Software

Five lesser-known web browsers worth trying

Not all web browsers are created equal, but obscurity does not mean they are not worth your attention.

When I say "web browser" you probably think Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Chrome (and maybe even Safari, or Opera). With good reason, those are the standards by which all web browsing is measured. But what if I told you there were other browsers out there worth installing and using? In fact there are quite a lot of browsers that fit this description. I have dug around and found five that floated to the top of the sea of obscurity. Some of these are straight-up browsers that offer little more than just a clean, efficient browsing experience. Others offer features not found in any other browser.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Screenshot Gallery.

Five Apps

1. SeaMonkey

SeaMonkey might not be quite as obscure as some of the other browsers on the list, but it's certainly not a household name. SeaMonkey is actually more than just a browser; it's a browser, email client, feed reader, HTML editor, IRC chat, and more. SeaMonkey shares much of the same code as does Firefox and Thunderbird and features: Sync, session restore, themes, feed detection, smart location bar, popup blocker, safe mode, find as you type, and much more. Though you might find the UI a bit out of date, SeaMonkey is a good choice if you're looking for an all-in-one solution. SeaMonkey is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac.

2. K-Meleon

K-Meleon is an fast, customizable browser based on the Geko rendering engine and is open source. K-Meleon features: Session save, mouse gestures, context menu, keyboard shortcut customization, popup blocker, fast load times, popup search bar, themes, macros, and more. The interface for K-Meleon is drawn from native Windows toolkit, so it's easy on system resources. You can also install a portable version to keep K-Meleon with you at all times. K-Meleon is available for Windows only.

3. Pale Moon

Pale Moon is a custom build of Firefox specifically for the Windows platform. Pale Moon isn't just about a specific build of the application, but specifically chosen features that create the best setup for Windows. You won't find accessibility features or parental controls here, as Pale Moon is built for efficiency and speed. Pale Moon is optimized for modern processors, supports SVG graphics, HTML5/CSS/Advanced DOM support, uses less memory than official Firefox builds, and much more. If you are looking for a highly optimized, Firefox-based Windows browser, look no further than Pale Moon.

4. Lunascape

Lunascape is a Windows-only browser like no other. It offers all three rendering engines (Geko, WebKit, and Trident) so you can easily switch between them. What does this mean? Well, for one, developers can see their work as rendered from all three engines without having to fire up different windows. It also means that users don't have to miss out on proper website layouts. If a site doesn't render properly, simply switch engines. Geko also offers other unique features, such as: Highlight search, engine auto-switch, cascade view, tab lock, and more.

5. NetSurf

NetSurf is a multi-platform browser that is tiny in footprint and huge in speed. But the tiny footprint doesn't mean it lacks in features. With this obscure browser, you find features like: Web page thumbnailing, local history trees, global history, hotlist manager, URL completion, scale view, search-as-you-type, cookie manager, and much more. NetSurf is standards compliant and offers a portable version as well as Haiku, BeOS, AmigaOS, Atari, Linux, UNIX, RISC OS, and more (an odd list, no doubt).

Bottom line

Not every web browser is created equal. Certainly some of the above won't offer the vast array of features found in the likes of Firefox, but each of them has something unique enough to offer that they are worth a look. Out of the above list, you are certain to find one browser that will, for one reason or another, pique your interest. Give them a try and see if your current default web browser can't be replaced.

Also read:

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

54 comments
envokedesign
envokedesign

There is some cool stuff here and I'm glad to see that browsers aren't just ruled by a few select empires, BUT with constant changing and new add-ons and ways of handling things my fear is that Cross-browser support will collide and everyone will have to use specific css tags to handle each browser which is ALREADY becoming very tasking to support. None-the-less, this is a cool article!

leo8888
leo8888

I'm glad to see SeaMonkey mentioned as a browser worth trying. We use it in our Office and even though I hear a lot of jokes about the name everyone here likes it. I have to disagree with the comment about SeaMonkey's UI being dated. One of the main reasons I prefer SeaMonkey is the clean look that is easy on the eyes. The default theme for me is even preferable over the "modern" theme. And if you combine SeaMonkey with the "noscript" add-on you have a very secure browser.

