back to article And now for something completely different: A lightweight, fast browser that won't slurp your data

Chromium may be all the rage nowadays, but other options that aren't Mozilla continue to be developed. A case in point is Ekioh's Flow: an interesting beast, not being a fork of any existing browser (although Mozilla's SpiderMonkey performs JavaScript duties) and having its origins in set-top boxes (STB). Originally written …

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  1. james_smith

    Sounds like a return to the early days of the Opera browser. Closed source, small footprint and no cruft. I wish it well, and will definitely give it a spin when it's available, as we need more rendering engines to prevent a monoculture.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Next up the complaints about not supporting extensions, then X, then Y, then it's no longer so small.

      It's a nice theory, but in the end we need a lot of the cruft. I'd be much happier if I could just use Firefox but never see Pocket mentioned again.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        about:config

        extension.pocket.enabled false

        1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

          See also:

          [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Mozilla\Firefox]

          "DisablePocket"=dword:00000001

        2. JimPoak
          Happy

          Helpful suggestions

          Well what do you know. It works. Thanks Tom 7.

          As for regedit it's like walking into a room full of bear traps in the dark.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          If only about:config wasn't missing from the Firefox stable builds. You need the night builds to get that feature. So annoying.

          1. illiad

            FF stable?? a number would help... I am using 78.6.0esr , about:config is easily available..

            If you mean one that does not update *every* day and night, that's what ESR is for..

          2. doublelayer Silver badge

            I cannot reproduce that. Running the latest stable 84.0.1 here and about:config loads just fine after a warning page which I can suppress if I want to.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Firefix about:config

              Firefox 84.1.3 (Build #2015785691)

              The latest one downloaded from the Google Play store on Android Devices. The about:config doesn't work where the non-release builds do work, so you have less control over the settings.

              about:config hasn't worked for a while. There's even a thread on it https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/questions/1300001

              1. illiad

                Re: Firefix about:config

                android is a totally different thing.. no windows pc??

                using android FF beta, all other reviews are bad. this one does do config..

      2. Blackjack Silver badge

        Isn't Chrome basically killing extensions anyway?

        1. overunder Silver badge

          They're trying to, but that's Chrome trying to make itself into a solely purposed data slurp extension in itself, so their mind set seems to be, become what kills you.

          Maybe all we ever needed was extensions, a pure text based browser that accepts extensions for JS, HTML, Sockets, etc., but instead what we have is all-in-one... never-use-half-of-it... jumbles of blah. I'm happy, but I could definitely be happier.

        2. illiad

          RE:chrome

          If you do not use windows much except for internet, well ok, but I found months ago it tends to over take many things unless it is *heavily* moderated at a server level -

          Its like Marmite, taste it once and hate it, never go back even if they promise to have changed it...

      3. HereIAmJH

        I would actually prefer a light weight core browser that supported features through extensions. With a proper sandbox and security model. There are so many default 'features' in many browsers that I will never use. And before long your browser is consuming a gig of ram. That was the original promise of Firefox, and look where we are now.

      4. Lorribot Silver badge

        These developer need to offer a optione, cruft or no cruft, sure it is not a complicated thing to offer a version with out the detritus for those that want a pure internet experiance (with Ad blockers of course)

    2. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      Rendering engine is apparently WebKit, so part of the Konqueror / Safari / Chrome / Edge monoculture.

      1. _andrew

        Where did you see webkit in that article? Seemed like a convincing story of a ground-up renderer that couldn't even do most of HTML until recently. Servo-style multi-threading is a strong anti-WebKit indicator IMO. Completely different idea. Yay for genetic diversity, IMO.

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          I got it from their website. https://www.ekioh.com/

          Plenty off references to “WebKit based”

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Flow != their TV Browser

            Reading the website.

            They have a TV browser which is webkit based, and can use SVG to do the fancy embedded TV wrapper stuff. Looks like it pays the bills.

            And they have a nearly full browser, Flow, except its using Spidermonkey for the javascript with their SVG renderer and their HTML parser.

            I think the article is correct, Flow isn't Webkit based, it looks like they're replacing Webkit.

      2. Randy Hudson

        Pretty naive

        ... of the reg to think anyone would write an HTML/CSS layout from scratch at this point.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: Pretty naive

          It depends. haven't looked at the full docs but last time I did something with HTML I just parsed some tables from the documentation and it practically wrote the code itself. That was HTML4 - I've just had a quick look at 5 and cant find the same sort of data but it may be there somewhere. The docs look parse able for a lot of the data one would require.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pretty naive

          We're about a year away from release for ours, which was certainly written from scratch. There are more than you'd think, although many of them are quite specialised - mostly for print rendering, rather than on screen.

