The state of web browsing on RISC OS

posted in: Software | 1

Web browsing has historically been quite a neglected part of RISC OS, and as we all know, it’s by far the most popular type of application when it comes to modern-day desktop computing.

Netsurf has traditionally been the de-facto web browser for RISC OS since the project’s conception in 2002, and while it is a stable and very efficient browser, it does struggle when it comes to Javascript supporting and dealing with complex websites.

A port of Mozilla Firefox to RISC OS courtesy of Peter Naulls and the then-active Linux Porting Project was released back in 2006. While an impressive feat, Firefox was only really usable on high-end machines of the time (Iyonix and A9Home back then), and even then, Javascript support was not really present and there were some significant stability issues. These problems coupled with RISC OS Firefox falling woefully out-of-date compared to the main Firefox project, saw it largely left for dust and the vast majority of users continuing to use Netsurf as their browser of choice.

More recently, we saw the emergence of Otter Browser and QupZilla ports by Chris Gransden. They’re both based on WebKit, which is an open-source web browser engine. Javascript JIT is now enabled on both, which provides a more usable browsing experience – meaning web applications such as Google Maps, Gmail and online banking services do now work. This unfortunately doesn’t mean there’s full Javascript support on RISC OS, so these web services may still not display correctly and performance is not fantastic, but they should still work providing you have enough persistence.

In terms of usage, looking at the web server logs for this website – it looks like the vast majority of users hitting the website from RISC OS (which actually is a minority) are still using NetSurf (76%), with Otter Browser also having a fair chunk (16%). There also appears to be one visit a week or so from a nutter person using Acorn Browse.

What’s quite exciting is there’s a significant amount of development being pumped into two WebKit-based browsers – Origyn and Iris. The work is being co-ordinated by RISC OS Developments, who are working to give both browsers a RISC OS look-and-feel (iconbar icon, RISC OS UI windows etc.) which is where these browsers differ from Otter and QupZilla.

A lot of work appears to be going into Javascript supporting and handling modern day websites and web applications – with a demo at the 2019 South West show showing Iris being used for online shopping. Information is limited at the moment but I’d imagine the direction is likely to follow that of AmigaOS’ port of Origyn named Odyssey – which has HTML5 and Flash support (although Flash is generally being phased out so that may be unneccessary for RISC OS) as well as multimedia support using FFmpeg, which makes watching YouTube videos possible.

Origyn and Iris aren’t available for download yet, and it’s not certain as to whether they’ll be commercial or free releases (I suspect the latter) but from the information that’s available on these projects so far it looks like this could be a huge move forward in making RISC OS attractive to users as a general purpose desktop operating system.

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