Midori 0.2.6 Review

very good
key review info
application features
  • Based on GTK+ 2 and WebKit
  • (3 more, see all...)

For Linux users there’s only been one real choice in terms of web browsers in recent years, Mozilla Firefox. Sure, there are plenty of other browsers out there, each with its own unique traits and loyal fans, but, by and large, most users opted for Firefox. Very recently, Google Chrome has also become a viable alternative, though the ‘political’ issues, Chrome is not really open source, have kept it back so far. Its twin brother Chromium is completely open source and it looks like Canonical, makers of Ubuntu, are contemplating making it the default browser in the upcoming Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition.

In this landscape, one project has been flying mostly under the radar, the Midori web browser, and, as you’ll see, perhaps undeservedly so. The Midori team has a simple mission statement, create a web browser built with GTK+ 2 and based on the WebKit web rendering engine all wrapped in a lightweight package. And now, after several years in development, it’s safe to say they’ve reached their goal.

Midori means ‘green’ in Japanese

Midori means ‘green’ in Japanese and it’s a name that suits it well, the browser is light and fast. It found a home as part of the semi-official XFCE Goodies bundle and is considered the default web browser for the lightweight desktop environment.  

That doesn’t mean you need XFCE to make the best of it, Midori feels right at home in GNOME as well. Development cycles are pretty short so most Linux distributions are going to have trouble keeping up with the latest release. In my case, on Ubuntu 10.04, the latest official build in the default repositories was Midori 0.2.2. The newest release, however, at the time of writing, is Midori 0.2.6. Luckily, if you use Ubuntu as well, you can find PPA builds of the latest release or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can build it yourself from the sources.

Midori is lightning fast

So, with that sorted, let's get things moving. Midori, as advertised, is fast. It loads pretty fast, depending on how many tabs you have open, and it shuts down instantly. Moving from tab to tab is seamless even with a large number of tabs. Its swiftness rivals that of Google Chrome’s, which is largely regarded as the speed king across all platforms, so that’s saying something. If performance is an issue for you, whether you’re on an underpowered machine or netbook or just want to keep things light and fast, Midori certainly fits the bill.

Desktop integration - Midori is built on GTK+ 2

Of course, speed is just one part of the equation. A fast browser doesn’t necessarily make for a great experience. So how does Midori stack up in the looks department? Well, right off the bat I’ll tell you that it does pretty, pretty well. It’s a completely native GTK+ 2 application so it’s at home in XFCE, GNOME or any other similar environment. In this regard, it does a lot better than Firefox. It’s the little things, like the desktop notifications integration, when a download is finished, for example , that make all the difference. If you want the same look and feel across all of your applications, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option.
Review image
Midori 0.2.6

Customization options


One thing I love about Midori is the customization options. By default, Midori comes with a pretty lightweight but standard choice of UI components, things like the menu bar, the status bar and so on. It’s the safest option, but those who’ll appreciate Midori will want to keep it as minimalistic as possible. Fortunately, Midori delivers, the UI components can be stripped down to just the tab bar and nothing else. A usable minimum configuration would be to have just the tab bar and the navigation bar visible. Smartly, if you disable the menu bar, Midori will add a menu button, in the veins of the ones in the latest Opera or the upcoming Firefox 4.0, to access the most common settings.
Review image
Midori 0.2.6 with no menu bar

Usability


So far, everything looks good, but us, human beings, are creatures of habit. Once we get accustomed to a certain way of doing things, it’s hard to change it. This is extremely true for software, so a perfectly good app may not get a second chance if it comes off as too ‘alien’ on first try. Midori does have a few hiccups in this department, especially for a long-time Firefox and Chrome user as myself. It has gotten better with the latest releases, but the default settings may seem a bit strange to most people.

For example, by default, the first option in the right-click menu when clicking on a link is to open it in a new tab in the foreground, meaning that you’ll get switched to that new tab. Most of the time, this is not what you want to do. It seems like nitpicking, but you’re going to open links many times a day so it can become annoying pretty fast. Thankfully, you can customize this behavior in the Preferences menu and make ‘Open tabs in the background’ the default option in the right-click menu.
Review image
Midori 0.2.6 - the menu button

Standards compliant - Midori is based on WebKit


It’s starting to look like we have a winner on our hands. But so far we haven’t touched on the core functionality of a web browser, to display web pages. It may be fast, it may be smart and customizable, but if the pages don’t look or work properly, it’s all for nothing. Midori starts off with a major disadvantage, it’s not a mainstream browser by any stretch of the imagination. As such, by default, many more 'advanced' websites will refuse to work in the ‘unsupported’ browser or just display a basic HTML interface. Gmail doesn’t work straight out of the box, Yahoo Mail doesn’t work, Google Docs is largely unusable and so on.

But Midori’s secret weapon is that it’s based on WebKit. That means that, not only is it fully standards-compliant, it also comes with great support for HTML5 and one of the fastest and most popular rendering engines around. So most of the problems with compatibility can be ‘fixed’ with a very simple trick, just change the user agent of the browser. Go to Preferences > Network and choose either Safari (since it’s also based on WebKit) or Firefox. This won’t solve all of your problems, some websites still won’t work, partially or even at all. It’s a shame too, but the developers can’t really do that much about this, it comes with the territory when you’re a small-time web browser.

Conclusion

So, adding it all up, Midori is surprisingly good. It’s fast, it’s light and looks great with GNOME or XFCE. It’s faster than Firefox and on par, subjectively, with Google Chrome. It’s a much tighter fit for your desktop environment than Firefox, not to mention Chrome. And it also comes with the great WebKit rendering engine. Stability doesn’t seem to be an issue so far, like it was in earlier builds. It’s only real but minor downside is the lack of extensions. There are a few built-in, but nothing on the scale of Firefox or even Chrome. It does support Greasemonkey scripts though. On the whole, Midori is great, and the only thing keeping it from becoming my default browser are the issues with lack of support at some websites.

user interface 5
features 3
ease of use 4
pricing / value 5


final rating 4
Editor's review
very good
 
NEXT REVIEW: Parole Media Player

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