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Copyright 2014, Southern California OS/2 User Group. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

SCOUG, Warp Expo West, and Warpfest are trademarks of the Southern California OS/2 User Group. OS/2, Workplace Shell, and IBM are registered trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation. All other trademarks remain the property of their respective owners.

The Southern California OS/2 User Group
P.O. Box 26904
Santa Ana, CA 92799-6904, USA

September 2001


Warp on the Web

Text-Mode Web Browsers for OS/2

by Dallas Legan

Part of the attraction of the World Wide Web is the ability to peruse ideas in the order and directions of your own choice, based on your own inclinations. This choice of direction to go in may be made by any method from absolute logical deductions from facts to the whimsy of a coin flip. It is part of whatever is meant by human nature that we generally like choices. The choices concerning the web, however, do not begin or end merely with which link to click on.

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the pros and cons of text-mode web browsers, to allow you to decide if they may be useful to you. Maybe you will continue surfing as you have in the past after reading it. However, if reading this helps you understand more about what is going on in your surfing sessions and you are acting on a more informed conscientious choice, I will consider this page to have been successful.

Future plans are to produce more detailed articles as possible on each browser, with emphasis on OS/2 related information.


I know of five text-mode web browsers.

  1. Lynx (http://lynx.browser.org)
  2. This is the most well known text browser, probably from a lot of people using it through BBS/FreeNet/shell account connections at the dawn of general public Internet access. It has continued to develop since then, with capabilities to call up alternate programs for URL schema, external viewers for graphics etc. It's probably the most configurable text-mode browser. So configurable in fact that you can add some of the features W3M has built in with enough trickery, as I can attest (see http://www.lafn.org/~aw585/lynx.html). It's biggest weak point is poor support for frames, but even this can be configured around. (Personal plug, this is the first of probably 3 things I should have in my Lynx/Kermit coordination project at Columbia.edu/kermit eventually, http://www.kermit-project.org/case20.html.)

    An SSL enabled version of Lynx is available on Hobbes. (browse for several builds through http://hobbes.nmsu.edu/pub/os2/apps/internet/www/browser/.) Using Lynx with SSL on my Linux machine I've been doing my online banking for about a year. Lynx is actually a direct descendant of an old Gopher client. As such, it is probably politically incorrect since it is a reminder of the evolutionary (vs. alleged revolutionary) nature of technology.

    Editor's Note: More and updated information about Lynx is available in Dallas's series of articles on Lynx on OS/2 begun in October 2002.

  3. W3M (http://ei5nazha.yz.yamagata-u.ac.jp/~aito/w3m/eng/)
  4. This browser can handle at least one thing some older graphic browsers, like IBM Web Explorer, can't - frames. It also allows you to 'I' on links to graphics and view them with an external viewer. Also, it has a built in provision for escalating to your choice of 3 other browsers if it doesn't have enough horsepower for the page you're viewing. I'm in the process of putting together a version of this that is more FAT friendly. W3M started out as an html/network aware pager, and the developer carried it to the logical extreme. He doesn't plan on adding any new features to it. A currently available OS/2 build is available at http://hp.vector.co.jp/authors/VA000199/os2/w3m.html.

  5. links (http://artax.karlin.mff.cuni.cz/~mikulas/links/)
  6. Apparently named to introduce a measure of confusion to any discussion of browsers, this one is not as far along as W3M, but is also frame capable and fairly stable. Available from Hobbes for OS/2 at http://hobbes.nmsu.edu/pub/os2/apps/internet/www/browser/links094pre9_os2.zip. In fact, my search there turned up a package of supplemental software to help it work smoothly on OS/2 - http://hobbes.nmsu.edu/pub/os2/apps/internet/www/browser/linkswps.zip.

    If you want the bleeding edge, Christian Hennecke of The OS/2 Files reminded me that the latest version of links for OS/2 is 0.96 and is available from the links homepage. Just go to the download directory and then select "binaries".

  7. debris (http://www.dbox.handshake.de/debris.html)
  8. This one is another upstart following the breakthrough of W3M, but is not so far along in development, and my experience is that it isn't too stable yet, but is promising.

  9. Almost forgot this one,
  10. but the www.w3.org line mode browser belongs in this list. If my reading of Tim Berners Lee's book is correct, http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/Weaving/, I think this was the second web browser of any kind developed. It is unique in that it can be run on a dumb/(literal) teletype terminal, lacking even rudimentary ability to reposition the cursor etc. I think you can download this from www.w3.org and build it from scratch, and for OS/2 you'll have to port www.w3.org's library to get it going. An easier way to use it is simply go to telnet://telnet.w3.org, where publicly accessible sessions are available. Outstanding time travel experience.


Some general comments.

  • None of these browsers are Javascript capable. I'm not too sure this is of any significance, because Javascript seems to be of little real use:

    1. Preliminary Validation of data answering questions on forms that are already too nosey.

    2. Bizarre forms of links wrapped in 'Javascript:' with no domain name in the URL, just a /directory/filename For some reason, they didn't want to just have a normal link, they had to show off that they know Javascript. Sometimes they'll wrap all this inside the script, so it appears as a blank page. Apparently they liked Transmeta's sense of drama before IPOing.

    3. Calling up pages inside little windows inside your current page view. For some reason they are afraid you will not come back to the current page.

