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Some kinda weird interweb geek playgound

Abstract: This is the script for the "Lightweight Web Browsing with Arora" episode I did for hackerpublicradio.org.

Download the episode in the ogg format.

Hey, it's deepgeek. Today, let's discuss the problem of interweb browsing and follow it up with a quick review of a lighweight interweb browser called arora.

When it comes to the concept of "Lightweight Applications" and web browsing, we come to the crux a problem; a problem that challanges the concept of running a lightweight system itself.

One problem is the flexibility of the concept itself. One person's idea of lightweight is a matter of opinion that differs from person to person. I always love to read descriptions of Firefox (BTW, I am a Debian guy, so for me that's Iceweasel, but that is another story.) Firefox considers itself to be a lightweight browser. I personally don't consider anything that takes a few seconds to launch to be lightweight myself.

In order to understand this situation, we need to get philosophical and look at a quick history of the web browser situation. Back in the 90's things were very different. First, the free software scene was not as well developed as it is today, so it was not ready for "prime time" yet. However, already dissatisfaction with Microsoft's monopoly practices was developing. Along came the Netscape browser (which owed it's origins to the Mosaic browser,) and it threatened Microsoft. This threat was known as the "middleware threat" because you could run things inside of the web browser in order to escape Microsoft software. (Yes, it was a prototypical concept for what we now call "cloud computing.) The feature set of the browser was aggressively expanded to encourage this. Now Firefox (which is a descendent of netscape) is tuning it's code, so it runs with less and less resource waste.

Also, looking back, the expectations of the interweb have changed. There is still a place for old school basic html for informational sites, but for things like web banking, shopping, and forums, flat file html no longer cuts it.

This last idea allows me to segue nicely into our software review. I currently have a need for Firefox as my "heavy browser," but I need something light for my day to day needs, so I use arora now. Let me spell that for you, Alpha Romeo Oscar Romeo Alpha.

Arora is lightweight, written in only 10,000 lines of code and based on the webkit rendering engine. Why webkit? Well, it is a matter of preference. When I switched to linux I used konqueror, which used it's own freedom oriented rendering engine. This engine was forked by apple for their Safari browser, but is usable by other products. Arora was originally a little demo program for the Qt application projects, but grew to be a usable day to day browser.

I don't like to run a full blown browser when I am just running around the interweb, call me a paranoid, but you may run a script on my interweb browser only when I give you permission. Arora allows me to configue a javascriptless, cookieless, and flashturbationless experience I need for my interweb "running around."

Arora also has a "private browsing" mode. This mode does not do the following: store cookie data, cache icons, store browser history items. That's a pretty sweet feature for the privacy conscience.

However it still has features you expect, like regular handling of bookmarks, a little download manager. You can have javascript, but it is a little spotty as they say. It does cookies too, allowing you to choose between a few different popular behaviors for cookie management.

Why a webkit based browser? Well like I said, I orginally used Konqueror extensively, so the way konqueror renders a webpage is the way my brain thinks the interweb should look. The major engines for webrowsing are Trident for the Microsoft line, Presto for the Opera line, Gecko for the Mosaic/Netscape/Firefox line, and webkit/khtml for the Konqueror/Safari/Arora line of browsers.

My "geek tidbit" today is a quick look at some interesting add-on web browsing technology.

If, like me, you keep a command line browser on your system as an alternate, you may want to check out the "Surfraw" package. Surfraw makes text web searching an faster than light experienc by converting popular search engines into commands. For example, you can use Surfraw's goolgle tool to to just launch google's highest ranked webpage for a search query. Without images and ads, and not having to stop first at google, this is a "blink of the eye" exercise in information retreival.

An important addon for Firefox is the user agent switcher. Browsers identify what they are to websites they visit. This tool allows you to circumvent pages written with the "this page is only for Internet Exploder users" mentality. Really, these pages will be just fine if only you set your browser up to lie to them about what software to run. For added fun, you can try to impersonate google's search robot as you surf the interweb. If you ever want to kidnap a few webdesigners who make these pages and chain them to terminal browsing the web using ratpoisen and links, let me know. I am up for it.

The uber-paranoid geek's Firefox is just not complete without running the "noscripts" plugin on it. Browse the interweb scriptless, until you whitelist only a few domains to run scripts and flash on your system.

Thanks for listening, I hope you enjoyed it. Happy anniversary Hacker Public Radio and thanks for listening to me and this series.

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