2.0 is fast, but limited

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.0.3.92] on November 05, 2008 08:03 PM
Problem with browsers like Dillo is that although fast, the absence of Javascript or CSS makes them almost useless these days. Sure, they're fine for rendering static content, documentation, that kind of thing. But if I've already got Firefox open to access my email and news feeds and the like, what do I need Dillo for?

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Re: Dillo 2.0 is fast, but limited

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.161.99.241] on November 07, 2008 04:58 PM
"But if I've already got Firefox open to access my email and news feeds and the like, ..."

Strange... I've already got a mail-client and a feedreader for those tasks.

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Dillo 2.0 is fast, but limited

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.1.1.192] on November 06, 2008 09:52 AM
As an alternative fast browser, check out Kazehakase, which is available in Ubuntu. It's less limiting then Dillo and smaller and faster then firefox. Very suitable for limited PC's.

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Dillo 2.0 is fast, but limited

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 91.125.75.188] on November 08, 2008 11:02 AM
> If Dillo's developers could overcome its limitations, this lightweight Web browser might become an example for others. Unfortunately, as things > are, it is more of a curiosity than a practical alternative.

Dillo is ***ideal*** for one thing: I sit in the UK at an Xwindows client, dillo runs on a Xwindows server in the US. I can do this with any Xwindows program, of course. The problem is, the bigger and more sophisticated the program, the more troublesome working with it (I guess, the creators of Xwindows never had this issue of running very sophisticated GUIs over very long distances in mind). Running Firefox remotely takes ages. Some browsing jobs really need a graphical browser, and Dillo gives me what I need, even though it is somewhat limited.

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Oh the price...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.178.105.63] on November 08, 2008 06:49 PM
Plenty platforms still don't have a viable flash plugin. Yes, easy to forget when you do have flash, but adobe's still sitting on the thing and it still isn't truly open technology. Yet our beloved webmonkeys keep on insisting on it.

In the same vein, plenty of sites, including those supposedly bringing news, ``switched'' to requiring javascript for functions that were previously more performant without. Huh, must be progress. Having a lightning-fast javascript interpreter (if you do, which isn't a given) is still not any excuse to just plug in javascript when it isn't really necessairy. Can we collectively put the ajax crackpipe down, please?

What, ``user experience'', you say? Good point, except that the core of the web was easing information interchange. First thing we did was forgetting that, and we ended up watching dancing rodents. Want to bring information? Bring it. Want to bring ``an experience''? Have you nothing better to share?

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Dillo 2.0 is fast, but limited

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.44.24.36] on November 10, 2008 11:11 PM
I liked Dillo from the get go. Opera 9.1 is my default browser which I generally run no Scripting language [Java's not on my machines], and no graphics. I stay with 9.1 because O keeps adding crap I don't like with no way to not use the new junks, easily, I should say. 9.6 won't function on Win9x machines without a Win2K .dll added. Dillo I use with DSL and Puppy, and then I use O or SeaMonkey for things like comments at linux.com. When I go totally Linux I'm gonna miss K-Meleon though, unless the the Linux ver is improved. BUT here's the real deal for browsers: People who want info don't need flash, trash, shock, or schlock. Info is in words, and if you're looking for real speed Lynx will do the deed. BUT here's the but: graphs. They may be pics to some but real info is in them too, if you all ready know the word, and math, terminology to understand them. Really good web sites don't us scripting to show graphs, but most do. That interactive crap is just irritating, and I don't allow that crap to loop, poop, or scoop info from me; and that's what interactive means--finding out about YOU. I noticed that MSFT when interactive with http://autos.msn.com/everyday/gasstations.aspx and then apparently traffic fell off so much they added: Do ya want the old page or the new interactive? Needless to say, if you show up with no scripting, you don't get asked that. I won't get started on the fascist google that Dillo defaults too. Bye.

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Useful application of dillo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.57.70.32] on November 15, 2008 09:16 PM
There's a dillo plugin for Claws-Mail to render HTML e-mails where it's actually a good thing not to have any sort of scripting or iframes ;)

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