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

Are Edge, Firefox or Chrome slowing your machine -- or are they simply more than you need? We look at some alternatives.

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Developer: Jorge Arellano Cid

Reviewed version: dillo-3.0.3

OS support Linux, BSD, OS X, Cygwin

License: GPLv3

Dillo is a minimalistic graphical Web browser that was developed by Jorge Arellano Cid in 1999. His purpose was to allow users to gain access to the information on the Web without having to purchase high-end computer systems or install space-consuming Web browsers. Dillo is written in C/C++ and based on the Fast, Light Toolkit (FLTK) GUI library.

It has a bare minimum GUI framework that consists of a single toolbar with only standard options like back, forward, home, reload, save, stop, bookmark and tools. It supports only HTML/XHTML (with CSS rendering).

Dillo had the smallest memory footprint of all the graphical Web browsers I looked at (the only browser that beat it was text-based Lynx). It comes pre-installed in many Linux distributions such as Damn Small Linux (DSL) and VectorLinux.

What's new

Release 3.0.3 contains several major improvements, including configurable UI colors, speedy DNS requests when IPv6 is disabled and better window titles. Some new features, such as an effective mechanism to block ads and trackers, and the use of Ctrl+U to view page source, were also added.

What's good about it

Open the browser and the welcome screen displays plenty of information related to Dillo: the current release, change-log highlights, a link to the help manual, etc. This saves a lot of time for a new Dillo user.

Most of the websites I tried it with loaded within a second, although not all of them displayed properly (more on that in a moment). A bug meter at the lower-right corner of the browser window detects and displays any bugs that may occur if a site isn't compliant with Web standards.

Dillo had the smallest memory footprint of all the graphical Web browsers in this roundup.

Cookie support is disabled by default (though it can be enabled). Dillo never sends or accepts cookies while making a third-party request/response and is regarded as an RFC 2965-compliant browser. (RFC 2965 is the original specification for HTTP cookies. It describes a standard that an HTTP server and a browser should follow in order to securely exchange session-related information.)

Though Dillo has a very basic user interface, it supports tabbed browsing. Another good feature is that the browser cache gets cleared every time you exit the browser. This not only makes sure that temporary files and folders do not reserve extra space, but also eliminates the need to empty the browser cache manually. (Though it might put some users off because it hinders faster display of already-visited Web pages.)

Because it is so lightweight, Dillo can also be used with mobile devices and is useful when browsing local documentation such as saved HTML files.

Other considerations

For Dillo users, the low memory footprint comes at a price. The browser does not support websites that rely heavily on JavaScript, Flash or Java. (On the other hand, I never encountered any irritating pop-ups while browsing with Dillo.) It treats iframes as links and so displays them on separate pages. I tried browsing many popular websites but it could not display the sites accurately.

HTTPS support is disabled by default, which could frustrate users of and other sites that require it. The plug-in can be enabled manually, but I had to reconfigure the source with the --enable-ssl command, then recompile and reinstall the software, something that most users aren't likely to do.

I also wish that Dillo had better keyboard controls. Some standard keyboard shortcuts do not work -- for example, Ctrl+D does not open a bookmarking mechanism and Ctrl+K does not activate the search bar. I'd have also liked an option to store browsing history. Also, scarcity of available browser plug-ins is something that needs to be improved.

Bottom line

Dillo cannot replace mainstream browsers like Firefox, Chrome or IE, but it is an excellent solution if you want to browse the Web using old hardware. It can also be your go-to browser if you want to quickly access information from a heavy website that takes time to load on mainstream browsers.

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