Eskild Hustvedt

GNOME my web? (Epiphany, the first attempt - 1.9.7)

ENJOYABLE SIDES I must say that Epiphany impresses me. Even though I did have to bring out the gconf-editor to be able to get the tab bar to always stay open, it does reek of user-friendlyness (for the most part, see the annoyances section below). Its sleek GNOME HIG-compliant interface is great to work with, and it does most of what it can to stay out of my way. Visiting a website with a plugin i don’t have it doesn’t pop up an annoying yellow bar on the top of my screen like firefox does. Yes Firefox, I know I don’t have flash or java installed, that’s intentional - now shut up. Another pleasant thing is the stability. Firefox just keeps getting less and less stable. I updated some extensions a week or so ago, and firefox is still waiting for me to restart it even though I’ve done that a gazillion times. I’m also tired of repeatedly having to reset my firefox profile. As an example, have a look at this output from my current ~/.mozilla/firefox/ directory:

[0 zerodogg@drizzt firefox]$ ls
hup50563.default/  OLD/  OLD2/  p84edble.ZeroDogg/  pluginreg.dat  profiles.ini

Yes, no less than three old profiles I’ve had to move away from, sad. Also I keep getting firefox to crash in all the bad places (that might be gecko, but I haven’t had epiphany do that yet). Besides, the profile management in firefox is extremely redundant on a real multi-user operating system such as GNU/Linux. The extensions management in epiphany is also wonderful. As much as I don’t like python, knowing that it has support for it is pretty nice. The adblock extension included by default works nicely (better than the one in FF with the filterset.G (or whatwasit), at least in my preliminary testing). The extensions management is definetly different from that in the mozilla browsers. The epiphany ones (except pythons ofcourse) are shared objects, and can’t be installed (afaik) the way the mozilla ones can. I’m not saying THAT is a bad thing, nor a good thing, but that the extensions I want is just a “urpmi epiphany-extensions” away is a comforting thought :)


In my testing of epiphany I have hit the following three annoyances:

  • The addressbar is not in focus when creating a new tab (MAJOR annoyance) - breaks use of the browser with the keyboard
  • Lack of keyword-based search
  • Lack of search-as-you-type

The first one currently breaks everything. I hate being forced into using a mouse, and that is effectively what epiphany Is doing. If I want to move to the addressbar when creating a new tab I will first have to create a new tab with ctrl+t, okay - fine with me. Second I have to press the following keys to get to the addresbar: tab-tab-tab-tab-right-right-right-right And If I’m on a website it’s even worse, I have to tab my way through all of the links AND probably do right-right-right-right-right. Having to press around 30-40 keys (my normal start page has at least that many links) just to get to the addressbar is just not acceptable. This is likely going to be the one thing keeping me from switching to Epiphany right now, I just can’t accept having to use the mouse this much. In my other browsers (FF, Konq) ctrl+t brings up a new tab with about:blank loaded and focuses the adressbar. Epiphany brings up a new tab, loads my start page (it wasn’t told to do that, if I want my start page I click the home button) and focuses the website portion. This isn’t really intuitive. Especially if you consider that the user already used a key combination (ctrl+t) to open the tab, thus you might want to assume the user wants to type in the address to open in that tab too without having to strech out for the mouse.

Second is that I see no way to do keyword-based search. This means that I can’t type “gl something” to google something, I can’t type “wp bah” to look up bah in wikipedia. This is not fatal like the addressbar, but it’s fairly annoying. Epiphany is a webbrowser, a good one at that, and especially good as it follows the standard UNIX philosophy of making one app that does one thing but does that well. The problem here is that search is currently such an important aspect of webbrowsing that keywords can be considered a part of the webbrowser and is definetly not something that could be better handeled in an outside app.

The third is also related to search, however in a different way. Not being able to just start typing when the addressbar is not in focus is bad. Is there any good reason that I shouldn’t be able to do this? If I just start typing then it is obvious that the keys aren’t used for something else. If this is perhaps unintuitive for people not used to it, I would still consider adding it as a option since it is such a well-known feature in browsers these days (my non-technical friends even use it).


All of this being said, I like the browser. But currently, due to the horrible handling of new tabs+addressbar I’m stuck with firefox. I want to be able to browse as efficiently as possible, and using epiphany slows my browsing down quite a bit due to the three missing features above. If Epiphany matures and gets these features I wouldn’t think twice about switching.

Oh, btw Epiphany devs. You might want to look into why about:config works in Epiphany and if it is possible to remove it, I don’t think it has any effect (perhaps you could bind about:config to some config page internal to epiphany?)

I used Epiphany 1.9.7 (package epiphany-1.9.7-0.1gpw) with Epiphany-extensions 1.9.7 (package epiphany-extensions-1.9.7-0.1gpw) and Gecko 1.8 (package mozilla-firefox- while testing the browser on Mandriva Linux Cooker (updated 15 Feb 2006).