I’ve mentioned a couple of times that, at least in my opinion, KDE is losing out to GNOME because there simply aren’t as many Qt applications as GTK ones. Competition breeds quality, and as a result, I find Qt applications in general to be inferior.
Of course, I can’t just say that and not back it up. In fact, I’m not even sure if I’m right! Because I’m using KDE 4.2 at the moment, I thought this would be an ideal time to really test some Qt and GTK applications extensively. In all cases, I tried to use Qt applications first, and only installed the GTK alternative if it either showed bugs, crashed, or simply irritated me to the point of madness after several days.
This is the second in a series of articles comparing different kind of applications. The first one handled chat-clients, and in this post I’ll cover the following browsers: Konqueror 4.2.3, Arora 0.7.0, Firefox 3.0.10, Midori 0.1.6 and Epiphany 2.26.2. I did not install Opera because I blogged about it before, here, and I simply don’t like it. I’ve used it again after I wrote that article, and my experiences were a bit more positive, but it’s still far from my favourite browser. For fun, I also tried to install Chromium (there’s an AUR-build available in Arch), but although I got it working, all the text of the browser itself displayed as squares.
Konqueror has been KDE’s browser since KDE 2, and also doubles as a file manager, even if in KDE4 Dolphin is now the default for that. In any case, Konqueror’s primary focus now is browsing the web. It’s a bit of a loner amongst browsers, using KHTML as the engine, but with a bit of tweaking/installing it can also use Webkit. It’s a bit less stable, and I don’t notice any speed differences, but the advantage is that Gmail gets displayed correctly. KHTML will have you switch to the traditonal view of Gmail, which I found a tad annoying.
Konqueror’s looks are, of course, perfectly integrated in KDE, and the font rendering is fine. It has a clear, simple layout, but as can happen in KDE apps, the configuration possibilities can be a bit overwhelming.
Arora is a relatively new kid on the block, being a lightweight Qt-browser that uses the Webkit engine. It aims to be minimalistic and stable, without being tied to any OS or Desktop environment. Of course, being built with the Qt toolkit integrates it perfectly in KDE, although there have been issues with the KDE 4.2 Oxygen theme. It looks very similar to Konqueror, but it does display the tab bar even when you have only one tab open, which in my opinion looks weird. Configuration options are few and easy, and font rendering is on par with Konq.
Firefox of course should need no introduction. It’s one of the most succesful open source projects, the second most popular browser in the world and the default in most Linux distributions. It’s relatively fast and secure, has great font rendering, and features an unparalelled extension system which can make it look at act like almost anything. It’s downsides are a long startup time and the tendency to hog memory when it’s been long running. It may have started as rather light-weight, but that’s definitely no longer the case.
This is how I have set it up. You may notice the ressemblance to a certain other browser.
The easiest way to describe Midori would be “Arora using GTK”, so that’s what I’ll do. Like Arora, it uses Webkit, aims to be fast, lightweight and straightforward, and like Arora it also still is in heavy development. Each release sees substantial improvements, and personally I’m keeping an eye on these browsers. They’re two of the most exciting pieces of software to have appeared the the last couple of years.
Midori has a clean, simple layout that’s easy on the eyes, and because it doesn’t have a million options, configuration is easy. Font rendering is as good as in Konqueror and Arora, but Firefox remains the champion here.
Epiphany is GNOME’s default browser, and can be compared to a trimmed down Firefox. It uses the same Gecko engine, although the following releases will probably use Webkit. Just like everything about GNOME, new releases aren’t very exciting, but have small, incremental improvements. It’s a perfectly capable, fast little browser, with again a simple layout that gives just a little bit less screen estate to the websites because of the rather large buttons. I’ve been using it in Openbox for the last two months.
Whew, that’s a lot of talk and we just got past the introductions. Let’s move on.
There are a couple of more or less important requirements I need from a browser:
- Apple trailers and Youtube video’s have to work.
