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On Being a Citizen of the Web

  • December 20, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Like many of us, I've spent the majority of my online time in the last 10 years in Netscape. And like many of us, I've developed impressions of the Web that are often impressions of Netscape instead. Web sites, ftp sites--all were seen through Netscape's eyes. It took the atrocity that is Netscape 6 to finally shake me awake. Yes, I'd played around a little with alternatives over the years. There was that ridiculous thing that IBM shipped for awhile with OS/2. There was the browser built into StarOffice. I tried browsing with KFM, the KDE-1.x ancestor of Konqueror (a great ftp client but not a full-featured browser). I even had--still have, in fact, though it doesn't work here anymore--QTMozilla, a stunt that the people at TrollTech did a few years ago, the idea being to port Netscape Navigator to QT in one man month, an experiment that was successful. I have and occasionally use Lynx, though it is limited by its text interface to use only in emergencies where I've injured X and need to find the cure. In the foggy past there was Mosaic, and Amaya still resides here.

But in the end I always returned to Netscape.

Then came Netscape 6, which is objectionable not because of its functionality (though there's room to fault it there) but because of its design. I suppose we should have anticipated it would come to this when the "shopping" item appeared on the Navigator toolbar a few versions ago. But this thing has now become a giant catalog. Yes, some of the clutter can be turned off. It doesn't matter. The direction Netscape is headed leads no place I want to go.

It was time to seriously explore the alternatives.

Konqueror, as mentioned, is very promising. I've built the KDE2 CVS every couple of weeks for more than a year now, and have watched Konqueror become increasingly capable. (I haven't been able to build it for awhile now because the kdelibs build blows up over a GL issue that popped up last week and that refuses to go away despite a new build of Mesa. I have no idea what it's about. I asked and was told that it was because my Mesa was built using a different compiler and different glibc than the ones being used to build KDE2, but that's not the case.)

One major annoyance is Konqueror's attempt to "guess" a URL the user is trying to type into the location line. I do not know just how it does this guessing. Well, yes, I do: Not Very Well. I have found no way to turn this feature off, but I devoutly wish for one. It's irritating to have the line automagically completed with erroneous information.

Anyway, Konqueror is perfectly serviceable for a wide variety of browsing duties. It makes Netscape bookmarks readily accessible as a menu item. Its Java and plugin support are not perfected (but then again, neither are Java and most plugins). As an ftp client it is unsurpassed. To the extent that it isn't entirely there yet, it soon will be but for one issue that may not bother you at all but that bothers me a lot: cookies.

Among Netscape's few strengths is its cookie handling. By that I mean that it's a one-minute job to make a link from ~/.netscape/cookies to /dev/null. After that, anything a site sends you remains in memory for the current session only. Yes, sites that require logins will require logins every time. Fine. That's a small price to pay. When sites announce that they want to place cookies on my machine, when they tell me what the cookies propose to do and when they are no longer encrypted, I'll be happy to revisit the issue. Until then, it's straight to the bit bucket with them. Konqueror offers no easy way to make this happen.

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