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uzbl
April 11, 2010 5:59 AM   Subscribe

uzbl is a free and open source minimalistic web browser designed for simplicity and adherence to the Unix philosophy.
posted by vostok (28 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Some screenshots.
posted by djgh at 6:05 AM on April 11, 2010


Half those screenshots appear to be using xmonad, ratpoison, or something similar. I doubt this is a coincidence.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 7:08 AM on April 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


and adherence to the Unix philosophy

Um, no. The funniest part is that it has a modal interface inspired by vi -- which, by their definition, doesn't follow the "Unix philosophy" (since it's possible to interact with vi through means other than sending commands down a pipe).
posted by ubernostrum at 7:16 AM on April 11, 2010


I suspect that by "Unix philosophy" it is meant that instead of being one single uber-program, uzbl is a collection of modules each of which performs one job, and can the independently updated, modded, or interchanged.
posted by localroger at 7:27 AM on April 11, 2010


(since it's possible to interact with vi through means other than sending commands down a pipe).

I think that if your definition of the unix philosophy is so strict it excludes ed, you have a poor definition.

Anyway, this looks really cool, and I am going to try this it today.
posted by Bobicus at 7:30 AM on April 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I know modern browsers tend to be resource hogs (I'm always restraining myself from adding more bloaty Firefox extensions) but apart from that concern, I don't really see the point. Unless you're running extremely legacy hardware why would you want to use this? Chrome ought to be snappy enough even for, say, five- to seven-year-old machines, and it also uses WebKit, but with a better feature set than uzbl. I must be missing something.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:45 AM on April 11, 2010


/kicks "Unix philosophy" while it's down

/checks for any gratifying sign of life, a whimper of pain or something
posted by nervousfritz at 8:04 AM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Uzbl is anything but. It's the worst of the faddish 'minimalist' browsers that rest on WebKit; both bloated and obscenely fiddly to configure and use, to the point that it feels like a parody of *nix software.

Alternatives: the almost absurdly feature-free surf is probably my favourite, Vimprobable is the one that manages to stay slim while including - heresy! - history and bookmark management, and newcomer xxxterm (from the guy who makes scrotwm) is worth a look. On the other side of the fence, there's Conkeror, which has emacs-style keybindings and uses XULrunner.

I'm enough of a technomasochist to actually use surf and Vimprobable a fair bit, but I'm typing this in Chromium because it does crazy modern stuff like keeping me logged in to MetaFilter...
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 8:04 AM on April 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Unless you're running extremely legacy hardware why would you want to use this?

It's not about performance. I don't use uzbl, but I've used Conkeror for a while because, first, it doesn't clutter up my screen permanently with buttons I'll use once at most until I learn the keybindings, and, more importantly, because it lets me follow links using the keyboard, and the less I have to move my hands from the keyboard to the mouse the happier I am. Uzbl has the same feature.
posted by enn at 8:22 AM on April 11, 2010


The Winsome Parker Lewis: "Unless you're running extremely legacy hardware why would you want to use this? "

If you want each of your programs to each do pretty much one thing in a modular manner, and work well as part of a larger system of programs that can be intercombined to meet the needs of a given task. That is why in older unix systems there was exactly one program that could spellcheck - other programs where designed such that if they needed spellchecking they could use the spellchecking program, which was designed so that it could either be used directly or be used indirectly by another program. I often am fiddling with something in my text editor where it would be handy to not only spawn but also control a web browser window from within the editor (ie. have a window that constantly switches to the documentation for the class name under my mouse cursor, if it exists). That appears to be the kind of thing uzbl is designed for.
posted by idiopath at 8:47 AM on April 11, 2010


Chrome ought to be snappy enough even for, say, five- to seven-year-old machines, and it also uses WebKit, but with a better feature set than uzbl. I must be missing something.

On my crappy netbook (processor clocked at 630MHz, 512MB of RAM) Chrome is indeed snappy enough, but these funny little browsers are blazing fast to launch, render pages quicker, use less screen real estate, and don't slow down when you have 20+ tabs open (or fake tabs, using tabbed - if memory serves Uzbl is the only one that does tabs natively).

That said, I suspect most people who use Uzbl are just awkward sods who like noodling around with their computers as much as (or more than) they do actually using them, or have particular philosophical/political objections to the way modern computers work. Uzbl started life on the Arch Linux forums, home to people who are seriously into 'minimalism', in the sense of only installing the bare minimum on their machines to get stuff done, and preferring a complex set of software and hand-rolled scripts to one piece of simple software that does the job just as well. I'm not slagging such people off - I like noodling around with my computer too, have gleaned a lot of useful info from said forums, and understand the pleasure in making an old, low spec computer work as well as a powerful new one; but, as I say above, Uzbl is hard to set up and use compared to a 'normal' browser, to the extent that it gets in the way of browsing the web, which, really, is counter to the philosophy that spawned the thing.