- I don’t want ads or popups
- I like to be able to use my favourite hotkeys
- The faster pages are loaded, the better
- I like to use the address bar as a google search bar, making the googlebar redundant
- Perfectly stable. I can stand a crash every month or so, but not more
- Standards compliancy is a nice bonus
- Finally, if the browser is translated into Dutch, that’s a plus too
Let’s see how these browsers measure up.
For this test, I used the trailer of the new Sherlock Holmes trailer (the Standard > Medium version), in which Robert Downey Jr. acts nothing like Sherlock Holmes at all. All browsers used the mplayer-plugin. Firefox and Epiphany passed this test with flying colours, but Midori crashed after the movie, when I tried to close the window. Arora crashed at the beginning, and Konqueror, both using Webkit and KHTML, stopped playing the video after a few seconds. This didn’t seem to be a problem with the video itself, but with the popup in which the video played. I tried to play the small Wolverine: Origins trailer, which now worked fine in Midori and Konqueror. Arora still crashed.
I had the Adobe Flash plugin installed, and all browsers played the hilarious 500 impressions in 2 minutes video just fine.
The entire internet using world population hates popups, and yet they’re everywhere, trying to convince me that I need loans, online casinos and whatnot. I don’t. The ideal behaviour here is letting the user know, discreetly, that popups have been blocked, with a possibility to display it in the rare cases you actually need it.
To test this I visited PopUpTest, and performed the first, second and fourth “Common” test. The results were the same in every case.
Firefox and Konqueror shine here, both displaying a small message telling you a popup has been blocked and offering you the choice of opening it anyway. Firefox is a bit better though, because it tells you how many popups have been blocked exactly and can display its warning even more discreetly if you want it to (a small icon in the bottom right corner). Small detail: after the test, there should appear a few lines telling you that the test is over. In Firefox this worked, but Konqueror reloaded the page, then halted.
Arora and Midori did not show any popups, but I didn’t see any warnings about it either. Furthermore, Arora kept reloading the page over an over again, possibly in an overzealous attempt to show goodwill and keep blocking popups?
Epiphany blocks popups too, showing a very small warning that it has done so, but de default settings is to allow popups all over your screen. Puzzling.
Same remark again: I hate advertising and it’s everywhere, flashing away and in some of its latest incarnations, doing sit-ups. I understand that some websites get their revenue from ads, but every browser should at least offer a possibility to block these ads. To test this I used this webpage, which tries to display 5 ads.
Firefox and Epiphany have an extension appropriately called AdBlock, which does exactly that. It works, and Epiphany’s extension doesn’t even need a restart to be enabled. Top marks.
Konqueror does not have AdBlock, but if you can add filters manually. The easiest way to do this is to hunt down an AdBlock txt file (the AdBlock extension in Firefox offers an option to export that list as txt, but it seems a bit ridiculous to install Firefox and AdBlock just to have AdBlock in Konqueror). In any case, afterwards Konqueror blocks ads just as well as Firefox and Epiphany, but it’s a clumsy way to get there.
Midori offers a nice surprise here: without installing anything whatsoever, no ads are displayed. Bad for aforementioned sites’ revenue, but nice for me. By contrast, Arora is the worst performer here. All ads are shown without an easy solution offered. It’s worth mentioning that both Konqueror and Arora were very slow displaying this page.
There are a couple of keyboard shortcuts I’ve used so much that by now they’ve left grooves in my brain. I use them whether the browser supports them or not, which can lead to some frustration if I don’t get the expected result. By now I’m too old and set in my ways to change hotkeys, so bad marks for every browser which can’t read my mind.
Luckily, all browsers here use CTRL + T to open a tab, and CTRL+W to close it. The only remark I have is that Epihany starts every tab with the homepage, so either you don’t set a homepage or you end up seeing it every time you create a new tab. The result is that what should be instantaneous (opening a new tab) takes a longer time in the lightweight Epiphany than it does in other browsers. There is a way around this by installing the Thirdpartyextensions package, but it’s rather puzzling default behaviour.
Unfortunately, the only browser that uses CTRL + ENTER as a shortcut to transform “xxxx” to “http://www.xxxx.com” in the address bar, is Firefox. I use this one all the time. IE has it, Firefox has it, Chrome has it, but the others don’t. When I tried, Midori and Epiphany did a google search, but Arora and Konqueror gave me a file error and a protocol error respectively. Pity.