    3. Randy Hudson

      This is an existing rendering engine, just tweaked for parallel execution where page layout is independent.

      1. overunder Silver badge

        Free advertising?

        Here's a question, as this is seemingly commercial AND riding the back of free OSS, is this the only current browser doing both?

        On a side note, it would be nice if more people put KDE desktops on STB devices, not just thier now spawn of the devil WebKit (although I guess QT is a factor)

    4. NATTtrash Silver badge
      Meh

      ...we need more rendering engines to prevent a monoculture.

      Indeed. But that might not be the thing that is all decisive. The world changed since the Netscape days...

      Gmail struggled a bit, as Google insisted "this browser or app may not be secure" on some attempts, but loaded the email client on others. Similarly, Google Maps was also a little unhappy; fine showing satellite and Street View imagery, but less so with displaying an actual map. Web versions of Microsoft Office also struggled to load and Netflix simply ignored the entered password.

      In today's world others will decide what is the best browser for you. So that you don't hurt yourself. And thus the most likely course of history will be that this either dies, or is bought and integrated into an "acceptable business proposition".

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        DrDOS flashback, anyone?

        1. Lomax
          Alert

          "Our systems have detected unusual traffic from your computer network"

          Is that because i'm not using your browser spyware?

    5. DrXym Silver badge

      The problem with the "no cruft" thing, is that it's often the "cruft" that makes the browser work properly and is usually there for reasons - web site compatibility, security, specification ambiguity, user experience.

      This sort of thing can be observed by tracking the early days of the NGLayout engine that eventually became Gecko in the Firefox engine. The first incarnations were rather pure layout engines that worked really well on test content but then as you throw the world at it, all kinds of oddities come up that have to be fixed. Weird corner cases with styling, or html content ordering, or fonts, or plugins, or misplaced tags, or weird JS, or abusive code that locks up the browser or puts the user at risk. Tens of thousands of corner cases. And since those days new standards for HTML5, canvas, CSS2 & 3, XMLHttpRequest, asm.js, webassembly, video, audio et al have all to be incorporated too.

      And aside from that a browser could get its rendering perfect but the performance sucks especially on multi-core, GPU setups. Or security sucks. Or memory sucks. So there are parallel efforts not only to make stuff render nice but do so in an acceptable fashion and against content that is potentially malicious.

      That is why browsers tend to be conservative and why they contain "cruft". When they replace the existing engine they also tend to throw the world at it before switching. For example Firefox has replaced a mostly single threaded CSS engine with a a highly concurrent one that was tested in parallel for some time. But they have yet to replace the rendering / layout engine which is still being tested separately as a thing called Servo (servo.org).

      1. illiad

        RE DrXym :)

        very true DrXym, 'a simple browser' will not last very long - even using an 'ancient' FF will get problems, with all that script and stuff flying about!!

        "The Flow executable weighed in at just under 34MB" what?? FF 78 executable is 567K..

        1. illiad

          Re: RE DrXym :)

          "The Flow executable weighed in at just under 34MB" what?? FF 78 executable is 567K !! BUT it is all the plugins, DLLs, APIs, and other stuff that really eats up the ram!

          another consideration is whether it will run on a 32 inch, 1920 x 1200 display or larger??

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: RE DrXym :)

          "what?? FF 78 executable is 567K.."

          But the full installation is a couple hundred megabytes. Even the compressed installer packages are 50-70 MB. I assumed that the quoted 34 MB was all of the files used by their browser, but even if they chose to bundle most of their libraries into one executable instead of loading them dynamically like Firefox does, their storage usage is much smaller. That said, Firefox supports basically every site and their thing doesn't yet, so expect their thing to increase in size.

          1. illiad

            Re: RE DrXym :)

            HMMM, since when does 'executable' mean 'files in folder' ??? >:(

            "hey girls, mine is 18 inches!!! :D (off the ground..)

  2. Andy 73

    Good to see

    Good to see this still evolving, and a refreshing change from the all-guns-blazing announcements from VC-backed dream factories.

  3. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Pi-400

    presumably that means it will just run on a Pi-4 then?

    1. PiersW

      Re: Pi-400

      Yes. But not earlier Pis.

