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gnotebook: Two for the Web: gnobog and Encompass - page 3

We have a winner... sort of.

  • March 2, 2001
  • By Michael Hall

We all remember the thrill of anticipation when Mozilla was announced. It's been gone over many times before. We also remember the disappointment of gratification deferred when it became readily apparent that Mozilla was going to both take some time, and possibly not be as lightweight as many hoped.

"Not to worry," announced the Galeon project, "we'll just take the good part (the rendering engine), tack on a GTK+-based interface, and leave all the extra bits out." Galeon has evolved into an excellent browser in its own right, able to handle most web-browsing tasks. Because it's based on Mozilla's libraries, though, it still seems a little slow to load if only because the code it's built on is still unfinished and unoptimized.

So along comes Encompass, which makes use of the GNOME gtkhtml library (responsible for message rendering and composition in Evolution, among other things) to provide a browser that launches in an eyeblink and does very little besides put web pages on the screen.

Right off the bat, I'll note that Encompass is still fairly rough (it's only at version 0.3.3) and it doesn't have as much "stuff" as even the minimal Galeon. All the same, it can be used for light browsing, especially if you don't plan to interact with the page you're looking at much.

Getting Encompass
Encompass is available at http://dobey.free.fr/encompass/ and offers, at this point, only a tarball for download. The site says you'll need gtkhtml and all of its dependencies, preferably as provided by Ximian GNOME. In addition, you'll require glibwww and w3c-libwww to build it. While glibwww is available as an anonymous ftp download from the GNOME ftp archives, I already had it in my local CVS collection, so I built it from there. w3c-libwww is available from the W3C in tarball and RPM format. For my Debian Potato machine, I ran alien on the devel RPM and it worked fine.

Once all the libraries are in place, Encompass builds with little fuss.

Running Encompass
Encompass is a simple browser. You fire it up and it offers no more than forward, back, home, stop, reload, and print buttons. The options it presents for configuration are limited, too: homepage and a placeholder for "connection" that you can't fill out.

It offers the opportunity to add bookmarks, but the 'edit bookmarks' menu option is permanently grayed out and the context menu provides a non-functioning item to remove them. Bookmarks are added using a dialog that looks exactly like the one used for adding launchers to the GNOME panel. One interesting feature the developers added is the ability to assign an icon to a bookmark's menu entry.

Encompass also uses gnome-print for printing and previewing pages.

At this point, the browser offers very little in the way of extras: SSL support is still in the "to-be-added" column, and due to a limitation in gtkhtml, it's not even possible to use some web forms.

So what's the point?

Well, for starters, it consumes 7 MB of RAM, 5MB of which was shared on my machine. It's tiny. It also loads incredibly fast: less than two seconds. While you may not be able to do online banking with it, it can handle things like quick Google searches or browsing the headlines of your favorite news sites with ease, though it won't store your cookie yet. It renders even complex pages very quickly, too. For browsing online documentation, or other tasks, it's a natural.

Projects like Encompass are interesting for a couple of reasons, too:

First, they provide a chance to follow a project of low complexity (where installing and running it's concerned), which is always interesting and causes less hair loss than some monsters afoot in the worldg, and they demonstrate the real point of all this desktop environment madness: component sets that can be reused in all sorts of interesting ways without too many wheels having to be reinvented. If Encompass is only using about 2MB of RAM vs. another 5MB it's sharing with the rest of the environment, that speaks to how powerful the leverage these frameworks provide is for developers looking to build applications.

Coming Up:
My quick tour of Encompass doesn't exactly end here. Coming up, I'll have a word with the project's maintainer to learn a little about some of the underlying design decisions behind his work. GNOME 1.4 beta 2 is out, as well, and I'll provide a more thorough examination of what's new and improved as we enter the last four weeks before the big release.

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