This is very subjective, because I didn’t actually measure anything. Starting up, Firefox was slowest, followed by Konqueror. Epiphany came next, and Midori and Arora loaded almost instantly.
Surfing the web, Konqueror (Webkit) and Arora seemed slowest, with big differences between pages. Some loaded very fast, others very slowly. Konqueror using KHTML performed more evenly, but a bit slower than Firefox and Epiphany, which use the same engine. Midori always felt fastest.
Google search function in address bar
I can be short here: the GTK browsers all have it, the Qt ones don’t. Konqueror can do this if you add “gg:” in front of the search string, Arora just shows a file error, but of course has a seperate (Google) search bar.
Stability to me simply means: don’t crash. Of course, Midori and Arora already scored badly here by crashing displaying the Apple video. Let’s see how they behave when really put to the test. This page tries to crash your browser (and also to add a bookmark to your favourites, don’t say I didn’t warn you). All browsers passed this test…except Midori, which fell at the “Apple QuickTime MOV file JVTCompEncodeFrame heap overflow”. Konqueror using Webkit didn’t crash during this test, but didn’t complete the test either. This could be the same issue that appeared during the Apple trailer test, but strangely enough, Arora didn’t crash at all.
I remember some time ago there was a big hoopla because Konqueror was the second browser that passed the Acid2 test (Safari was the first). By now, all of these browsers pass the test without issue, and Acid2 has been succeeded by Acid3. In this test, to be perfect the the score has to be 100/100, the animation has to be smooth, and the image must be exactly like the reference. None of the browsers had smooth animation, but otherwise there were some pretty big differences:
Firefox and Epiphany score lowest, with 71/100 and black and white colours
Konqueror using KHTML was next, with 87/100 and black and white, except for yellow and purple. I also had to hit the reload the page otherwise the test wouldn’t start. Using Webkit, the page loaded very slowly but the score rose to 95 and all the colours were there. There also was an extra red box that wasn’t supposed to show up though.
Arora scored good with 96, showing all colours except blue.
Midori was the only one to get a perfect score, 100/100 and showing all the colours.
Of all the browsers, only Arora didn’t have a Dutch translation.
This article turned out much longer than I intended, but considering how much I use a browser and how important it is for me, maybe it’s not that surprising. In the end, I have to conclude that if you want a stable, full-featured, great looking and reasonably fast browser in KDE 4, Firefox is still the best choice. If you like Firefox, but you prefer your browser to be a bit less memory heavy, Epiphany is the choice for you. It displays everything Firefox does, has some interesting extensions, and is stable. It didn’t crash once using KDE 4. Konqueror is a close third but loses some points because because it’s configuration is a bit messy, it’s a bit slower for me, and doesn’t have all my favourite key shortcuts. If you stick to KHTML, it’s very capable and stable, safe for the one issue with the Sherlock Holmes trailer.
The lightweight Webkit browsers come last because of their stability issues. On the one hand this is to be expected, since both projects are still in their infancy. I also have to add that if Midori didn’t crash, it would be my first choice. It’s faster than Epiphany and looks better than Firefox. It doesn’t have unnecessary fluff, and still does everything a browser supposed to do. Of course, that all amounts to nothing if it crashes every now and then…
Arora disappointed me a bit. It’s loading speed is very variable, ranging from very fast to rather slow. It’s lightweight, but unlike Midori here that means not offering some handy features I like in a browser, and one I find absolutely necessary: ad blocking. If you absolutely need a Qt browser, I’d suggest sticking to Konqueror or trying out Opera.
Seems like another clear win for GTK, but of course, Firefox isn’t a “real” GTK application. Still, it’s telling that a successful open source project like Firefox uses GTK instead of Qt. Chromium has done the same for their Linux version, by the way, and Midori seems to be on its way to be a fantastic browser. All those are GTK-applications.
In the end of course, don’t let the toolkit determine your choice of software. Use what works best for you.