Web & communication software

Top 10 Specialty Web Browsers You May Have Missed

The core of the Flock browser is now Google Chrome, whereas Flock was originally built around Firefox. While it may be hard for some users to leave the Firefox ecosystem and its huge collection of add-ons, there are now few reasons not to use Flock instead of Chrome. You get all of Chrome's core strengths and available extensions, along with Flock's extra powers.

Flock shows regular Web pages in the main window and updates from Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feeds in the sidebar.

Specialty Web browsers: Browse leaner with Dillo

Are all of the AJAX calls and fancy JavaScript features dragging down the performance of your PC? Do you need to tap your heels while the information swirls around your screen in a tedious, HTML5-choreographed dance? Fret no more. Dillo is here for you -- if you use Linux or if you are ready to compile the C code for yourself.

Dillo hearkens back to the era of "Dragnet" when Jack Webb wanted just the facts. JavaScript tags get ignored and the information just appears. This lightens the load so much that you can browse the Internet faster on a 486 than you can with a modern computer that never has enough RAM to hold all of that semi-compiled JavaScript code.

It's hard to use Dillo without a compiler, but that just makes it a bit more obscure and gives the user even more of a reason to adopt an air of superiority. Where mere mortals need to keep buying faster processors with more cores, you're able to live simply with the 486 that your grandfather passed along to your father who passed it along to you.

The Dillo Web browser takes you back to the early '90s when the words spoke to us, not the movement of the images.

Specialty Web browsers: Browse in text with Lynx

Lynx works with a command line, and that alone is a miracle. All of the text and the links are arranged in the ASCII terminal window in some reasonable approximation of what a real browser would do. The images are just marked with the alternative text if there is any. (Someday someone will pass the images through an ASCII art filter, but that would be more cool than useful.)

The main reason people use Lynx is to download software while logged in remotely to a computer. People maintaining servers remotely swear by it.

The Lynx browser is strictly ASCII, with no images, for command-line junkies who must use the Web.

Specialty Web browsers: Browse smarter on Mac OS X with Cruz, Fake, and Fluid

These three browsers from Todd Ditchendorf of Celestial Teapot Software are probably each worthy of an entry on their own, but they're lumped together for simplicity. All of them work only on Mac OS X and use the same core rendering engine. The value comes in the way that they package the information.

Cruz, for instance, unpacks results from websites like Google and then fetches the links, renders the pages, and displays the results in a tab with the same basic CoverFlow that Apple uses in iTunes. The browser also tracks your Twitter account in a sidebar in much the same way that Flock does. There's no reason to have a separate window that gets lost in all of your other tabs and windows. That essential information drip of 140-character updates is always available.

Cruz will download all of the links from a Google search and display them in a Cover Flow window at the bottom.

Fake is an ideal tool for website programmers and managers. You can use AppleScripts to control the behavior of the browser -- perfect for testing. While Cruz and Fluid are free, Fake costs $29, but it's probably worth the price if you're worried about quality control.

Fake combines a Safari browser with an AppleScript scripting tool. It's easy to drag a series of browser actions together into workflows to automate testing or onerous tasks such as filling in Web forms.

Fluid builds "site-specific browsers," which are stand-alone browser applications that go to one site and one site only. They're like Safari but without most of the controls and buttons. Opera has a similar feature and calls them widgets. They're quite useful in computer labs and other public settings where people could use an open browser for reasons that aren't necessarily what the kiosk is supposed to be doing. Each time you run the program, it will suck down the Favicon from the URL bar and use it for the icon to the site-specific browser.

If you need a simple application that goes to one website, Fluid will produce it for you -- no extra buttons, just the website.

Specialty Web browsers: Browse in 3-D with SpaceTime

In Hollywood, some movie directors create fancy new user interfaces for science fiction movies just so we know we're in the future. After a tough day at the office staring at an inbox that is just a long list, we get to go to the movies that show the future heroes pointing and gesturing as the information floats and bounces across the screen. I'm sure that the future heroes will get the same mixture of spam and depressing credit card bills, but somehow it just looks so much more fun when these messages fly across the screen.

SpaceTime is a browser that brings some of this promise to us now by building an "unlimited 3D space" and floating the data around in these three dimensions. If tabbed browsing arranges your information in one axis along the tab bar, SpaceTime uses three axes.

Is this just eye candy? I suppose it can look like that from time to time, but it offers more than just three dimensions for some websites. The SpaceTime developers tuned the browser to unpack the search results from major sites like eBay, Flickr, and Google into constellations of floating windows. I'm not sure it's perfect, though, because the special feature didn't work with every website I tried.

This will probably be fixed in the future because I found the effect to be captivating, if a bit slicker than I need on a daily basis. But when I come back from the movies and feel like the future isn't arriving fast enough, I can always power up SpaceTime.

SpaceTime renders Web search results in a 3-D space, making it easy to flip through them. This window shows five images from Google's image search in response to the keyword "Baltimore."

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