The second most popular web browser in the world, Firefox, is a beautiful, but heavy machine. Its biggest attraction are tabs, flexible bookmarks and RSS management, and extensions. However for people who are still using systems with no abundance of main memory it can be a pain intensively using Firefox throughout a day or longer. It is just that memory hungry. So some people have been looking at alternatives such as Epiphany,Galeon, Konqueror, or even the lightest but arguably ugliest and least featureful among them, Dillo. But as it usually happens, out of nowhere comes another alternative, one which may be hitting the right balance that many people are looking for. It is NGLayout (Gecko)-based Kazehakase (made by Japanese developers).
Its aim is to be lightweight (small memory footprint) and yet modern, user friendly, fully functional and innovative at that. And in its early releases it seems to be accomplishing just that.
Enriched standard features
All the basics that a common web surfer learned to rely on today, very much thanks to Firefox, are present in Kazehakase: tabbed browsing, bookmarks management, download manager and possibly even extensions in the future. However, Kazehakase adds a special touch to some of these features.
Tabbed browsing is fully configurable in preferences. (edit > preferences > tab). You can set such things as tab width, whether to show favicons or close buttons, switching between tabs using a mousewheel, tab status colors and how should Kazehakase behave when you open or close new tabs (for example, should it show next or last open tab once you close the current one).
There is even a tab menu allowing you to set tab position as on top, bottom, left or right of the page. The tab menu also offers such niceties as the ability to close all inactive tabs or all tabs forward or backward to the tab you’re currently viewing. You can also browse through tab history to open tabs which you have already closed previously. It’s quite impressive.
Regarding bookmarks management, Kazehakase allows you to bookmark a page you are viewing by “add to bookmarks” item in the bookmarks menu. It however doesn’t prompt for any confirmation, staying quiet instead, and adding the bookmark to the root bookmarks directory. You can manage all bookmarks using the “edit bookmarks” item in the bookmarks menu which will open up a bookmarks editor.
Bookmarks editor window is, by default, split into three parts; the sidebar part showing folders (folder view), the main part showing bookmarks and the part below it showing editable fields for further information about the bookmarks (content view). Folder view and content view can be turned off from the views menu, which also allows changing between two viewing modes; list and tree mode. From what I’ve seen, the tree mode is allowing you to see both folders and bookmarks in the main view.
Just as Firefox, Kazehakase bookmarks editor allows you to drag and drop bookmarks, which is a nice feature for organizing the mess of bookmarks that some of us often tend to accumulate.
What is also great is that Kazehakase allows importing bookmarks from a variety of other browsers including Mozilla (now SeaMonkey or IceApe in Debian), Firefox, Galeon and even old Netscape and a text based W3m. Adding Firefox bookmarks was a matter of two clicks in the bookmarks editor: view > insert Firefox bookmarks. It immediately adds a folder with all Firefox bookmarks.
Kazehakase also supports special smart bookmarks, which can be more than just a link as they can contain regular expressions; which is what I suppose makes them so smart. Don’t ask me for a guide into regular expressions though, I’m a noob there.
The download manager in Kazehakase is quite simple. If you click on a download link you will be prompted with a dialog pretty much the same as in Firefox, allowing you to select where to download. Then, instead of seeing a new window with the list of all your downloads in progress, they will just quitely lie in the bottom right corner as a small icon that gets darkened as the download advances (so on 50% half of it will be darkened). If you hover over it, you’ll see the percentage. All the time in this corner, it is saying “drop link to download” which is quite self explanatory and indicates another nice feature in Kazehakase.
Download in progress
You can however view download progress in a special sidebar (which also can be used for viewing bookmarks, tab tree/list and closed tabs), but in a version that I tested this didn’t quite seem to work (I didn’t see progress as it was happening).
The more I work with it the more I seem to discover. It is unlikely that this review will cover everything that is hiding in this incredible little browser, but it doesn’t have to. The fun is in trying it out yourself. But I’ll let you in on a few interesting bits.
The whole basic interface of Kazehakase can be viewed in three modes (or UI levels as it’s called); beginner, medium or expert. Beginner is the most basic and exper is, obviously, much more revealing (and could be slightly confusing to newbies). This is a nice concept of adapting to various kinds of users with various experiences.
Switching UI levels in view menu
Zooming vs. increasing text size:
Increasing text size is one thing, and Kazehakase normally allows you to do this via the view menu. It simply increases the size of all normal text on the page. However, in addition to this you can increase the size of the whole page, that is all elements of the page including images, something that people with accessibility issuse would appreciate. This is simply called zooming.
The tools menu in Kazehakase 0.4.3 allows you to extract links from the page you are currently viewing, clip selected items into the clip(s) menu, save and restore full tab sessions and there is also a “Ruby dialog” which I suppose allows for some sort of scripting of additional possibilities. I can imagine how these can be quite useful. For example, you could use the clip tool to build a nice in-browser quotes list; you just select a quote you found very inspiring and clip it in the clip menu.
Loading a clip from tools menu
This takes a bit of figuring out, but once you do it is quite exciting. The best way to get a feel for how the mouse gestures function in Kazehakase is to play with the mouse gesture configuration, specifically with editing the actual gestures for a given command. Gestures are basically all about directions, up, down, left and right. In Kazehakase these are respectively marked by letters as U, D, L and R. For Kazehakase to respond to your gesture you have to make them while holding the right mouse button. For example, since default Kazehakase gesture for going back to the previous loaded page in a tab is “left”, you would click and hold the right mouse button and just quickly move it left. It will respond and open the previous page immediately.
Playing with gesture preferences
Of course, Kazehakase is not perfect and it is still far from the 1.0 release which in fact even further adds to its credibility considering how much has it done in so little time.
Regarding stability, it did crash on me a couple of times. However, while running it feels quite stable and responsive. There have been complaints about it not offering the ability to clear cache and history, which may be something that will come in future releases. In the mean time, K. Mandla came with a rather simple solution in form of a small bash script that will do the job instead of Kazehakase.
Among some other annoyances is that the address bar in Kazehakase doesn’t display previously visited URL’s when typing a new URL. For example, in Firefox and most other browsers I only have to type a letter “n” and the drop down menu will show the most visited URL’s starting with “n”, in my case Nuxified.org. In Kazehakase I either have to type the whole URL myself, or manually open the drop down menu and select the site from the history list.
On a same note, when I open a new tab I am used to being able to type the address of a site I want to open in it immediately, but in Kazehakase I have to click on the address bar first to start typing, which can also be slightly annoying.
One other thing that may be a disadvantage for Kazehakase is lack of support for Firefox extensions. This is one thing that without a doubt keeps many users using Firefox even when they may want to use some alternative browser. If Kazehakase would ever manage to support at least some of the popular Firefox extensions that would sure put it on the map even further.
But all things considered, this is one hell of a browser in the making and is certainly going to be a serious contender to Firefox, at least among GNU/Linux users, if its succesful development continues. It has quite a few aces up its sleeve, supports the standard needs and is yet so much less memory hungry. It sure looks like a winner.
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