September 30, 2000

Linux developer rolls out light browser

Author: JT Smith

By Grant Gross
Managing Editor

Does the world need yet another Web browser? Veteran Linux developer Peter MacDonald, who released the beta version of his BrowseX this week, thinks so.

MacDonald, who's been working on the cross-platform BrowseX for about 10 months, started on the project while working on a spread sheet application and became frustrated about getting it to function on the Web using an existing browser. "Delivering the application is very perilous, very difficult to do," he says.

MacDonald lists seven specific browser problems that BrowseX addresses on his "Why" page and more than 30 advantages on his "Pros" page. MacDonald's reasons for BrowseX basically come down to two issues he has with Netscape, however: the RAM needed to run it, and the lack of available source code.

While Netscape 6 requires 32 megabytes of RAM and at least a 133 MHz processor, BrowseX can run on a machine MacDonald owns with 12 megs, and he believes as the Internet becomes more popular in Third World countries, a light and free browser will be popular with those users running old machines. "If you have a small, lightweight machine, you really can't run Netscape," MacDonald says.

Also, MacDonald finds it ironic that users can't see the source code for Netscape, a popular browser for Linux. "If it crashes, you can't go in and fix it," he says. "It's big, ponderous and really not maintainable. That, and Netscape is now owned by AOL."

MacDonald, who says he began programming for Linux within weeks of the operating system's first release, hopes to support the BrowseX project through sales of a fast C version of TML, an HTML macro processor designed to simply Web authoring without locking the user into a proprietary format. (There's a free version of TML, too.) His company, BrowseX Systems, also sells support and a TML editor, TME. With TME, "you should be able to do hard editing of your markup language and still be able to read it," MacDonald says.

A former Unix system administrator for the Canadian government, MacDonald's primary business is consulting, sometimes using the applications he's written. "I just got my first contract related to BrowseX," he says. "It took about three days [since the beta version was released]."

Early users on the comp.lang.tcl newsgroup have raved about the new browser and TCL. One user, commenting on some bugs, wrote, "And the most severe criticism of all: I was writing a little tutorial
on how to use the HTML widget. I had gotten most of the basics down and I was getting ready to look at how frames should be implemented. Well, you just about shot that effort right out the window. I'll just replace my (currently) eight-page tutorial with one line: Go to http://www.browsex.com, download the browser, study it and learn!"

Another user: "I'd like to add that I'm also very excited about this release. Actually, I was working on a browser of my own ... but BrowseX is far more developed as it stands right now. In fact, in parts, it was surprisingly good."

One downside for some users: The beta version of BrowseX does not support Java or Javascript, but MacDonald is working Javascript compatiblity.

MacDonald's goal for the cross-platform browser -- yes, it works in Windows as well as Linux -- is to make Web developers' lives easier. "What this potentially could allow is the same browser on all platforms," he says. "Ultimately, you could end up with enhancements on every platform."

He sees big potential in BrowseX: "Ten years ago, we were all saying to ourselves, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have one operating system?' That hasn't happened, but wouldn't it be nice to have just one browser? That'd be cool for Web developers."

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