During the past week, I have tried out the Epiphany web browser as an alternative for Firefox. Long ago, I already tested it, but I did not like it, as it lacked too many features I wanted. But Epiphany has evolved a lot in the meantime, so it was worthwhile to evaluate it again. The version I tested was 2.18, as available in Mandriva Cooker and Ubuntu Feisty.
I’ll quickly note the most important points I remarked:
- Nice Gnome interface: Epiphany’s interface is very beautiful in Gnome. It uses the same theme and toolbar settings from Gnome (I have set toolbars to show text next to the icon). Epihpany looks much nicer than Mandriva’s hacked Firefox theme.
- Clean Preferences dialog: Epiphany’s Preferences dialog is very clean with only 4 tabs and not too much options per tab. Again a huge different with Firefox’ Preferences dialog, which has 7 categories, of which most of them have several tabs and/or buttons for other dialogs where you can configure things. In Epiphany, settings are taken from global Gnome configuration if possible (for example proxy settings).
- Easy Adblock extension: Epiphany comes by default with some extensions, of which Adblock is one. Its configuration is very easy: you only have to enable it, and it will automatically use the Filterset.G Adblock rules. There’s no need to manually install and configure the extension as is the case in Firefox.
- Tag based bookmarking: Instead of storing all bookmarks in a hierarchical list like Firefox does, Epiphany lets you define tags for bookmarks. This way, you can easily find bookmarks based on these tags. It’s much handier than the hierarchical list, as its easier to to find a particular bookmark if you have lots of bookmarks defined. Also a nice feature is that when you type a word in the URL bar, it will show you all bookmarks which have this word in its title.
- No Flashblock extension: One of the extensions I really like a lot in Firefox, is the Flashblock extension. I don’t like Flash: it is often used for commercials or useless intro’s, often contain annoying sounds, and it simply does not work good in Linux. Try for example the webiste of the Belgian radio station Radio Donna. In Linux, the pop-up menus on the left, will always be shown under the Flash animations, which makes navigating this site impossible. For all this reasons, I use the Flashblock extension, so that I can decide myself whether I want to view the Flash animation or not. Unfortunately such a functionality is not integrated in Epiphany. I found a way to have the same functionality by modifying the user style sheet. Still, this functionality should be integrated in Epiphany, like Adblock, so user’s don’t have to fiddle with such advanced settings. Even Camino for Mac OS X has it integrated now.
- Downloads and opens files by default: When you click on a download link, Epiphany will automatically download the file to your desktop, and open it in the default Gnome application for that file type. I did not like this functionality at all: after a few hours of browsing, I had my desktop cluttered with PDF and other files which I looked at briefly while browsing the web, but did not want to save. Fortunately, you can disable this behaviour, and then Epiphany will ask if you want to open or download a file and where you want to save it.
- Problematic font configuration: I tried out Epiphany on different systems, and on all of them, I had problems with font handling. By default, the font settings are different than Firefox. On a lot of sites, by default the fonts were smaller than in Firefox. This problem can easily be seen by opening sites as LWN.net, vrtnieuws.net and the GMail home page in both Firefox and Epiphany. When changing the font settings in Edit – Preferences – Fonts & Style, I remarked some strange problems: for some reason, the minimum size in the global font settings, was not synchronized with the minimum size under the “Detailed font settings” dialog. The default font sizes are set to 12 points. When setting it to 13 points, I noticed that fonts became much bigger, and when going back to 12 points, actually, the fonts were still bigger than they were with the default settings! I also had the impression that when changing the font size, it was sometimes best to restart the web browser, as results seemed to be different than before restart of Epiphany. In the end on all of my systems, I had to spend a lot of time finding out the best font settings which looked reasonable on all sites. I remember I have changed the minimum font size in Firefox, but apart from that, fonts were perfectly OK by default in Firefox for me.
- No download manager: When a file is downloaded, there is briefly some kind of download manager displayed where you can track progress, but after the download has finished, this dialog disappears automatically, and there does not seem to be a way to show it again. I find this very annoying, as this means I have to start Nautilus to navigate to the file to open it. And, like a lot of people, it sometimes happens to me that I do not pay a lot of attention to the location were I save the file. In Firefox I can look up the location in the Downloads dialog, but in Epiphany, I have to hunt down the file by hand. I suppose this functionality has got a lot less attention than in Firefox, because you are supposed to let Epiphany download all files automatically to your desktop…
- Limited pop-up blocking: By default, Epiphany does not block pop-ups. I do not understand this choice as most competitors use this functionality by default now. The pop-up blocker is a lot more limited than the one you can find in Firefox or Internet Explorer. When a pop-up is blocked, only a small icon appears in the status bar, and I did not see a possibility to open a blocked pop-up, or put a web site on a white list. For example when clicking on the (Flash) link “Webcam” on the Studio Brussel website, I can open the pop-up by clicking on the button in the notification bar in Firefox. In Epiphany, the only way to view this pop-up, is by completely disabling the pop-up blocker in Epiphany’s preferences.
- Annoying security warnings for broken certificates: When I try to visit the Mandriva Bugzilla by https, I get three different pop-ups warning for all sorts of problems: one that the certificate expired, a second one that the hostname is not correct, and a third one that some parts of the page are send over an insecure connection. When logging in, there is again a security warning that the information is send over an unencrypted connection. Of course these problems are actually caused on the server side, but still, Epiphany should try to collect all problems first, and show them in a single information dialog. The current pop-up flood is very annoying, and this does not encourage users to actually read and interpret all this information correctly. Maybe a supplementary notification bar with the message that some elements will be send over an insecure connection, seems an interesting addition to remind users of the problem, even when they clicked away the warning dialog.
- No Greasemonkey script manager: One of the extensions I use in Firefox, is the slashdotter extension. It adds Coral Cache links to all links in Slashdot articles, which can be handy if a site is slashdotted. I suppose I can get similar functionality with this Greasemonkey script in Epiphany and tried to install it. After right clicking on the install button and choosing “Install user script”, I got a message that the script was installed correctly. Unfortunately, I did not see the links on the Slashdot website after that (could be a problem in the script itself too I suppose, I did not check this). I wanted to verify if the script was indeed installed, and remove it eventually, but I did not find any functionality in Epiphany to do this. Note: I have never used Greasemonkey in Firefox as I did not need it, so maybe I have wrong expectations.
- No anti-phishing filter: As far as I can tell, Epiphany does not have an anti-phishing filter, like both Internet Explorer and Firefox have now. While I don’t care about this functionality for myself, I think it’s a useful addition for less experienced users
- Does not use Gnome’s Keyring: Gnome now has a keyring manager, which stores all passwords in a centralized, eventually password protected, location. It seems not a lot of programs are using this functionality yet. I hope Epiphany will in the near future.
These are the most important points I noticed while using Epiphany. Last Saturday, I experienced four crashes in Epiphany, but after that Epiphany was stable during the whole week. Maybe a bug in the version of cairo (1.4.0) I had installed at that time or in nspluginwrapper on amd64 were involved in these crashes.
All in all, I have to say I liked Epiphany. Still, I think there are too much small features I miss, and this makes I’ll probably start using Firefox again for now. I’ll be following Epiphany’s development more closely though, and I hope that in the near future, I will be able to switch over completely. Having a perfectly integrated browser in Gnome, is really a must have feature.
Please also read this related blog article by developer Luis Villa where he explains why he prefers Epiphany to Firefox.