  4. StrangerHereMyself

    Not Free

    I looked at Flow before but the biggest drawback is that it's not free, both in cost and in source code. Why would anyone consider a pay-for product when there are so many good free alternatives out there, such as Firefox and Chromium. Also, Flow is limited in its capabilities. Browsers these days contain a myriad of capabilities such as WebRTC, WebSockets, WebGL and WebAssembly, all of which Flow is lacking, but which users assume to be there.

    Also, I assume JavaScript and CSS support to be lacking in Flow, resulting in many broken websites.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not Free

      If the website wont work without JavaScript then I agree, its broken.

      1. Updraft102

        Re: Not Free

        That's nearly all of them, of course.

        1. Simian Surprise

          Re: Not Free

          Well yeah, of course, how else can you get any content to show up on the page? Going by modern web pages, I'm pretty sure it's impossible.

      2. low_resolution_foxxes Bronze badge

        Re: Not Free

        Excuse my ignorant question (technical but non IT reader), why do they all use javascript anyway?

        Spyware? Stupidity? Locked in ecosystem? Cheap? Offshoring the code?

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Not Free

          JavaScript is really useful in some cases. Without it, pages can't do some things that users expect. Then, since the developers already learned JS so they could do those useful things, they try to write everything else in it too and create a monstrosity. That's the short version, but if you're interested, the slightly longer version is below.

          Without JS, HTML is basic and static unless the user fills out a static form and submits it for a new page. A lot of the internet can work like that. News sites like this one, for example, really don't need much else. However, there are some things that aren't very complicated to implement but can't be done without scripting. A basic example is dynamically showing or hiding content. Having a button which allows a user to collapse or expand a region means that the page can have lots of things on it without requiring the user to scroll past irrelevant things, but HTML itself doesn't do that. JS can also provide basic data checking for forms, so it prevents users from submitting invalid forms all the time. And if you've ever used a table which can be sorted by clicking the column headers, that's JS doing the sorting*. Initial site developers wanted to do things like that, so JS took off. Later on, JS could also be used to keep a page updated even when data changed at the remote server without making the user refresh the page all the time. As you might imagine, users were pretty happy that they could have tabs open and see updates without having to remember to refresh them manually.

          These uses for JavaScript are not necessary, but without them, some sites would be less organized and inconvenient to use. Users would prefer a control panel which is on a single page which can unfold sections when desired and updates dynamic information automatically over one which uses fifty subpages so the interface can fit on a screen and requires the user to refresh every five minutes. However, devs who knew how to do that started trying to do everything else in JS too. Why do the work of writing the HTML so that it at least renders when the JS doesn't run? They instead used someone else's library to do the rendering. The library, trying to be generic, was written in JS and writes most of the HTML when initialized. Without it, a framework page is all that's left. Or they realized that a JS page allows them to collect more information about how people view the page than a static one, so they include tracking scripts as well. It also allows them to embed things from other places by dumping in a convenient script; the other places are usually happy to do so because that gives them the ability to add in their own tracking. In a few quick years, JS had changed from something allowing a page to move around content to better serve the user to something slowing down every page and making it impossible to know or trust what was being done on the computer.

          *Table sorting: Making the server reload an entire page just to sort a table is possible but rarely done.

          1. tiggity Silver badge

            Re: Not Free

            But on too many sites js is used for everything i.e. no text at all renders with js disabled (my default is JS disabled)

            Those sites can FOAD - I should be able to see data without JS - in too many cases JS is used to deliver nasties (either from a hacked site itself e.g. magecart or via dubious ads using JS).

            JS disabled by default is basic anti malware approach

            Very few sites NEED JS, they just use itr as it helps with ads, trackers, general scumminess.

            1. Updraft102

              Re: Not Free

              The initial premise of the web is that the pages would adapt to whatever client the user was using. Part of that would be to deliver a non-js version of a page if that was all it was capable of handling. Users would have an incentive to move to newer browsers if they wanted the new features, but they would not be compelled to if they were happy with the way their old one worked on the pages they cared about (security wasn't really a concern back then). The server would gracefully degrade the experience to accommodate anyone who arrived, even if they had no js and all they could see was text, as in Lynx.