...because it lets me follow links using the keyboard, and the less I have to move my hands from the keyboard to the mouse the happier I am.

Yep, link hinting is an absolutely brilliant feature that all browsers should have. To get it in Chrome, install , and there's Hit-a-Hint for Firefox, or Vimperator, which adds lots of other vim-like stuff, to the point of madness. (As a Mac user at heart, I suspect that *nix users try to turn everything into vim or emacs, whether it's appropriate or not, in a desperate bid for some UI consistency.)
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 8:51 AM on April 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oops, mangled those links: the missing word after "and there's" is Vimium.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 8:56 AM on April 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the Vimium link. It's going to take a bit to get used to, but this is really useful.
posted by yeloson at 9:21 AM on April 11, 2010


see also: vrome
posted by vostok at 9:28 AM on April 11, 2010


I also see it's named in the unix philosophy of 'make command names short, make them non-intuitive'.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:32 AM on April 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


Wow, Vimium is awesome, thanks.
posted by cj_ at 9:37 AM on April 11, 2010


I find that these minimal, CLI-driven browsers are great for three things.

Workflow: If I want to search for something, I can type "o s ". I can do it in a new tab with "t s ". I can also rebind all those keys to whatever I like. It's the same advantage command lines tend to have over GUI interaction. When I do use Firefox, the Vimperator extension makes it much more efficient.

Getting out of the way: I don't want to see a bunch of browser chrome, I want to see web pages. Uzbl, Vimprobable, etc. show only the command bar and maybe a tab bar.

Making flash run acceptably on my netbook: Even other webkit-based browsers that are fairly minimal, such as Midori or Epiphany can't really run flash content as smoothly as Uzbl or Vimprobable. Firefox is a joke when running flash on a linux netbook. This is partly the result of Flash being a total disaster on Linux in general.

These kinds of browsers are annoying for other reasons, though.

Configuration. Even a textmode browser configuration script is better than screwing around in configuration files. You don't have to submit to the demons of GUI, but you could help us out a bit. Furthermore, I don't want to have to recompile every time I edit my config, Vimprobable (v0.9.9.1). I understand minimalism, but you can at least give me the option to enable and set up cookies, history, etc. by default.

The lack of documentation aimed at users who are not programmers. For someone who has never written a line of code, I do pretty well in getting around a Linux system. That said, I would appreciate a complete, step-by-step guide to setting up each and every feature common to modern browsers.

They don't work with certain kinds of fancy web pages. I don't know whether it's AJAX or something else, but Threadsy.com simply does not work in these browsers (to be fair, it doesn't work for Midori or Epiphany either). No other specific examples come to mind, but once in a while I'll encounter a website that Uzbl or Vimprobable can't handle.

posted by Grimp0teuthis at 9:42 AM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Spot on, Grimp0teuthis. Re: workflow, I find these browsers really come into their own when you need to do a quick search, or open a link from your RSS reader, when their simplicity becomes a strength - surf in particular is well-suited to displaying a web page, as opposed to surfing the web.

They don't work with certain kinds of fancy web pages.

I've noticed that too. Google Reader, for example, is nigh on unusable in surf and Vimprobable, which is a bit odd, considering (as I understand it) WebKit's JavaScriptCore is doing the heavy lifting, and fancy webpages work just fine in Chrome/Safari/whatever.

The lack of documentation aimed at users who are not programmers.

Amen. It pisses me off no end that some people consider this a 'feature' - eg., this statement from the makers of surf, about one of their (actually easy to install and use) window managers: Because dwm is customized through editing its source code, it’s pointless to make binary packages of it. This keeps its userbase small and elitist. No novices asking stupid questions. So odd that people who make useful software, and make it speech/beer free for everyone should take that stance.

Perhaps we non-programming users should band together and make a site that demystifies obscure software!

Thanks for the Vimium link.

My pleasure! Once you get used to it, browsers that don't let you follow links by typing or open/close tabs by tapping a single key start to seem rather strange - I'm a bit of a keyboard junkie, admittedly, but it's the way browsers on computers with keyboards should work.

see also: vrome

When I tried Vrome it was really buggy. Worth another try?
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 10:58 AM on April 11, 2010


I run xmonad, use vimperator, and generally have all my applications configured towards vim style key bindings.

When I'm really on the ball, I do indeed feel a bit like a wizard, as I happily bounce through workspaces each with three windows jammed in together, but still beautifully readible, with not an ounce of space lost.

But sometimes at the end of the day when my brain is mushy I'm just alt tabbing twenty times to find out what I was just working on, and I know I only put countless hours into building my own UI from scratch for the epic lulz.

