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5 lesser-known browsers: Free, lightweight and low-maintenance

By Himanshu Arora
November 6, 2013 06:30 AM ET

Lynx

Developer: Thomas Dickey (original authors: Lou Montulli, Michael Grobe, Charles Rezac)
Reviewed version: 2.8.7
OS support Unix, Mac OS and OS X, Windows, OS/2 EMX, DOS386+ (but not 3.1 or 3.11)
License: GPLv2

Lynx is a command line-based, open-source, lightweight and multi-platform text browser. It is more than 20 years old, making it one of the oldest Web browsers around.

It was developed by a group of students (Lou Montulli, Michael Grobe and Charles Rezac) at the University of Kansas in 1992 and is still being actively developed. Currently, Thomas Dickey is the chief maintainer of this browser package.

Lynx displays only the text part of a Web page and ignores everything else. It displays Web content just the same way as seen by a search engine bot and hence is a very useful tool if you need to test a site for any search-engine crawling problems.

Lynx
Lynx displays only the text part of a Web page and ignores everything else. This is the main Google search page.

Once you've installed the browser, then you can just type lynx on a command prompt to open it. Lynx displays different types of information in different colors. For example, bold text is displayed in red, italic text is displayed in blue, ordinary text content is displayed in violet or white, hyperlinks are displayed in green and a currently highlighted hyperlink is displayed in yellow.

What's new

Release 2.8.7 contains many bug fixes and new features. For example, the ability to save (or store) the current browsing session has been added. This version also offers improved support for Secured Socket Layer (SSL), HTML interpretation and cookies.

What's good about it

The Lynx browser has many advantages over graphical Web browsers -- as long as you don't mind missing the images. Being a command-line utility, it opens up very fast (usually taking less than a second). A website can be opened by just typing lynx into a command line.

In fact, Lynx takes less time to load a website than any GUI browser. This can come handy in spots where you're stuck with a low-bandwidth Internet connection -- in testing, it used far less memory than any of the other browsers covered here.

At the same time, it isn't difficult to understand. A feature that I really liked was the display of main keyboard shortcuts at the bottom of the browser window: Type H for help, O for configurable browser options, G to open a new URL, Q to quit, Ctrl+R reload a page and so on. There is no need to refer any user manual to start using Lynx.

Another good thing about Lynx is that it does not track user information -- because it is a text-based browser, it doesn't contain the embedded tracking elements that are hidden in the interfaces of many Web pages. Though it supports cookies, Lynx asks the user to allow or deny a cookie every time it loads a website.

Lynx can also act as a text-to-speech application for visually impaired people and can power Refreshable Braille Displays. It is a blessing in disguise for those system administrators who work either on machines with very old hardware that does not support GUI-based Web browsers.

Lynx can also be used to view files and directories on your local system. To view the contents of a file or a directory within the browser, provide its name as an argument to the Lynx command line. For example, to open a text file you can type lynx helloworld.txt.

Last but not the least, Lynx is highly configurable browser. Just type lynx -help and it produces a list of more than 200 configurable options.

Other considerations

All that being said, you can't get past the fact that Lynx cannot display images, videos, Flash or JavaScript objects -- and hence is not suitable to surf e-commerce or social media websites. Though it can be configured to open an external program to handle images and videos, this configuration is not enabled by default.

Lynx does not support multiple downloads -- only one file can be downloaded at a time. Also, the download process runs in the foreground, which blocks the user from doing any other activities on the browser until the download completes.

Bottom line

While it isn't likely to replace your everyday browser, if you're a website administrator or other IT professional, Lynx is a great tool to have in your kit. There is some indication that people are still using this 20-year-old browser to surf modern-day websites. Just try it out and see.



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