              Now, you try to visit a page with a browser that's just a few years old (like Waterfox Classic, for example, that's up to date with backported security fixes, but is otherwise Firefox 56), and many pages just don't work, and it's not about the user-agent this time. But the idea that site owners gett to pick and choose which browsers their viewers may use does often involve user-agents, often just to restrict the site users to the small handful of browser/OS combinations they've tested, even though that in no way guarantees functionality (try disabling js in any of the newer Chrome or FF releases and see how that works), nor does using one of the "unsupported" browsers mean it won't work.

              It's funny that every time I have encountered a user-agent based nag or blockade of a web site, spoofing it not only got me in the door, but also had everything working fine even with my "wrong" browser pretending to be a "right" one. In contrast, all the times I have had my browser legitimately not be compatible with a given site (after trying the usual things like disabling extensions and trying a blank profile), there was no message or nag... it simply failed to work, full stop. The one corner case where user-agent sniffing makes sense (to warn a user that the site will not work with their browser when that is actually the case), it's not used.

              Instead, you get silliness like bank web sites yelling at you if you use Firefox on MacOS but having no issue with it in Windows, where it's on the "supported" list (and forget Linux users, they don't get to use any browser!), sniffing user-agents and arbitrarily blocking viable content more than a decade after "best viewed with Internet Explorer" went out of style.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Not Free

                User-Agents can be handy for stats, but should never be sniffed to influence the html/CSS/JS/media/text/content EVER!

              2. Martin an gof Silver badge

                Re: Not Free

                Or my Cisco IOS 12.3 (IIRC) switches which moan if you are not using Explorer 4.

                In a simiar vein, bit surprised that El Reg hasn't picked up this story yet:

                Brexit deal mentions Netscape browser and Mozilla Mail (BBC News)

                M.

          2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

            Re: Not Free

            *cough* <details></details> *cough*

            :-P

            But, in answer to the original question, consider something as a simple as an upvote: javascript can notify the server and tweak a text string in the page. The alternative is waiting for the server to rebuild the page (with any subsequent changes because it didn't record the state of the page when you fetched it) and then transmit it wholesale back to you, and then the browser then flickers because it's not the same page and the browser doesn't attempt to work out whether there are tiny changes or it's a 100% different.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not Free

            Good post, but of course you don't need JavaScript to show/hide sections, that can be done with just HTML

            and CSS

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Not Free

              Sort of, but not really. With CSS scripting, it's possible to get a browser to collapse a section for you. However, it takes many lines of CSS and many sections for each collapsable area. Do it wrong and browsers will get lost. For example, one way I've seen it done will trip up anything automatic reading a page. That includes bots, which you might not care about, but also includes accessibility software. Don't care about that either? Depending on how it's done, it can also find its way into things if your user copies and pastes from the page or converts it to a PDF. Meanwhile, JS code that can collapse areas is really simple. Three lines of source at the top makes it available, and a single link or button can be dropped in to do the job.

              1. Falmari Bronze badge
                Facepalm

                I forgot

                @doublelayer I don’t know about you, but I am amazed how often I forget what I can do and have done. It will go something like this.

                FP (Fellow programmer): Hey how do you know the Postscript command to this? I need to extend this code that generates Postscript.

                Me: Haven’t a clue about Postscript, why are you asking me?

                FP: Because you wrote the bloody feature in the first place.

                Me: Did I?

                So, I would look at the code and there it is. All the function headers written by me, with my initials. My only defence is they will be dated 5 or more years ago.

                Anyway, I was going to reply that I don’t know html but I am sure you can collapse or replace one html section with another. I did it once in the only piece of html (well hta) I wrote, which was very simple that used html Select to change the middle of the page so text would be in that language and the links would go that language version and the text.

                But I thought better look first just to make sure. As a couple of years ago my boyfriend was talking about html and showing me some html for some website he had created. I made the comment I know nothing about html all I have ever done is write a very simple html does not even use CSS. I showed him that hta and the first thing he said, “What’s that?” there at the top of the html was CSS. Doh!

                I looked at the html and turns out its uses JS which is right below the CSS to change the displayed language when Select is changed. Doh!

          4. Chris Fox

            Folded content in raw HTML

            "However, there are some things that aren't very complicated to implement but can't be done without scripting. A basic example is dynamically showing or hiding content. Having a button which allows a user to collapse or expand a region means that the page can have lots of things on it without requiring the user to scroll past irrelevant things, but HTML itself doesn't do that."

            You might want to check out the HTML "details" and "summary" tags, which implement dynamic content hiding (though it could be nice to have more CSS rendering options to customise the appearance).

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