Though it never fails to satisfy me watching people trying to interact with my computer. It's always the same. "Hey, can I check something on your computer?" "Well, it's a bit tricky..." "Oh no worries I'll figure it out... *blank stare* ... umm... what?"
posted by Alex404 at 11:54 AM on April 11, 2010


Well, apparently it's indicative of a mental problem, but I consider being able to write my own script to, say, handle bookmarks a plus, not a drawback. Another reason I like uzbl is because it's the same sort of interface as text browsers like lynx/links/elinks/etc., which I've always loved, but without any of the drawbacks of those browsers (not working properly with most pages written since 2000). I also use XMonad, vimperator, etc. Some people like to use computers this way. I also like the iMac I'm typing this on, for different reasons.

Why does a different way to interact with a computer than you prefer threaten you to the point that you have to accuse people of elitism or only liking what they like to make some kind of ridiculous point? There was a full page of people tearing this down with all kinds of wild assumptions about the people who use it before anyone even said anything remotely positive about it. What is it about inconsequential computer stuff that drives some people so strongly to other-ize people? I mean, who really gives a shit?
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:23 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


it never fails to satisfy me watching people trying to interact with my computer.
To take this a bit further, localize everything to Hungarian and use an unlabeled Das Keyboard.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:29 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


>>Perhaps we non-programming users should band together and make a site that demystifies obscure software!

Not a bad idea. Kind of like man pages aimed specifically at getting things up and running to start with, then includes a bunch of specific howtos for individual features? I feel like something like this should exist already...
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 1:24 PM on April 11, 2010


Why does a different way to interact with a computer than you prefer threaten you to the point that you have to accuse people of elitism or only liking what they like to make some kind of ridiculous point?

Yeah, I went too far up there with the "awkward sods" bit. I'm just a bit 'threatened' about elitism in this area because, as a not-that-geeky person, I've discovered loads of really amazing software for my netbook - the first non-Mac computer I've ever used - that, like the dwm page I quoted above, has a big 'Not for you ordinary users' sign hanging off it, even though it's easy to use, and I bet some ordinary users must be put off because of the elite tag.

That said, I know there are people who revel in the opportunity to tinker with their Linux machines, because I'm guilty of it myself - 'being able to write my own script' is always a plus, of course, but sometimes it's not the best use of my time. Uzbl is on the wrong side of that line for me, but I was wrong to say it's the worst of anything.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 2:09 PM on April 11, 2010


I'm not a fan of the "keeping it gratuitously hard helps keep the riff-raff out" school of thought, but, well, these projects are all labors of love with developers scratching their own itches. And it's pretty obvious that minimalist keyboard-interface apps aren't likely to attract more than a small minority of users no matter what they did. So I don't find it surprising we're not seeing the developers make a priority of writing the parts they're not interested in for the benefit of maybe a handful of people who would use the apps if they were just a little friendlier.

Every so often I contemplate starting a keyboard-centric Antidesktop Linux distribution so people could get a functional environment without the million tweaks you need to roll your own. But I quickly come to my senses, because anyone attracted to such an environment and willing to put up with the learning curve required is also going to have particular ideas about which million tweaks are the right ones. The Arch Linux community is doing a better job filling that niche by providing a barebones system and a good wiki on how to add things and configure them than a new distro would.

But, yeah, I wish there weren't the vocal minority of devs who seem eager to drive people away or to insist that their app is doing something the right way, and everything else is doing it the wrong way, so you should report your bug to everyone else, not them.
posted by Zed at 6:18 PM on April 11, 2010


Hardcore Poser: I also see it's named in the unix philosophy of 'make command names short, make them non-intuitive'.

What's a firefox again?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:24 PM on April 11, 2010


>>it's pretty obvious that minimalist keyboard-interface apps aren't likely to attract more than a small minority of users no matter what they did.

I don't think it has to be that way. Granted, our world is GUI-centric and I doubt it will ever get to the point where a majority of users will prefer command lines, but CLI browsers could eventually enjoy healthy communities by adding some documentation, marketing, and configuration scripts. Hell, if they had forums, that'd be a step forward.

As it is, Vimperator has nearly 200,000 downloads and the Uzbl community isn't so tiny either. This shows that there is a fair amount of interest at least in the CLI (if not necessarily the minimalism). I will admit, though, that Vimprobable is just one guy.

>>The Arch Linux community is doing a better job filling that niche by providing a barebones system and a good wiki on how to add things and configure them than a new distro would.

Exactly my point. A good wiki would be a big step forward. Uzbl has some useful info up, but it's not that great. Vimprobable has nothing. Vimperator has a helpful tutorial page.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:56 PM on April 11, 2010


That said, I suspect most people who use Uzbl are just awkward sods who like noodling around with their computers as much as (or more than) they do actually using them.

I believe that's actually the Linux philosophy.
posted by rokusan at 7:54 AM on April 12, 2010


uzbl isn't even quite a year old, was impractical for anyone's regular usage at the beginning, and has been changing pretty rapidly since it began. In this case, the lack of docs may have more to do with a new project's lack of maturity and stability than the devs' attitudes.
posted by Zed at 8:24 AM on April 12, 2010


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