    As cookies are to data, Javascript in case 1) is to scripting. With persistent cookies that last between trips to a site, they are making you store 'their' information on your computer. With Javascript, your PC may be used to do preliminary validation of data 'they' are asking for. If the cookies upset you, it seems to me that Javascript should also. You, supposedly the customer, are providing some of the computing power for 'their' business. Admittedly this is probably a negligible amount from your viewpoint, but but it is real. 2) and 3) are variants on the theme of trying to channel the viewers browsing experience through the path the web composers think it should be.

    One of the things that stuck in my mind from TBL's book - http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/Weaving/ - was that he didn't intend the Web to be a passive, TV-like experience. Consequently, I've had some luck downloading the source to pages like these and editing the source to bypass this garbage and get on with browsing. A very educational experience.

    In the case of 2), you can just paste the domain name and path/filename together and continue with browsing. There's probably some more elegant way around that, but I haven't found it yet. And most simply (and rationally :-) ), you could just hit a few keys, or if you are of the persuasion, click with the mouse, and call up a Javascript capable browser from your session.

    (The entire subject of 'hacking' Javascript pages probably deserves an article of its own. It provides some of the emotional thrill of breaking the rules and seeing the inner workings of the site, but without any reason to feel guilt, since not the slightest harm is done, as far as I can figure out.)

    While on the subject of Javascript, let me get a couple of things cleared up.

    1. Form data entry does not necessarily require Javascript.
    2. Javascript is not a varient of Java - the name is merely an attempt to get a free ride on the publicity SUN carried out for Java.

  • Banks, etc., may make all sorts of claims about what browser you must use, but my experience is that all they check for is the 'User Agent', and they don't use much of the capabilities of these, whatever browser is reported by this parameter. I think there really are reasons for this.

    As much as compulsion by government grates on my sensibilities, using too much fancy stuff would render the site unusable by the handicapped, who really must use text enabled browsers. Deviating too far from this would probably bring on American's With Disabilities lawsuits. Free market reason: why chase off potential customers? They probably just tell the people who need to use a text-mode browser the work around and keep it quiet.

    Also, there is probably some wisdom in staying away from too fancy a web site simply from a security/reliability standpoint. Have they imagined the security implications of all the fancy stuff? Are the basics secured beyond all doubt? If the bank is expecting lots of business, what's the real business functionality added by downloading a lemon juggling some fruit while other people are waiting to get serious business taken care of? (Sure maybe on the front pages that are mostly gateway/ad for the real services...) And how are they to tell if you've just turned off the graphics for Internet Explorer? As another point, keep in mind that, as I've found out from this, Internet Explorer claims to be Mozilla in it's User Agent information. How much more lacking in meaning could the 'User Agent' be?

  • None of these browsers are Java capable, as far as I know. There may be some way to kludge them, but I haven't heard anything about this.

  • Several of these browsers have non-browsing modes and uses, such as dump, crawl or paging. These may be of interest if you're into scripting or need 'wget' or 'more' like capabilities. Browsing is merely the most common use of these multifaceted tools.

  • Probably most important, these all feature automatic, on the fly 'deconstruction' of the WWW. (I love working that word into discussions; all it takes to become a Post-Modern intellectual! :-) ) Sun Tzu's first step to victory, as expressed in 'The Art of War' is to attack the enemies strategy. In this case 'their' strategy is to present you with a gaudy, smoothly orchestrated multimedia experience to bypass your rational judgement. Disrupting this, the so-called 'text browsers' break up the experience, separating the text from the graphics, showing how much of the page is just minor graphic gifs, whether the text stands on its own, etc.

    The parts, in my mind, need to stand on their own first to really have any synergetic effect. As B. G. Archer has apparently noticed, almost all the ads are graphics. There *never* is the slightest attempt to place any text ads on the sites, not even where some could be. It could be there, but just never seems to be put in to annotate the graphics for text browsers. Another strategy point, driven home by the emergence of W3M, is the presumption that you will be viewing 'their' page with one browser. W3M comes with the ability to quickly shift to one of up to three other browsers at will. If you think the page is better studied with debris, Netscape or Opera, or whatever you configured, it's your choice.

  • So to wrap up this outburst of opinion, a few 'screen shots' with the links to the original pages for comparison.

    First a page that should be familiar to most SCOUG members: http://www.scoug.com/index.html

    W3M view of SCOUG home page
    Note: In the interests of space, this image has been cropped.

    Can you tolerate the following rendition of a framed page? (I hunted through my bookmarks to find one that would demo W3M handling framed pages, so this should not be construed to endorse or disparage the particular company.) See: http://www.daedalus-books.com/

    W3M view of Daedalus Books home page
    Note: In the interests of space, this image has been cropped.

    I'd like to thank the following people for helping to make this article happen, even if it may not reflect their views:

    • Glenn Currie
    • Steve Adamson
    • Dave Watson
    • Ben Archer
    • Mark Abramowitz
    • Carla Hanzlik
    • and the old Anonymizer site


For information about a variety of other browsers available to OS/2 users, see Browser Options for OS/2 Users by Dave Watson.


The Southern California OS/2 User Group
P.O. Box 26904
Santa Ana, CA 92799-6904, USA

Copyright 2001 the Southern California OS/2 User Group. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

SCOUG, Warp Expo West, and Warpfest are trademarks of the Southern California OS/2 User Group. OS/2, Workplace Shell, and IBM are registered trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation. All other trademarks remain the property of their respective owners.