Even if you appreciate full-featured applications like OpenOffice.org,
Firefox, or GNOME, minimalist replacements have a fascination all their
own. Not only are minimalist applications a throwback to the original
traditions of Unix-like operating systems, but their emphasis on efficiency
at the expense of extra features can force you to re-evaluate your
computing needs. A case in point is Hv3, a web browser written in
Tcl/Tk. Although currently in alpha and paying more attention to
developers' needs than those of end users, Hv3 is already highly suitable
for basic web-browsing, with a design philosophy all its own -- and, quite
possibly, the fastest performance of any free software browser.
Hv3 is available for
both GNU/Linux and Windows. Packages of nightly builds are available for
Puppy Linux, but the users of most distributions must fall back on
statically-linked tarballs, following the instructions on the download page
to obtain the latest build with wget, then de-compress it and change the
permissions. You can also download the
source code, as well as Tkhtml3, a development tool for
standards-compliant HTML/CSS implementation in applications that Hv3 uses.
When you start Hv3, you also have the option of install hv3_polipo, a small
web cache, in the same directory. You can run Hv3 without hv3_polipo -- at
the expense of clicking through the same dialog each time you start the
application -- but, if you are end-user, there is no reason not to install
hv3_polipo. In fact, there is every reason to do so, since it increases
Hv3's speed by at least 25%.
Hv3 opens on a gun metal gray window with four top-level menus, a
toolbar consisting of five basic navigation choices, and the URL entry field
(as well as debugging tools that are, presumably, temporary). At the bottom
is a status bar that gives instructions for toggling between modes, but
apparently does nothing yet. Both bookmarks and downloads open in separate
tabs, rather than in a menu or a floating window, which makes for a less
cluttered appearance than in most browsers, but does result in each new tab
opening by displaying bookmarks. This default occasionally comes in handy,
but is more often an annoying preliminary step to what you really want to
Two unusual features in the Hv3 window are the ability to hide the menus
and toolbar to maximize display space, and a tree view of the page's HTML source.
Both are available from the right-click menu for a link. The tree
view is especially welcome, since it is quicker to navigate than the plain
text file of markup you get in most browsers. The difference, I suspect, is
that the Hv3 assumes that users are actively interested in looking through
the markup and using it as efficiently as possible, so that the view is not
just an after-thought.
So far, at least, search capacity is minimal in Hv3, differing little from
Firefox's except in the fact that searches of both the web and the current
page are grouped together and given prominence by a top-level search
menu. Again, the impression is that Hv3 developers are thinking of what
might be convenient for those who make regular use of the feature.
You can configure Hv3 from the Options menu, choosing the icon set to use
in the toolbar, and the size (but not the typeface) to use for the widgets
and on web pages. For some reason, you have three choices for font size on
web pages: The page zoom, the font scale (a percentage), and the font size
table (a description). You also have the option of disabling the display of
images for greater speed, and for turning off support for ECMAScript, which
As you explore Hv3, you will probably want to start by opening the Bookmark
tab. For one thing, Hv3 seems to have paid most attention to bookmarks
among the most common browser features. Because bookmarks in Hv3 open in a
separate tab, they display a tree-view list on the left, and the actual
page on the right, making them easy to learn.
More importantly, the default bookmarks include a short but adequate page
explaining the features of Hv3. An especially noteworthy feature is the
distinction between regular bookmarks, which open directly on the page, and
snapshots, an archived version of a bookmark that can be used to work
off-line. You can tell a regular bookmark because it is indicated in the
tree view by having a cyan colored circle for an icon, while a snapshot has
an icon resembling a page.
There is also a third type of bookmark that is a snapshot that retains a
link to the original. You tell this type of icon by clicking on it and
watching it toggle back and forth between the other two, a distinction that
seems all too easy to miss.
Another reason for turning early to the Bookmarks tab is to use the Import
Data button to import bookmarks from Firefox. The process lasts less than
ten seconds, and is almost formidably efficient: Not only your personal
bookmarks, but the default bookmarks for your distribution and Firefox's
default bookmarks are added to the tree view -- regardless of whether they
still appear on your personal toolbox in Firefox or not.
Many of Hv3's features suggest an effort to rethink functionality that you
can easily take for granted in your daily browsing. However, what interests
many people about minimalist web browsers is their speed. In this category,
Hv3 is in a class by itself. Without hv3_polipo installed (see above), Hv3
loads pages roughly 50% faster than Firefox, and about the same speed as Dillo, perhaps the best known minimalist
browser. However, with hv3_polipo installed, Hv3 loads pages nearly twice
as quickly as Firefox, and about 50% faster than Dillo.
means that it displays more pages correctly than Dillo does -- although, if
you are watching, you will see any text-only alternative pages display
plugin, possibly using Gnash, the free Flash replacement, then its users
would have few basic reasons to envy the users of heavyweight browsers like
Firefox except the absence of an active extensions-building community.
In its current release, Hv3 pays little attention to usability. Not only
are the debugging tools prominently displayed, but some of the options,
such as "GUI fonts" or "Force CSS metrics" seem pitched at the understanding of
developers more than that of everyday users. However, the interface names
are not that hard to figure out, particularly since they are relatively
few. Presumably, too, the Hv3 team is more concerned with performance right
now than finishing details, and will get around to such concerns closer to
the first full release.
For now, the lack of polish seems a small price to pay for the speed and
simplicity of Hv3 -- to say nothing of the reminder that useful and
thoughtful alternatives exist to well-known applications.
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