I’m always excited when I discover a new browser. Firefox is like the obligatory pacifier for any open-source software discussion. Yes, I suppose it deserves a place in the list of free software successes, but I still feel slightly guilty whenever I use it, because of that little voice in the back of my head that whines, “Firefox, again?!“
Firefox is not the only, or the best option for most people. There are dozens — maybe even hundreds — of workable browsers out there, but Firefox is like the teacher’s pet — that annoying kid at school who wasn’t necessarily the brightest or most talented, but got all the attention anyway.
In any case, finding something completely new and original in the field of Web browsers is an added fillip to the joy of discovering a new application. I apologize if this is somewhat inconsiderate, but any one browser is generally arranged and works like every other. They all look the same to me.
So uzbl — I’m assuming it’s pronounced “usable” — blindsided me. Your father’s browser, this is not. This is, for all practical purposes, an Arch-only weapon, although I’m sure it can be installed in other distros. But the easy way to get at it, if you want it, is to install Arch and conjure it up through the magic of AUR.
And the end result? How about a box, with a page in it. So what, you say? So look closely: It’s a box with a page in it.
And that’s all. No buttons, no address bars, no back and forth controls, no home button, no reload button, no hotbutton bars, no rss dropdown menus, no up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a or anything like that. It’s a box with a page in it.
So where’s the joy in that, you ask? Well, look back at the original manifesto for uzbl, which reads a bit like the American Declaration of Independence. In short: Everyone else is doing it wrong, and we will do it right.
Right it is, too. vim-style keybindings, simple one-key url-entry commands, infinitely customizable through the configuration file (there’s a sample in the package that you really want to start with; no configuration file makes uzbl sort of … unusable ), and best of all … fast.
Wicked fast. Frighteningly fast. A speed Firefox can’t even dream of. I swear I have LCD image persistence from the speed of uzbl drawing up a page. Okay, maybe not.
Of course, a lot of that speed comes from Webkit, but part of it also comes from the fact that uzbl weighs about a buck-oh-five. Without all those knobby buttons and cutesy icons, there’s room to move fast.
All the same, this won’t appeal to everyone. It takes a little while to get used to, and of course, there are those oh-so-critical extensions Firefox addicts cling to, like security blankets. (One day someone will invent an extension that strips out all the other extensions, and everyone will realize how encrusted with extensions they had become.)
But if you enjoy a minimal environment, perhaps something tiled or even just exceedingly svelte, uzbl deserves a hero’s welcome. It’s light, it’s fast, it’s flexible to the nth degree, it’s unobtrusive, unforgiving and obviously designed by and for people who enjoy making their computers do exactly what they tell them to.
If you count yourself in the same group, check it out.