Crash2100
Crash2100

I have never understood why the public has always been attached to Firefox and not SeaMonkey, is it simply because Firefox was the first alternative browser the public really saw and attached to? SeaMonkey is practically the new version of the good old Netscape browser, which is the whole reason I have used it. And... For the most part, inside SeaMonkey, you are actually using Firefox down inside of this browser, so you can actually tell websites that this is Firefox and it will work the same way on SeaMonkey.

fairportfan
fairportfan

...Opera is too obscure for most people to know about it but not obscure enough to be mentioned here...

lawill5
lawill5

My team at work has been using Waterfox, the 64bit version of Firefox and I think everyone has had great browsing experience b/c all of the 32bit functions seem to work native without a hack or anything else to the browser. I like it a lot..

grvulture
grvulture

Lunascape's primary feature, its triple engine, is useless (to me at least)! With an ancient Gecko version, and no IE developer tools, Lunascape's main advantage renders to nothing! It has a nice interface though. As for TR problems in browsers, it is the TR programmers who need to address them! After all, it is OUR duty to make sure our sites render correctly in all browsers, not the other way around! Isn't that right, Microsoft? Oh, I miss IE6! :P

crazytonyi
crazytonyi

Of the 5, 3 (and a half) are Gecko-driven and 3 are Windows-only. With all the love for Mozilla, why no mention of Camino, the Cocoa-based Gecko browser? This is a nice list, though. I knew about Camino, I didn't know about Palemoon or K-Meleon. I think a nice extension of these OS-optimized browsers would be OS-specific versions of specialty browsers like the Tor browser, which suffers in performance and could use all the help it gets to delivery its primary feature. Finally, no mention of what layout-engine NetSurf uses. Is it hand-rolled? (Also, wasn't netsurf the browser bar that was supposed to make us all rich back in 1998?)

hground
hground

I just downloaded Palemoon on my XP machine and I will not be going back to FireFox unless I find problems down the road. It is incredibily fast on my older system. Pages that took a couple of seconds (or more) to normally load on FF appear almost as soon as I click the link. Can't wait to put this on my dinosaur laptop that I use only for email and browsing.

grvulture
grvulture

Pale Moon is fast, comes with its own Flash and Java plugins (no conflicts, as I was unable to load flash or java on Firefox and its clones for the last year or so due to unresolved conflicts), and has a great interface! Plus it comes in 32bit and 64bit versions (I currently run 64bit on Windows 7), installs cleanly, AND you can run it along Firefox (which is not the case with other FF clones)!

mark.hill.smt
mark.hill.smt

Is the editor. If you have someone who wants to edit the way FrontPage did, point them to Sea Monkey. I use it frequently to tweak an old static site.

butkus
butkus

Tech guy in a public school so I'm checking out lots of stuff at once. My desk PC is a Win 7 X64, AMD X6 with 8Gb.. this is just my 3rd MB in this case. Tried FF X64 (now defunk) Nightly as I have several Firefoxes open and several tabs per Firefox (363K currently in FF x32) and it kept freezing. Only using at max 25% memory at times... so back to FF x32. I reboot on Fridays and keep it running 24/7. Not a problem with any other programs but that FF x64 would keep freezing. Have to try Pale Moon X64

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

By now many are aware of the incompatibilities between TR and Firefox versions 18 and higher. Do any of these alternatives allow all TR features to work, or do the FF variants suffer from the same issues as their parent?

Slayer_
Slayer_

Trident (IE), Webkit (Chrome, Safari), and Gecko (firefox). So when the engine is updated, all the browsers update it in their own time. Opera uses Presto. But I think it's the only one that does, so it's kind of pointless to name your engine.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Why do I want SeaMonkey instead of Firefox? Assume I don't care how much it resembles Netscape, a browser I can barely remember. If with SM I'm "actually using Firefox down inside", why 'switch' to something I'm already using?

