Open-Source Web Solutions

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In the open-source Web-browser arena, the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox is continuing to gain esteem, while others such as Flock are just starting to get the ball rolling. With the vast number of both commercial and open-source Web-browser solutions available, let’s look at some of today’s up-and-coming stars in the open-source arena.

Mozilla’s Firefox is a fast, full-featured Web browser and is the current leader in the open-source Web browser arena. Firefox’s features include pop-up blocking, a tab-browsing mode that lets users open several pages in a single window, integrated Google searching, simplified privacy controls that let users cover their tracks more effectively, a streamlined browser window that shows users more of the page than most other browsers and a number of other features. Firefox version 1.5 introduced several new features, including an improved software update system, a new option to clear private browsing data, drag-and-drop reordering of browser tabs and more robust pop-up blocking.

Flock is an open-source Web browser that was spawned from Firefox’s code base. According to its Web site, Flock is currently available only as a developer preview and is more or less stable, but there are quite a few rough edges. Flock has integrated tools to make it easier for users to blog, publish photos and share things via the Web. Developers can download the latest release, Flock 0.5.12, and help test hourly builds.

Epiphany and Galeon are Web browsers for the GNOME desktop. Epiphany’s goal is to be simple and easy-to-use. It ties together many GNOME components in order to let users focus on the Web content instead of the browser application. Epiphany is also powered by the Gecko engine, displays Web pages with the similar speed and accuracy as Mozilla’s Firefox and has been translated into more than 30 languages.

“We make usability a major priority for every feature that is included. We incorporate the same features seen in other browsers, but don’t deviate far from the expectations users have built from other GNOME applications,” said Wouter Bolsterlee, Epiphany volunteer. “This ensures the Web browser is easy to use and feels comfortable for users.” Bolsterlee performs a lot of beta-testing of the Epiphany code base and also tests proposed patches and fixes that are submitted through the bug tracking system, reports bugs, comments on them and fixes them when possible.

Galeon 2.0.1, the latest release, is also based on Gecko. It is fast, has a light interface and is fully standards-compliant. Galeon’s latest release is compatible with xulrunner. It also works with Mozilla 1.7.5+, Seamonkey 1.0+, Firefox 1.0.x and 1.5+. Its find toolbar is ported from Epiphany and the TypeAheadFind now works properly with Firefox.

Konqueror is part of KDE project, an open-source graphical desktop environment for UNIX workstations. Konqueror includes unusual features such as text-to-speech synthesis and support for Active-X controls. Konqueror has HTML 4.01 compliance, supports Java applets, JavaScript, CSS 1, CSS 2.1 as well as Netscape plug-ins such as Flash or RealVideo.

According to Ian Reinhart Geiser, a contributor to the KDE project who has worked on various internal parts of KDE for the last six years, Konqueror offers integration with the rest of the desktop that other browsers can’t match. “This integration allows Konqueror to hide much of the complexity of using the computer,” Geiser said. “A good example would be the fact that my wife has run Linux for five years now, and until a few months ago she didn’t realize that KDE had a PDF viewer. The reason for this was not because she didn’t ever need to read PDF files, but that Konqueror transparently loaded them from both the Internet and the local file system. This is something that Konqueror experience strives for. Users of computers tend to want to just get their work done. Unlike developers and hobbyists, they don’t like to tweak and explore their system. Konqueror provides a nice platform to do just that.”

Geiser said that KDE is now starting on its next stage of evolution with KDE 4, which is based on Tolltech’s award winning Qt tool kit. “This is going to provide many innovations. Companies like Novell, Apple, Nokia and my own company, SourceXtreme, have taken notice in KDE technology. For example, much of Apple’s Dashboard comes directly from KDE’s technology. This helps inspire and excite the open-source developers who work on KDE. This excitement will bring a new wave of innovation that will, in the end, make users’ time at the computer easier and more productive.”

Other open-source Web browsers include K-Meleon, Salamander, Skipstone and Seamonkey. With so many open-source Web browsers gaining market share, it is no wonder that they have been giving commercial Web browsers a run for their money. “All the technologies that form the building blocks of the Web are based on open standards and open technology. This is the key to the success of the Web. Why not make a Web browser free and open too?” Bolsterlee said. “Open-source project users are free to discuss issues and request enhancements by talking to the developers directly. Generally, at least one developer is available for chat 24 hours a day. This way of working let us create a very user-friendly application that fits the user’s needs.”

According to Geiser, users often prefer open source to proprietary Web browsers because proprietary browsers either won’t run on Linux or do not integrate as well with their desktops. “Users don’t care about how or why software works: They just want it to work. The most annoying part for developers is that ‘working’ is not just about ‘not crashing.’ It’s about being usable,” Geiser said. According to Geiser, Konqueror has been able to stay ahead of the curve because it’s open source. Companies such as Nokia and Apple spend their development money on improving it. “This can give Konqueror the ability to gain new features and security enhancements ahead of proprietary companies who are constrained by their bottom line and delivery channels.”

–Cari McLean,

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