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: Gnome (original author: Marco Pesenti Gritti)

Reviewed version: 3.8.2

OS support Gnome-based Linux and BSD

License: GPLv2+

Epiphany -- also known as the Gnome Web browser -- is a free and open-source Web browser that was primarily developed for the Gnome desktop environment in 2003, after the developers of the Web browser Gaelon parted ways over disagreements on Gaelon's design complexity. Epiphany is GTK-based, is completely written in the C programming language and uses the WebKit engine for rendering Web pages.

Epiphany provides all the standard features like a pop-up blocker, spelling checker and extension support. Bookmarks can be categorized under user-defined categories.

Epiphany is useful for users who want a standard browser that has good integration with the Gnome desktop environment.

What's new

Release 3.8.2 contains some updates in Epiphany's ability to be translated to other languages (Epiphany has now been translated into more than 60 languages). There are also a few minor changes, including the removal of some non-required features. For example, page thumbnails are no longer created for error pages, titles for error pages are no longer stored in history and crash pages are not loaded for un-restored pages. These changes could reduce the memory footprint.

What's good about it

Epiphany is HIG-complaint and gets along well with the Gnome desktop environment. It provides private browsing functionality, which can be accessed through the incognito window option in the main menu.

Besides, that, Epiphany provides all the standard features like a pop-up blocker, spelling checker and extension support. One particular feature that I really like is that the bookmarks can be categorized under various user-defined categories.

A new-tab button toward the top right corner makes opening a tab really easy for those who are not used to Ctrl+T.

Other considerations

While the major browsers pack in more features than most people need, they do offer a number of useful features that Epiphany lacks. For example, Epiphany always opens up with a blank screen -- there is no way to specify a home page. A right-click on a link still has the "open link" command above the "open in new tab" command, which is kind of old-school now, as tabbed browsing is the preferred way of browsing these days.

Also, I found it hard to distinguish the active tab from other tabs. Furthermore, a right-click on any non-active tab makes it active, which can be inconvenient in some cases.

Configuration settings are basic, and the browser has nothing extra to offer in terms of privacy other than some standard stuff like cookie- and tracking-related settings. Also, the process of importing bookmarks from other browsers could be reduced to fewer steps. Epiphany also encountered a couple of random crashes while it was loading a website at the same time that I was loading websites in a separate browser.

Finally, there are some ways in which Epiphany doesn't play well with others. It takes standard keyboard shortcuts such as Ctrl+B, Ctrl+U and Ctrl+I that are generally used for text editing (bold, underline and italics), and instead assigns them to bookmark management, open page source in a new tab and private browsing, respectively. So, in a nutshell, you cannot use these key combinations for text editing purpose on Google Docs (or any other cloud platform) while working in Epiphany.

Bottom line

If you are looking for a Linux browser that can serve as an alternative to Firefox and at the same time integrates well with the Gnome desktop environment, then you might want to try Epiphany.

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