Wednesday, April 16, 2014

dwb - A Webkit Browser, Highly Understated, Lightweight and FAST

by Dietrich Schmitz

I've been looking for browser alternatives to Chrome and Firefox.

Both are relatively bulky -- replete with features -- which is to be expected.

Chrome does things I don't like and I simply cannot account for why. At times it will remain quiet and at other times it will do whatever it decides to do and throttle up even pegging the cpu. My netbook strains to cooperate when that happens.

To a lesser extent that happens with Firefox, but really not nearly as often. I know from personal experience that opening a google plus tab will elicit periods of frenetic cpu activity which I watch in my LXDE cpu graph. Seconds can pass even minutes before Chrome settles down.  That annoys me.

So, I know Google Chrome is not 100% open source like Chromium. What are they doing exactly with my bandwidth? There is no way to know for sure and there certainly isn't any transparency given one cannot see Google's Chrome source code. That is 'off limits'.

This goes against the grain with me. I hold in reverence open source standards; Gnu Public License v2 in particular ensures public oversight to any single piece of code used.

This is what transparency is all about. It's hard to create 'rogue' code in the open source world, when 'many eyes' can see what is or isn't being coded and if something is 'amiss', corrective action can be taken appropriately.

Still, one wonders, if Linux was not open source, how long would such exploits thrive before being noticed? That is an important question and a major distinction for readers to consider -- especially those who currently depend on proprietary and closed source Microsoft Legacy (x86) Windows. Transparency is not a given in the Windows world.

Alright, you get the point. So, I began looking for something which is more lightweight and open source and, as important, would run reasonably well on my Netbook without pegging the cpu like Chrome does. Luckily, after a few days of searching around with Google and testing various browsers, I came upon one obscure Lightweight browser called dwb (dynamic webkit browser). It struck me at how minimal the developer's web page appeared to be. That minimalist mindset fit with my programming philosophy and was just what I was looking for.

With that, initially, I installed a revision of dwb found in the Fedora 20 repo. It worked, but, for some unknown reason it was not recognizing the presence of Adobe's Flash plugin. And, even after I reinstalled the newest 11.2.202 update, the error still persisted on youtube's website.

So, I uninstalled dwb with yum and then dispatched directly to the BitBucket dwb project site which supports git, downloaded a copy of the project, manually compiled and installed the newest version of dwb. That fixed the flash problem. That was yesterday and I've been puttering around using dwb exclusively ever since.

This is day two and I am here posting up my experience with dwb after several hours of use under my belt.

What a hoot. That's right. dwb is making me smile and I really think it is funny how straight up I was able to quickly adapt to using a 'keyboard-centric' minimalist browser and it got me to thinking about the general public.

People tend to be lazy and are reluctant to change habits.

But using dwb was not a radical change either.

In fact after a few minutes of googling dwb, I located some documentation at the BitBucket git project where dwb is developed and also some good material on the Arch wiki. (Is there ever anything but 'good' material on the Arch wiki?)

So, I admit being a computer geek does help getting up to speed. But I would bet some of the curious readers might be wondering if they should try dwb.

I say: "Why not?"

You stumble. You fall. You then pick yourself up, dust off and try again. It's like your first experience with a bicycle and training wheels as a child. After a while (hours) you start building up confidence as navigation becomes easier. Reading the Arch Wiki on dwb helped immensely and I don't think I have read for more than a half hour to find the keyboard shortcuts I use most often.

It's not that you can't use your mouse. Quite the opposite. A judicious amount of mouse use in combination with the keyboard will result in gained efficiency as you begin recalling which key does what.

I began to chuckle at how fast I was able to perform the same tasks on dwb verses Google Chrome. And I would add that I have yet to see an open tab to Google Plus peg the cpu -- not once has it happened. So, that makes me wonder even more -- what the heck is Chrome doing with my bandwidth? 

As I continued using dwb, the thought occurred to me, it's not just that dwb is small, compact and arguably the fastest browser -- it's that the keyboard still provides major advantages when included in the design of any software. As the dwb home page says:

"dwb is a lightweight web browser based on the webkit web browser engine and the gtk toolkit. dwb is highly customizable and can be easily configured through a web interface. It intends to be mostly keyboard driven, inspired by firefox's vimperator plugin."

And that is the point:  Keyboard optimization.  The icing on the cake is, if you should happen to know how to use the vi editor, all the better, as many of dwb's shortcuts parallel with vi.


  • vi-like shortcuts
  • Link following via keyboard hints
  • Bookmarks
  • Quickmarks
  • Cookie support, whitelisting of cookies
  • Proxy support
  • Userscript support
  • Tab completion for history, bookmarks, userscripts
  • Custom stylesheets
  • Javascript blocker with whitelisting support
  • Flash plugin blocker with whitelisting support
  • Adblocking with filterlists
  • Webinterface for keyboard and settings configuration
  • Custom commands, binding command sequences to shortcuts
  • Extendable via extensions/scripts
  • Extension manager

So, are you feeling adventurous today? Give dwb a try.

dwb should be found in your Distro's repo, otherwise, the above link reaches the git repo.

Reach me with questions. -- Dietrich

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