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Rants of a geek

linduxed's ramblings

Not ready for the switch

Yesterday, for some unknown reason, Pentadactyl decided that it didn’t want to work any more. I still have no idea why, and since I’ve been suspending my computer for quite a few days now, it might actually have to do with me upgrading Firefox from 11 to 12 quite recently. The problem was actually pretty easily solved by downloading the latest nightly and just fire that up, but before I did that, the sudden loss of Vim-style navigation inspired me to pick up an old project of mine:

Moving from Firefox to uzbl.

It sounds so beautiful

For those who don’t know what uzbl is, it’s basically a browser that adheres to the UNIX philosophy of “doing one thing and doing it well”. What that means is that the browser is split up into small pieces; you have uzbl-core which is not much more than Webkit with some interfaces on top of it, and the actual thing that resembles a browser is either uzbl-browser or uzbl-tabbed.
You know you’re in for a ride if the developers initially didn’t have uzbl-tabbed at all since “window managers should be handling the different instances of the browser, not the browser itself”. All the basic functionality that one takes for granted in other browsers that aren’t strictly browsing are extras here; bookmarks, downloading, completion and other functionality that you come to expect are scripts that are loaded by the main configuration file.

But the beauty comes at a price

If the application is nice then I’m willing to put the time into configuring it. Whether it’s my ZSH terminal, Vim, Firefox or something else, I’ll put in the work to get it just right if I know that I can get that magnificent end result that I envision. uzbl sounds fantastic because I like the notion of being able to configure a system from the ground up, to see what happens and to know what does what.

There’s just one big problem however:

The work necessary to get uzbl to the state my Firefox is in with the numerous extensions and custom configurations would take ages, if at all possible. I decided that I can try to live without NoScript, BetterPrivacy, Firebug and some other nice extensions, as long as I get what I consider to be core functionality to work smoothly. Even this (what I would consider modest) aspiration is a challenge to say the least.

The default configuration gives you Vim-like control, with hjkl-movement and some other things that you might recognize if you’re coming from Pentadactyl/Vimperator, but the similarities end fairly quickly. Once the basic keys were reconfigured to my liking, one of the first things I wanted to tweak was that since I use uzbl_tabbed, I’ll want to reconfigure the NEW_WINDOW action to load links in new tabs. The fact that only the action NEW_TAB worked and not the other two potentially nice ones (NEW_BG_TAB and NEW_BG_TAB_NEXT) was a shame, doubly so when there’s no information for how get it to work.

You’re on your own

This was the first encounter (out of many, I might add) with what eventually led me to give up on the browser. There’s no comprehensive source of information about uzbl… anywhere.

I use Archlinux on my main computer but I know that I might not have been if it wasn’t for the fantastic Wiki. I don’t know if that huge source of information has spoiled me, but I feel like I’m done with the days of guessing myself forth when configuring software. I don’t enjoy being in the situation of “Well I’d really like to do foobar, so I guess I’ll scour tens of config files to see if someone has done something remotely similar from which I can extrapolate some kind of solution”.

I’m done with that shit.

The Arch Wiki proves that even if you put docstrings for every line in your configuration, a Wiki page with some quick and helpful tweaks that every new user would make, is a thousand times better. As soon as I got any idea on how I’d like to tweak the interface of uzbl, it was followed by the realization that there’s neither a quick nor an obvious way to do it.

The official Wiki is so barren that it seems to be made by and exclusively for the current/future developers. Google isn’t much more helpful, the usual searches for HOWTOs or tutorials yield not much more information than what one would derive from the sample configs that one can find in the Wiki.

See you some other time

The impression I get is that if you’re not ready to figure it out, then you shouldn’t even start. I gave it quite a few hours and at a certain point decided that fixing Pentadactyl would be far more beneficial and far less time consuming.

Some day I’ll probably give it another shot, but by that time I’ll probably come prepared with far more patience and without the expectation to actually replace Firefox.