XXXTerm Rationale

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Why does the world need yet another browser?

This answer is both easy and hard to answer.

First some history. I have been unhappy with web browsers. I did not get along with anything starting with Netscape navigator. Every year these browsers got slower while getting some nice features it quickly got out of control.

When I switched to OpenBSD there wasn't really a viable graphical browser. Mozilla had not been ported yet, Firefox didn't exist etc. I remember the jubilation when we finally got a port. No longer were we second class citizens because we too got to view pretty pictures!

Then for the longest time Firefox was really the only viable solution. It works well enough so that one sticks with it but the irritants started to build up. At times it was unstable, new features replaced well working old ones etc. But first and foremost, it got slower and slower. As a result of that I wrote a DNS spoofer called adsuck. The idea was to block ads and other unwanted content from ever making it to my browser. That helped quite a bit and life was temporarily good again. As an avid vim user someone introduced me to vimperator; wow! that was cool! Except when it isn't...

What drove me insane about vimperator was that the browser was never in the mode I'd expect or wanted. So I gave up on it but I did like the idea so this led me to start looking at other vim-like browsers. I played with a bunch of them and most of them have some pretty neat features however none had the right mix for me. I wanted a browser that could work in a classical way (clickerdeclickclick) yet could handle a full blown keyboard navigation scheme. Also around this time webkit had turned into quite a nice piece of code that was right there in front of me, taunting me, to use it. So I got once more suckered into messing with some code to see if I could make sense of it and do something I like.

The journey was interesting because I had never touched GTK before or really thought about web browser features that might be interesting. But only a few hours in I had a working web browser. A few more hours later it tabbed and had some GUI features. I used it for a few days and was relatively happy with it despite its complete lack of any features. I went back and forth between Firefox and xxxterm but after a few weeks I found out that I really used it a lot and the lack of features was hampering me. So I added a couple more things to it and it became my browser of choice except for online banking (due to poor cookie support).

Then I started hearing about Microsoft's new IE9 privacy options on the radio which caught my attention. I started reading up on the features and the reasons for them. Being a practical paranoid I was always uneasy about cookies and basically leave them disabled however this was again not helping me with my online banking problem. Then I ran into this article http://www.technologyreview.com/communications/26905/?a=f and was alarmed by the extent of tracking online. I was always aware of it but didn't spend any real time thinking about it because I disabled cookies anyway. With my interest piqued I decided to do an experiment. I hooked up a windows machine, a tcpdumper and IE with all bells and whistles enabled and started to surf the web. First I was struck by all the ads and movement overload, then by the lack of response as the machine crawled to a standstill due to all this "rich" content. I started to surf the web to standard sites I go to. Those cookies sure were starting to pile up and I saw more and more ads for random products. I clicked on some of them just to see what it would do and the results were nothing but astonishing.

The number of cookies I got per website was nothing short of insane. My non-scientific test showed that I usually ended up with 5 to 15 cookies and on some sites as many as 30. The more ads I clicked the more weird unrelated domains I saw popping up in tcpdump. This is when it hit me how completely out of control the www is. I was aware of it but I used protection and never gave it a second thought but man seeing this in action was crazy. One thing that really surprised me was how the ads were following me around. Since I "showed interest" by clicking on some ads the same products and vendors chased me around the web like a needy dog. A few hours and a couple of hundred cookies later I decided to "fix" the web for my personal use.

It is pretty normal to accumulate thousands of cookies over the course of a few days. My standard web behavior made me the proud owner of 2275 blocked cookies over one weekend. Marvelous!

More later,
Marco Peereboom