(Woops! This is an article about the Epiphany browser, not the Evolution email client. I’m blaming it on the fact that the names are so similar and I switched to Evo some time back. -Peng)
I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been hunting some things down for Epiphany, the GNOME web browser, and I was hoping that Epiphany 2.24.1, the current version in Ubuntu Intrepid, was good enough to let me kick out Firefox when version 3.1 comes out. While I’ve gotten really spoiled by some of Firefox’s features and extensions I’ve got some things that I have to be able to do in Epiphany if it’s going to replace Firefox.
- I have to be able to import my bookmarks from Firefox, if not the saved passwords
- I need to be able to open a new tab and have that new tab be the selected tab without having to do anything besides middle clicking on a link
- I need to be able to use Ctrl key combinations to zoom the text
- I have to be able to run Adblock Plus
- I have to be able to spellcheck my writing
- I need to be able to write blog posts without doing anything different
If any one of those things isn’t possible in Epiphany it could be a deal breaker for me. I know that there are a few extensions available for Epiphany, and there are some I’d like to be able to use, but they’re nice-to-haves, not Must Haves.
I went into my Firefox bookmark manager window and exported a fresh set of saved bookmarks, and when I tried to import them into Epiphany they installed without a hitch. Already this is different from what I experienced when I tried to do the same thing before Firefox 3 was released, so I started to hope that I’d end up pleasantly surprised by Epiphany. I set up my initial home page, a customized page I created several years and keep updated as I have new sites I want handy, and opened tabs with the two other pages that make up my Firefox “home page”, and the tabs opened in the background but that was something I’d check on later. I opened the preferences window and tried to set my home page to the three tabs I had open, but all that happened was to make the tab I was in the home page. That wasn’t what I had hoped for, but it’s a nice to have, not a deal breaker. The new tabs opening in the background? That didn’t make me happy. It was time to use my two Ubuntu-related search engines to see what I could come up with.
I found an question on Launchpad about the problem and found out someone made a third-party extension called Tab Foreground. I went to the page they linked to and found a page full of Epiphany extensions that weren’t part of the official extension package. Among them is Tab Foreground, and it looked like it would do the job, except for one problem. The newest version of Epiphany that the extensions supports is version 2.22 and I rub version 2.24. I installed it and enabled it, but it didn’t work. I emailed Chica, the person who wrote the extension to thank them for writing it anyway, and in a second email later I let them know it doesn’t play well with the newest version of Epiphany. Not to whine or complain, because I’m really thrilled that someone would take the initiative and put the time and energy into writing it in the first place.
Between the list of official Epiphany extensions, the list of third-party extensions and a separate list of unofficial extensions that I found I found most of the things I’d really like to use in my Firefox replacement, and I was starting to think it might actually be close enough that I’d be able to make something other than Firefox my default browser. Yes, I’d miss the Smart Location Bar after all, but I’d just get used to not having it again. I tried to zoom the text in and out with the Crtl-+/Ctrl– (Ctrl and either plus or minus) and was pleased to see the size of the text change. Resetting the zoom with Crtl-0 didn’t work so well, but it’s easy enough to use View > Normal Size to reset the zoom level. Three Must Have’s down, three to go.
Make that four down, because when I first opened Epiphany and opened Tools > Extensions I saw an ad blocker with no other installation needed, I just had to make sure it was enabled. (It may have been enabled by default, but I don’t think so.)
When I was posting yesterday’s links I found out that the last two items on my Must Have list weren’t so easy to cross off. The first problem I saw is that I’m used to simply selecting text and then hitting Ctrl-B to make some text bold but when I hit those keys in Epiphany it opened the Bookmark Manager. Huh? That’s not what I’m used to from other browsers I’ve used. I put the mouse over the Bold button on my WordPress.com post editing window to see if a shortcut key was available and it showed a shortcut of Ctrl / Alt+Shift + B, but no matter what I tried I couldn’t bold text from the keyboard. You may find that an annoyance but I consider it a pain in the ass.
I finished writing the post I was working on and I looked for a spell checker but i couldn’t find one. Usually GNOME apps that edit text (like Gedit and Evolution) have a spell checker built in, but I couldn’t see where to turn it on. I saw a Link Checker and an HTML Checker, but no spell checker. I went back to my search tools and found a regression on Launchpad about not being able to use spell checking on Ubuntu Gutsy and another bug that keeps me from being able to edit the setting in about:config.
Epiphany isn’t ready to be my primary browser yet, but if you use a GNOME-based GNU/Linux distro and are looking for a replacement for Firefox you should definitely take a look at Epiphany. You may find it just what the doctor ordered, especially since the Firefox devs keep making decisions that make us want to either throw something at our computer or throw our computer itself out the nearest window. From what I’m seeing Firefox 3.1 will make things worse, not better.