Saturday, November 11, 2017

The end of my Firefox story?

My history of using web browsers is not short, but not vast. I've started using Linux around 2000 IIRC, and my first DE was KDE and my first browser was Konqueror.

Here's how it looked (screenshot from Wikipedia):

As KDE was pretty resource heavy, and also building from source took a lot of time, I had started looking for a replacement. After trying out various DEs and WMs eventually I had moved to fluxbox and then to openbox a couple of years later. As I switched away from KDE, there was no reason to use Konqueror either, so I switched to Mozilla.

Back then it looked like this (screenshot from testingeducation.org):

Even at that time Mozilla was not on a light side. Also, in additional to browser, it included Mail and IRC client and some other stuff I forgot. Not quite unix-ish "Do One Thing and Do It Well", right?

Fortunately, in 2002 the first light-weight version of Mozilla became available; additional software like IRC and mail clients was ripped out, it was just a browser. Initially it was called Phoenix, then Firebird and finally Firefox. I was happy to see a project like that and switched to it pretty early (most probably while it was still called Firebird).

Fast forward to 2007 (or 2008). Co-worker showed me Vimperator. It seemed awkward initially, but after a little while I didn't want to switch back. Man, it get really addictive once you get used to it.

Eventually this firefox/vimperator combination became even more valuable to me. I spend probably 90% (or even more) of time either in a terminal or in a browser. Also, from time to time I use different computers with different OSes: FreeBSD, macOS, Windows, Linux. And firefox/vimperator allows to rapidly setup my development environment as it's available for all these OSes, and I just need to copy my tiny .vimepratorrc and that's it. Additionally, this convenient vi-like key binding system allows me not to care about OS-specific shortcuts (like switching/closing tabs, etc).

BTW, I recommend to take a look at MobaXterm if you're looking for a handy terminal emulator for Windows.

November, 2017. Situation with vimperator is not good. Firefox is switching to the new multiprocess architecture called e10s. Firefox 57 drops non-WebExtensions-based addons, with vimperaror being one of them. This is sad. I'm still using Firefox ESR while it's supported, but that won't last that long (image from https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/organizations/faq/):

Time to looks for alternatives. There ain't many.

As I'd love to keep my environment consistent across all OSes I use, I need cross-platform support. This doesn't work for most of the stand-alone browser projects like vimb and surf. However, qutebrowser does seem to provide binaries for many OSes. There are some obvious drawbacks of using tiny stand-alone browsers like that though, like no extensions (unless it supports some compatibility layer) and probably different level of stability on different OSes (depending on what core developers actively use), but I think it's worth checking out.

Another interesting option is Tridactyl which aims to provide WebExtensions based vimperator replacement. It looks like it's in beta stage right now, development is fairly active. Really hope that it'll be successful.

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