NetFront: The Fast GTK+ Browser you Never Knew Existed

A few days ago we read about the Deli Linux, which aims to fill-in the gap of Linux distros in the 486/586 machine range by running lightweight/older applications. The disto comes with Dillo and Links as its browsers, but I bet there aren’t many people who know that there is yet another very lightweight browser for GTK+ 1.2.x and it is more powerful and more memory-optimized than Dillo: Access’ NetFront. Check for info and screenshots inside.Basically, NetFront is primarily a mobile browser, mostly sold via OEMs on PDAs and i-Mode phones. It is a very popular browser in this market and our statistics show a respectable number of NetFront users surfing OSNews (more than 80 hits out of 1500 mobile pageviews daily (out of 190,000+ overall)), while it is the major browser competitor of market leader on mobile phone browsers, Openwave (52%+). The GTK+ version of it is simply a development version (SDK). Thankfully, Access is giving away this development version of NetFront 3.1 freely, so third party devs and create web pages for it. Users can also use this version to browser the web.

A few days ago, Access also released NetFront 3.2 for Linux, but it has a visibly much slower GTK+ interface, as it is using GKT+ 2.x and it seems to have a few more rendering bugs along with its new features, and so I still recommend v3.1 over v3.2.

Sure, there are many good OSS lightweight browsers around: Dillo and text-based Links, eLinks, w3m and Lynx to name a few. However, their graphical svgalib-based versions of Links/w3m either suck or the X-based Dillo is just not good enough feature-wise. NetFront supports Javascript, CSS, SSL. It is also managing to render very well sites like,, etc. that Dillo just can’t handle satisfiably.

On my tests, NetFront consumed between 7 MBs and 15 MBs of RAM, while Dillo would vary from 12 MBs up to 40 MBs of RAM (tested on the same web pages) and Dillo would consume more memory as we would continue use it throughout the day.

The only problem I have with NetFront is that it has a GTK+ bug and all its menus are showing extra text, for example, the “File” menu, would show up as “Menu:File”. Sometimes this bug doesn’t happen, other times it does.

The only speed problem of NetFront is its text selection (GTK problem?). When trying to select some text on a page that has some CSS, the selection is rendered very slowly, even on this AthlonXP 1600+. Other than that, its speed is adequate and most of the time, on par with Dillo (which doen’t have the overhead of CSS, which is the major speed drawback on most browsers).

And two tips: To use NetFront satisfiably, make sure you enter your DNS directly in its pref panel and also, set the font to Helvetica, 8 (the default font used is too big and ugly, as NetFront uses big fonts in general on all the devices it ships with).

Netfront supports Hotmail with the version shipped on devices (e.g. my SONY Clie works well with it), but the desktop version uses an altered browser agent, and so Microsoft doen’t recognized it and shuts it out early in the process. So, no Hotmail or even Gmail I am afraid with this version.

Going back to people with old computers and Deli Linux, if Access could fix 2-3 annoyances mentioned above in their browser (and keep maintaining the GTK+ 1.2.x version) and allow free redistribution of their binary version of NetFront, this is a great browser to be used in general on old machines. We are not expecting NetFront to be a Mozilla or IE contender (it is impossible to be both fast and support everything) but for what NetFront really is, a mobile lightweight browser in its heart, it renders most sites wonderfully!

Besides, because we have support for the mobile version of NetFront, the desktop version also gets it automatically, so you can browse to our sites, and using our faster/no-ads mobile versions while also renders great too.

Screenshot 0:, Dillo Vs NetFront duel.
Screenshot 1:, Dillo Vs NetFront duel.
Screenshot 2:, Dillo Vs NetFront duel.
Screenshot 3:, Dillo Vs NetFront duel.
Screenshot 4:, Dillo Vs NetFront duel.
Screenshot 5:, Dillo Vs NetFront duel.
Screenshot 6:, Dillo Vs NetFront duel.
Screenshot 7:, our well supported text mode browsers.


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