Slayer_
Slayer_

They are switching to the Chrome engine anyways. So why bother.

grvulture
grvulture

I've been using Waterfox for the last year. I had the same conflicts I had with FF. The only real advantage I saw was in handling the vast amount of tabs I keep open, because of my work (~300 tabs at a time). There is some advantage in speed also. But the main reason I gave up on WF was the conflicts. And the fact that it hasn't been updated for quite some time. It doesn't keep up. On the contrary, Pale Moon is always up-to-date, 64bit also, and faster than WF! It also doesn't conflict with anything, when FF(and WF) did on my system!! I've switched to Pale Moon a couple of days ago, and I'm really happy! I won't go back now. Maybe you should give it a try.

Hans Schmidt
Hans Schmidt

Strange. I've been using two 64 bit Vista boxes for a couple of years and never heard of Waterfox. I'll have to try it. I use Firefox for 99% of my browsing. Thanks for posting. Please excuse if this is duplicate. Browser (Firefox) is acting confused. I must have spilled some wine on it ;-)

Slayer_
Slayer_

They are usually only about 1 version behind in gecko engines and webkit engines. And that's only because a new version of those is released every couple weeks.

fairportfan
fairportfan

...and then edit to final form using other tools.

spdragoo
spdragoo

It's my go-to browser. As for those who don't like the "suite" part of it, a) you can customize which parts you want to install or not install, b) even if you install the full suite you aren't forced to use it, and c) if you use it on a shared PC & your spouse or other family members want their own separate bookmarks it allows you to quickly set up your own profiles on it. I've used Seamonkey for years now, as I see it as the true successor to Netscape Navigator (which I used back in the day when it was also a complete suite: email, browser, news reader, HTML editor, etc.).

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

TR works, but not in the fashion we're used to. When you view a discussion in Collapsed mode, clicking a post title sometimes opens the post in a new tab. It doesn't expand the post content within the existing discussion tab. Ditto Reply, Edit, and Flag - they also open sometimes in separate tabs. Editing is really bizarre; the cursor jumps ahead or behind the most recently typed character as if it isn't sure where it should be. Other times it behaves fine. I haven't been able to determine what triggers the functional but unexpected new tab behaviors. It also doesn't appear to know what to do with the 'View: Collapsed/Expanded' or the 'Show 25/50/100/All' option buttons when the other settings are out of whack. The proxy configuration is somewhat confusing. Each rendering engine has its own proxy settings, and each must be configured individually. The 'Use IE proxy' only works for the Trident engine; I couldn't successfully configure a proxy for the Webkit or Gecko engines. This kept me from testing TR in the other two engines.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Incidentally, I was unable to install it using the web install utility. When I downloaded the 14mb local installer, it came in only a 32-bit flavor and didn't offer me a 64-bit option. It does appear to uninstall cleanly.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

In Collasped view, replies expand when you click their subject lines. The first time you click Edit, Reply, or Flag, they work. However, the second time you click them you get the 'green spinner'. If you collapse the reply or switch to a different one and then back, they'll work again once. It's better than FF for this site, but still not as good as IE.

Slayer_
Slayer_

...I had to switch my Avant for TR to use Chrome with ad block. It's sad, but the site is usable now.

Crash2100
Crash2100

I was simply saying that you actually get more than just a browser, you get E-Mail, IRC, and an HTML Composer along with it. What I was saying is that people don't tend to realize that SeaMonkey is actually running a lot of the same code as you are down inside of the browser as Firefox. SeaMonkey/Mozilla/Netscape is actually where Firefox came from. So SeaMonkey basically runs the same way, you're just getting some better stuff in it. But if all anyone wants is Firefox, what do I care?

grvulture
grvulture

I hate Avant! Give me one good reason why I, as a web developer, would I want to use Avant? The Gecko engine in Lunascape is the one of Firefox 3.6 (at least that is what is reported, and that is what Mozilla recognizes it as)!!! It is version 1.9.something, while the latest version is 19 now I think! You can see what Gecko version each browser uses on the wikipedia article. Lunascape's IS ANCIENT!

