I suppose, most of you know what is a web browser – it’s a program that lets you surf the internet, view web sites and web pages, send emails (through web based interfaces) etc.
Browsers we are familiar with (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari or Opera) have a pretty interface and are called graphical browsers because they, typically, display all the contents of a web page including text, images, videos and flash animations. And it is these browsers that produced the internet revolution, as we know it.
The first of these graphic browsers was Mosaic – yes, I used it in 1993 – which later gave rise to Netscape Navigator web browser and the rest is history. Before Mosaic was developed, there was another little program that let users navigate around the web. This was a nifty little text based browser called Lynx.
A text web browser, like a graphical browser, lets you surf the web. However, there is one big difference – the complete absence (almost) of a nice looking interface. You hardly ever use the mouse to move about but rather employ keys like the tab and the enter key. Opening a web site shows you only text – no images or any other media with links shown in a different color (which you can specify).
A text web browser displays only the text on a web site with any links. It cannot display any images, video or flash animations.
So what is the point in having a regressive technology? And do we need text browsers?
The average Joe doesn’t need to be bothered with text web browsers anymore. These programs may be useful for web developers, especially those who are slickers for perfection, are working on web sites that need to adhere to strict compliance rules or whose potential audience uses Jurassic age computers with low-end processors (the machines that can’t run graphical browsers).
Having said that, a text web browsers is a good way to check how a search engine bot views your web site. But with such services available for free on the web, I don’t see (no puns intended) any reason for downloading and installing a text based web browser on your computer. Two popular web sites that let you see your web site through the eyes of a text web browser are Lynx viewer and SEO browser.
Take these two services for a spin – you need to type in your web site URL and then sit back to be taken in the past! By the way, you might need to upload a file called “delorie.gif” or “delorie.htm” in the document root directory to use Lynx viewer. If you don’t know how to do that, try out the one at Yellowpipe Internet Services.
Lynx was the first text based web browser and is probably still the best. It is a free program that can be installed on multiple operating systems (its cross-platform, in tech lingo) including Windows, Mac and Unix/Linux based machines. There are several other such programs like Emacs/W3 and Edbrowser. Lynx has been around since about 1992 and can be downloaded from Lynx homepage.
For many years Google has been the most popular search engine and people strive hard to have their sites rank high on its search results pages. To help developers with the various aspects of their web sites, Google has posted tons of articles and videos. They’ve also put up a Webmasters Tools section which has many utilities that can assist people in improving their web sites. One of them is the “Fetch as Googlebot” located under “Diagnostics” through which you can check how individual pages appear to Google’s crawler.
Please note that the “Fetch as Googlebot” is not a text browser. However, it’s a great tool that can inform you of potential problems with your site. Webmaster Tools site is for free and one only needs a free Google Account to access all its features.
IMDb.com started on Usenet as the "rec.arts.movies movie database" which consisted of four lists - Actors, Actresses, Directors and Dead Actors/Actresses - and unix shell scripts for searching those lists. [more...]