Linux browser smackdown!

Unusually, it's possible to constrain the window to a particular height and width, which could be useful if the software is running on a smaller device – such as an EeePC or Nokia N800 – but unfortunately its default size (640x550) gets entirely lost on a larger screen.

The real problem with Dillo is that it doesn't display websites well. This is especially troublesome since it doesn't render cascading style sheets (CSS) either, meaning anything built in the last few years or within a content management system isn't going to work properly.

As with Lynx, sites designed for low graphics (such as the BBC news site) display in a readable manner, but once you want to stretch beyond basic tables and HTML, Dillo just doesn't perform.

Verdict: Dillo is being left behind by embedded browsers, and really doesn't do enough to warrant a place on your desktop. 3/10

Browser summary

The best test for a browser is to see which one you instinctively click on when sitting down at a computer at the start, or end, of a long day.

After all, if your favourite sites don't render properly or pages appear slower than fingernail growth, the chances are that its welcome on your hard disk will be short lived. And that's why users should live with Firefox, Konqueror, Epiphany and Opera for a short while to see which one conforms to their particular needs.

Yes, we're going to dismiss Dillo and Lynx out of hand – they're a little too old-school for today's user. They might both have had their niches once, but those must be vanishingly small by now.

We'll leave them by saying that Lynx is useful for the blind (its low mark reflects its unsuitability for mainstream graphical browsing, not as a development tool) and that Dillo needs to come up with something a lot more compelling to compete.

Of the remaining four, there are strengths and weaknesses to them all. However, we feel most people are likely to stick with the most familiar option and go with Firefox. For us, there's a particular process of elimination that we have gone through since the latest generation of browsers was released.

We began with Firefox, Konqueror, Epiphany and Opera. Over time – and with the addition of computers running OS X and Windows – Konqueror and Epiphany became less used because the other two offered the opportunity to work consistently between our various operating systems.

Another factor in this decision was that the Konqueror interface, much like that of KDE, tends towards the comprehensive and can impose a steep learning curve on users more interested in getting things done than fiddling with settings. Epiphany was completely the opposite, but was sometimes too shallow.

Despite a good showing, Opera 9.5 lost out to Firefox because of reliability issues when working with web applications. You only need to lose an hour's worth of work to start mistrusting an application. If it goes down twice at critical moments, the chance that you'll stick with it drops considerably.

Which leaves Firefox 3, a browser familiar enough to make upgrading a pleasurable experience, but one that has taken a big step forward with both cosmetic and fundamental changes. The interface has become more immediate, giving further emphasis to the content of a site (or 'the important bit').

Chrome contender

If there's a cloud on the horizon for Firefox, it's the decision by Apple and Google to choose WebKit over Gecko. That means WebKit is now likely to get a developer boost (which should benefit Konqueror), and this may have a knock-on effect on Firefox's future growth.

As an illustration, Mozilla's browser took a few years to encroach on Internet Explorer and achieve its 20 per cent market share, but some tech-focused websites noted that after just a few days Google's Chrome was being used by up to 5 per cent of their visitors.

With Google offering a direct link to the browser from the most visited homepage on Earth, the prospect of Chrome eclipsing Firefox within a year shouldn't be discounted. Many of these new users will come from the Internet Explorer fold, but it's bound to have an impact on everyone.

For the moment, though, we have no hesitation in recommending Firefox as the best browser available for Linux or any other operating system.

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