A look at web browsing on RISC OS

posted in: Software | 2

Web browsing on RISC OS has never been the most streamlined experience. Historically Fresco and Oregano were the big boys of RISC OS web browsers, but as time went on their functionality became dated and the lack of support for things that most people take for granted these days, such as proper Flash and Javascript support, really saw the browsing experience on RISC OS take a bit of a nosedive.

The mid to late noughties saw NetSurf gather some steam, offering probably the best browsing experience for RISC OS users. A Firefox port courtesy of Peter Naulls was welcomed but has since become quite outdated, and although usable it doesn’t offer the same experience you would get from NetSurf.

Flash support on RISC OS has been incomplete for a number of years, but with Flash being generally phased out these days in favour of HTML5, that’s less of an issue.

Javascript however, has been the biggest problem users encounter when trying to browse the web on RISC OS. Netsurf implemented partial Javascript support on RISC OS in 2013, but the release of Otter Browser and Qup Zilla more recently has meant RISC OS now has fairly usable Javascript support – which is a huge plus at a time when a number of people are tuning into the platform for the first time through devices such as the Raspberry Pi and Beagleboard.

The release of Otter Browser and QupZilla RISC OS ports by Chris Gransden has really opened up the web browser space on the platform. They’re both based on QtWebKit, which is an open-source web browser engine. Javascript JIT support was enabled back in April.

These browsers now mean that a number of websites that were previously not accessible on RISC OS, are. Google Maps, Gmail, speed test websites and most banking and online shopping sites should now work, although patience is required as performance is not always the best with the ports in their current states.

Otter Browser in action

Otter Browser

Otter Browser is a free and open-source web browser that aims to recreate the best aspects of the classic Opera web browser using the Qt framework. Based on the QtWebEngine, Otter Browser is licensed under GPLv3 and is already established on Windows, OS X, Linux and BSD based systems.

The browser focuses on being visually appealing and feature rich over performance(although I haven’t had any major issues with speed or stability). Otter comes with a built-in password manager, bookmark and add-on manager as well as content blocking and spell checking tools. It has quite a customisable GUI, which allows the majority of the way it looks to be modified.

There is an Ad Block plug-in enabled as default, but users on the RISC OS Open forums have advised it can cause problems – namely increase memory usage and slower page loading that can sometimes cause pages not do display properly. Disabling the plug-in resolves the issue, this is recommended on devices that don’t have a tremendous amount of RAM and CPU power – the Raspberry Pi being a good example.

Otter is compatible with the majority of new wave RISC OS compatible devices. ARMX6, Raspberry Pi (1, 2 & 3), Pi Zero and Beagle/Pandaboard. It needs a minimum of 512MB RAM to run, it will run on older devices but don’t be surprised if it’s too slow to be useable. A Titanium-based computer such as the RapidO from CJE Micro’s or R-Comp’s TiMachine will give you the best performance.

QupZilla

Qup Zilla in action

Similar to Otter Browser, QupZilla is a lightweight browser based on the QtWebEngine engine. The projects aim is to provide a light and fast web browser that is compatible with as many platforms as possible.

QupZilla has all standard functions you expect from a web browser – it includes bookmarks, history and tabs.

The browser is compatible with the majority of new wave RISC OS compatible devices. ARMX6, Raspberry Pi (1, 2 & 3), Pi Zero and Beagle/Pandaboard.

Just like Otter Browser, there is an Ad Block plug-in enabled as default, but users on the RISC OS Open forums have advised it can cause problems – namely increase memory usage and slower page loading that can sometimes cause pages not do display properly. Disabling the plug-in resolves the issue, this is recommended on devices that don’t have a tremendous amount of RAM and CPU power – the Raspberry Pi being a good example.

It needs a minimum of 512MB RAM to run, it will run on older devices but don’t be surprised if it’s too slow to be useable. A Titanium-based computer such as the RapidO from CJE Micro’s or R-Comp’s TiMachine will give you the best performance.

If you’re looking for speed and stability over features, then you may want to opt for QupZilla over Otter Browser.

NetSurf (Best fit for old hardware, 26-bit & 32-bit)

NetSurf has been the dominant web browser on RISC OS for a number of years now. It’s an open source web browser that uses its own layout riscos-netsurfengine. It’s designed to be lightweight and portable, and was originally developed for RISC OS before being branched out to a wide array of platforms, including Windows, OS X, Unix-like systems, BeOS/Haiku and even AmigaOS and AtariOS.

Although it doesn’t have a huge array of features, it has everything most people needs and it does it in a fast and stable manner. It provides tabbed browsing, bookmarks and page thumbnailing. It also has limited Javascript support.

NetSurf is the best browser out there if you’re running RISC OS on older hardware, especially 26-bit machines like the RiscPC.

Although you’ve got a number of options available when it comes to browsers these days, it’s worth noting that the QuipZilla, Otter Browser and Firefox ports are not finished products, they do have bugs and they can be unstable. If you’re looking for a good, stable browser that can visit a good chunk of website (although it will hang up when trying to use services such as Google Maps or online banking) then NetSurf will be a good fit.

fig4Firefox

Mozilla Firefox is a hugely popular free and open-source web browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation, it is available for Windows, OS X, Unix-like systems and a variety of mobile platforms – including Android and iOS. It uses the Gecko layout engine to render web pages, which implements current and anticipated web standards.

Ported to RISC OS in 2005 by Peter Naulls as part of the Linux Porting Project, which involved porting a number of high-profile Linux applications over to RISC OS. Porting Firefox to RISC OS was a mammoth task and it was primarily funded by a large number of donations from the RISC OS community.

The browser works on RISC OS, and it is stable for the most part – although be warned if you’re expecting it to work just like it would on your Windows system, some website may not load fully due to limited Javascript support.

The latest version of Firefox for RISC OS is version 2.0, which is far behind current versions of the browser on other platforms. Looking through known vulnerabilities with older versions of Firefox, the vast majority will not be an issue on RISC OS systems which is a good bonus.

Firefox is compatible with all recent RISC OS compatible hardware, and it will run on a Raspberry Pi, although I’ve found it to be quite slow when compared to a more heavy duty board such as the Titanium or IGEPv5.

If you’re running an older 26-bit system (or emulator) like the RiscPC, then you’ll want to run the RiscPC version of Firefox.

Useful tools

So we’ve covered the main web browsers you have to chose from on RISC OS, here’s a few interesting utilities you may useful when browsing the web on RISC OS:

  • Murnong – Download YouTube videos to be played locally
  • BookMaker – An address book and browser hotlist manager
  • Searchy – A small utility that places a search bar just above the RISC OS iconbar
  • Wget – Command line utility to download files and webpages to your local system

2 Responses

  1. Spotted a couple of typos in an otherwise great roundup:

    “should not work” => should now work
    “as port of the” => as part of the

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