I’m not going to claim that I do all my browsing in text mode. Most of my time I’m using Mozilla Firefox (although it is configured to block most of the “Web 2.0” annoyances). But not a day pass that I don’t use a text-mode browser as well. I see several benefits in them:
- Near-instant loading times
This refers both to start-up time and page loading time.
It’s no secret that graphical browsers, even at the best of cases take several seconds to start and become ready to use. In some cases that can be tens of seconds. A text-mode browser is up and running virtually the moment you press Enter. And not just that! You can prime a text-mode browser exactly with the site you want to see.
One of my most-typed invocations is
elinks dgg.gg/<search_term>, for when I want to look up something I heard in a lecture without distracting myself too much from my noteskeeping (which is already happening in a terminal emulator, so it’s a matter of either a new tab, or backgrounding-foregrounding programs in GNU
Pages load amazingly fast as well, because very few things (aka only the important things) have to be downloaded and rendered. This ties in with the next big benefit:
- Incredibly bandwidth efficient
I don’t know how Internet is like in other universities, but in mine, we count ourselves lucky if the ping is in the three-digits and the download bandwidth is in the double-digits of KB/s. There’s no way you wouldn’t love text-mode browsers when the WiFi is so terrible.
It also comes handy when you are tethering a 3G connection to get Internet on a computer. Those are metered and quite expensive, so no one likes wasting bandwidth on Web 2.0 bells and whistles. “Modern” websites have become megabytes big, and that’s totally unreasonable.
- I don’t want to always be charging
For me, knowing that my laptop battery life is so short that I have to carry a charger with me is in itself a problem. I now sometimes have to do it because I switched to a 12-inch ultraportable, but for a long time I used a 10-inch netbook with 6 hours of battery life at its worst. Still today, anything under 4 hours is unacceptable.
Text-mode browsing prolongs your (battery) life!
- Do you want to
ssh -X firefoxto check a webpage from your remote server?
No you don’t. You probably don’t even have any sort of graphical environment on your server, and why would you?
There’s several text-mode browsers, but most of the time I use Elinks. It’s very user-friendly, and exposes its settings nicely as well. It renders most websites well, it can handle authentication and POST requests, and it allows you to download files in case you need to. It’s basically a fully featured browser.
As for the second problem, that’s something I also only recently started taking seriously. Left on my own devices I would code a website entirely using tables. I was very resistant to using
div and bothering to make the web “semantic”. The problems of that attitude become more pronounced when you see a website in text-mode. If you think your website looks beautiful, then also make sure it’s usable when it isn’t rendered pixel-perfect. For example, a newspaper I read subjects me to a several screens long (something like 5 or 6 PageDowns) navigation header on any page (index, category, individual post). In Firefox, the website doesn’t look terrible, but in elinks it’s near-unusable.
PS. Obviously you should have alt-text for any images you put in your website. And don’t use symbol fonts (FontAwesome and whatnot) for navigation elements. Terminals only use one font. They do support Unicode though, and Unicode has navigation symbols.
Let me know what you think about this via email or in the public chatroom.