Greenknight_z
Greenknight_z

They discontinued, then backtracked due to the volume of complaints. There are x64 Nightly builds, but they're officially unsupported. Nightly is the Alpha channel to begin with, so the chances of getting a bad build are fairly high.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Upon a bit of further testing, Lunascape is better behaved than I thought. The flakiness described in the previous post doesn't occur as often as i initially perceived, and it can often be remedied by a refresh or minimize/restore cycle. It appears to be significantly faster than FF for me, especially when loading streaming audio. I'll play with it more next week, including testing RSS feeds. If that even halfway works, I may have a new favorite browser.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

You need to click on the 'Download' then 'Pale Moon' link up top. Then you can pick it. I never cared for web installers. I like to download the full version and then run it so that is what I did. I didn't take the 64-bit version due to the limitations they listed, but I may do it anyway as it probably won't be my primary browser.

Greenknight_z
Greenknight_z

It's a third-party version of Firefox, optimized for Windows.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If one is going to load FF and TB, it probably does make sense to load SM instead.

Crash2100
Crash2100

Many of the places I've seen installed with Firefox also tend to have (at least) Thunderbird installed too, which starts making this less and less sense. More that the people using it, just don't tend to know what they're doing.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

if you don't care, why did you ask? "I have never understood why the public has always been attached to Firefox and not SeaMonkey,..." Me, I'm not looking for more than a browser. I'm happy with Outlook for e-mail and don't need an IRC client or an HTML tool.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Legacy (like IE6), Legacy Compact (Like ie6 without menu bar), Slim (Like all modern browsers). Personally I am using the legacy compact with large buttons so its easier to see. And full text labels so I don't have to remember symbols.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

One reason I like FF is the ability to customize toolbars. One reason I dislike Chrome and IE are the oversimplified, limited customization interfaces.

grvulture
grvulture

I guess "hate" was a harsh word... I just don't like the interface; not a bit! But that's personal preference. A tri-engine browser is only good (to a web developer) if it also offers developer tools for all three engines. If Avant does that, I might reconsider giving it one more spin.. ;)

Slayer_
Slayer_

And it's actually updated frequently. But I guess the question is, why do you hate it, and if its not changable, then don't use it. I was just suggesting it because you were complaining that the tri engine browser was out of date.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If I zoom in or out with Lunascape, the zoom setting is lost when I refresh that page. It also doesn't remember the zoom setting when I load the page from a bookmark. FF does both of these. There also doesn't appear to be an menu or toolbar option to reload the last closed tab. Also, I'm getting more annoyed by the erratic cursor behavior in text boxes and the infrequently improperly loaded TR pages (about 25-30% of the time). I think I'm going to stick with IE for company sites and TR, and FF for everything else, and keep my fingers crossed that at some point TR is compatible with FF again.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm viewing TR in Lunascape's Trident (IE?) engine, not the Gecko (FF?) one. I'd try the Gecko and Webkit optoins but I can't seem to get either one configured for the workplace proxy server.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

My knowledge of browser engines is less than my knowledge of car engines, and is limited to using them. I have little clue what's happening under the hood.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I'm curious how a shell fixed the problem.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The primary thing it offers over FF is that I can view TR with it more reliably. What I like better than IE or Chrome is the customizable toolbars.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I hate firefox on mobile, but it with adblock is the only way to view TR.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

That's how TR pays the bills! Please...don't block the ads! (Joke...see, even without a sarc-mark!) Don't you just love the Brocade ad that waits til the page is 95% loaded, then everything jumps down about a half page, you frantically try to find the spot you were reading, only to have it jump back up! Almost as annoying as the ad at ZDNet for awhile, think it was IBM or some such, that would act like a set of curtains, drawing closed over the page content, then pulling back.

Slayer_
Slayer_

And IE, which is so god awful slow.