5 lesser-known browsers: Free, lightweight and low-maintenance

Are Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome slowing your machine -- or are they simply more than you need? We look at some alternatives.

Mainstream Web browsers such as IE, Firefox and Chrome provide a huge set of browsing and configuration features that make these browsers highly customizable. However, these features can have have a negative impact on the browser's speed and memory footprint.

In fact, many users do not require all those features -- especially developers, who want to work quickly and without unnecessary frills. Happily, there are alternative Web browsers that are simple, fast and light on memory resources.

In this article, I examine five lesser-known free Web browsers: Dillo, Epiphany, Konqueror, Lynx and Midori. While they are all Linux-based browsers, three (Konqueror, Lynx and Midori) are compatible with Windows systems, while three (Dillo, Konqueror and Lynx) can be used on Macs.

Each browser has its strengths and weaknesses, I've discovered. Some of them strip away too much functionality for my taste, but one strikes just the right balance and has now become my daily go-to browser.

How I tested

For this review, I tested the five browsers on a Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB RAM using Ubuntu 13.04. I used each browser for at least 4 to 5 hours, during which time I researched the browser I was using on the Web and also visited Google, Gmail, Facebook and YouTube.

In addition, I used two benchmarking applications: the Acid3 test, which checks a browser's compliance with JavaScript, Document Object Module (DOM) and other standards; and the HTML5 test to check the browser's compliance with the draft HTML5 specification.

To measure browser speed, I used the Speed-Battle test from U-Double-U.

(Note: Two of the browsers, Dillo and Lynx, could not be tested with any of the above applications because neither supports JavaScript.)

Finally, in order to test memory usage, I used the pmap command in Linux and reported the results after I opened one tab, opened nine more tabs (for a total of ten), closed five of the tabs and then closed four more tabs (leaving one left open).

In all the tests, I also included Chrome and Firefox so that the tested browsers could be compared to the two major browsers available for Linux.

Developer: Jorge Arellano Cid

Reviewed version: dillo-3.0.3

OS support Linux, BSD, OS X, Cygwin

License: GPLv3

Dillo is a minimalistic graphical Web browser that was developed by Jorge Arellano Cid in 1999. His purpose was to allow users to gain access to the information on the Web without having to purchase high-end computer systems or install space-consuming Web browsers. Dillo is written in C/C++ and based on the Fast, Light Toolkit (FLTK) GUI library.

It has a bare minimum GUI framework that consists of a single toolbar with only standard options like back, forward, home, reload, save, stop, bookmark and tools. It supports only HTML/XHTML (with CSS rendering).

Dillo had the smallest memory footprint of all the graphical Web browsers I looked at (the only browser that beat it was text-based Lynx). It comes pre-installed in many Linux distributions such as Damn Small Linux (DSL) and VectorLinux.

What's new

Release 3.0.3 contains several major improvements, including configurable UI colors, speedy DNS requests when IPv6 is disabled and better window titles. Some new features, such as an effective mechanism to block ads and trackers, and the use of Ctrl+U to view page source, were also added.

What's good about it

Open the browser and the welcome screen displays plenty of information related to Dillo: the current release, change-log highlights, a link to the help manual, etc. This saves a lot of time for a new Dillo user.

Most of the websites I tried it with loaded within a second, although not all of them displayed properly (more on that in a moment). A bug meter at the lower-right corner of the browser window detects and displays any bugs that may occur if a site isn't compliant with Web standards.

Cookie support is disabled by default (though it can be enabled). Dillo never sends or accepts cookies while making a third-party request/response and is regarded as an RFC 2965-compliant browser. (RFC 2965 is the original specification for HTTP cookies. It describes a standard that an HTTP server and a browser should follow in order to securely exchange session-related information.)

Though Dillo has a very basic user interface, it supports tabbed browsing. Another good feature is that the browser cache gets cleared every time you exit the browser. This not only makes sure that temporary files and folders do not reserve extra space, but also eliminates the need to empty the browser cache manually. (Though it might put some users off because it hinders faster display of already-visited Web pages.)

Because it is so lightweight, Dillo can also be used with mobile devices and is useful when browsing local documentation such as saved HTML files.

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