Archive for September, 2018

03
Sep
18

SS20 Desktop: Basic Web Browsing

Last time I looked at the relative performance of the CPU modules I have on hand, the HyperSPARC running at 90Mhz seemed to be the best option for using the machine in a workstation role. Today we begin to test this out by trying to browse the web. This sounds simple, but it’s actually quite challenging to do for a vintage machine as web browsers tend to require lots of graphics processing and there are very limited options available.

I have managed to get three basic web browsers compiled and working, Lynx, Links and Dillo. I’ve tried building others that are light weight with little success, more main-stream browsers such as firefox are simply too demanding to even try. Three potential candidates for future build attempts are ELinks, Midori and Netsurf.

The first program, lynx is one of the older programs, started in 1992 by students and staff at the University of Kansas it is still updated today. It runs from a terminal and has no graphical capability, because of this it is quite useful for vision impaired users as it works well with screen readers. You would be forgiven for thinking that lacking graphical display is a hindrance on the modern web, but lynx manages to make most pages quite readable. Well behaved/designed websites generally work quite well with some compromises on formatting, I tried google searches, reading on wikipedia and several wordpress blogs which all worked quite well. I was even able to use it to read my email via gmail. Unfortunately there are also plenty of sites that aren’t friendly to lynx (such as ebay), and page formatting isn’t always nice to read. These issues stem mostly from sites that haven’t crossed over to HTML 5, or ones that over use complex formatting. It performs quite well on the Sparc Station.

Links whilst having a similar name is a completely separate project to lynx. It offers the capability to run in a text-only terminal in much the same way as lynx, but can also be used graphically via X, SVGALib, or a frame buffer directly. This makes it quite useful on machines that don’t have a working X server. Much like lynx, well behaved websites are very usable and generally work quite well, again with some formatting compromises. It handles page formatting roughly as well as lynx does, but with the addition of images. This makes some websites like ebay more usable, although the formatting is still wonky at times. I’ve had gmail working on it in the past, but not today due to the current build or changes to gmail.

Example image of Links dithering capability

Dithering example

Performance on the sparc is pretty good, with short delays when images are being displayed for the first time. This happens because my sparc has an 8-bit display and Links will convert images using dithering and colour approximation. To maximise the number of colours it can use Links uses something called a private colour map. This is why other windows have their colours messed up whilst Links is in focus and vice versa. This sounds like it would result in poor image quality, however links manages this conversion quite well. The loading delay would certainly be shorter on 24 bit displays.

Dillo is a light-weight browser with a GUI that looks much more familiar for most users. It requires much more computing power compared to the others, but as a result it tends to display web pages with formatting closer to what you’d expect from the page. I found that many pages worked quite well, but others failed to display anything at all. It seemed to be an issue with SSL, I have the root certificates installed, but it still believed all connections had invalid certificates when clearly they didn’t. However you can see from the screen shot, that sites like wikipedia render exceptionally well.

Performance on the SparcStation unfortunately is quite slow, mostly whilst loading a page. Dillo can consume so much CPU as to even starve the X server of cycles, making it appear the system has frozen (when it hasn’t). From what I’ve read this could be because Dillo is multi-threaded, and is probably starting a number of threads upon loading a page. It may run significantly better on systems with more than one CPU, in my case switching to using the SuperSparc modules would possibly solve this.

Browsing the web on such an old machine was never going to be easy, some things just aren’t feasible such as javascript and video content. However it actually works reasonably well for reading static web pages and doing basic interaction such as posting a comment. Of the three browsers I’ve tried so far I think Links is probably the most usable, it provides images and formats pages reasonably well without consuming too many CPU cycles. Lynx comes second only because it doesn’t show images, it is a good option for text only browsing. Finally Dillo is probably just a smidge too demanding for my particular hardware and fails ungracefully with some sites, although it does provide the prettiest render you also have to wait the longest.

Advertisements



Blogs I Follow

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Advertisements

Mister G Kids

A daily comic about real stuff little kids say in school. By Matt GajdoĊĦ

Random Battles: my life long level grind

completing every RPG, ever.

Gough's Tech Zone

Reversing the mindless enslavement of humans by technology.

Retrocosm's Vintage Computing, Tech & Scale RC Blog

Random mutterings on retro computing, old technology, some new, plus radio controlled scale modelling.

ancientelectronics

retro computing and gaming plus a little more

Retrocomputing with 90's SPARC

21st-Century computing, the hard way

lazygamereviews

MS-DOS game reviews, retro ramblings and more...