There are a lot of browsers these days, some being bloated with features, others serving the bare minimum of web browsing tasks. Marco Peerboom began developing his minimalist web browser xxxterm for OpenBSD in 2010. Within a year the browser became popular enough in the OpenBSD community to find its ways to major Linux repositories. And here’s why.
The minimalist web browser landscape
Regardless of the overall amount of browsers, the really minimalist ones are rare. The most notable ones in this category are:
- surf is a bare minimum web browser (though one may think it’s even less then minimal). It originated in the suckless.org community, which is a sufficient description as it is. Its features beyond those of WebKit are just XEmbedd support and URL export via XProperties. Every aspect of its customization must be tuned at compile time, though there is not much to tune. Although it has its user base, even the most hardcore geeks would think twice before using it as the only browser on their system.
- Uzbl is a sort of building kit. The package includes the uzbl-core (a set of wrappers for WebKit) and the browser, which is easily tunable to become whatever you want, but not unless you set it up to use extensions, or write your own in python. While being incredibly flexible, it needs to be configured, and this process takes quite some time.
- Dillo is probably the most lightweight browser to date, but it is barely useful on the present day web, as its web standards support resembles that of browsers back in 2000.
There are also Conkeror and Firefox with Vimperator extension which feel lightweight in their behavior, but is there still anybody who really believes that the words Gecko and lightweight belong in the same sentence?
The UNIX minimum pack
xxxterm provides a basic feature set. It supports bookmarks, tabbed browsing and location, search and status bars.
Beyond that it provides a gVim-like interface and vi-like controls including command and insert modes, a plaintext configuration file with the options in “option = value” format and links hinting (highlighting and numbering links, so that they can be followed by typing their numbers).
And like the other OpenBSD software it doesn’t require touching mouse.
The goal the development of xxxterm effectively served, was to provide a lightweight yet secure alternative to major web browsers (like Firefox). While the “lightweight” part was achieved by dropping everything the developers didn’t want, the “secure” part was addressed more specifically.
xxxterm feels home in minimalist setups. Its spartan UI won’t fit well into XFCE or GNOME (which is saddled with Firefox as the default browser for unknown reason these days), but will find its place among the xterm windows with 1 pixel borders. If your desktop looks like that, maybe you’re already reading this from xxxterm?