Exploring the Min web browser

In with Min

© Lead Image © alphaspirit, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © alphaspirit, 123RF.com

Article from Issue 199/2017
Author(s):

A simple design, efficient performance, and a built-in ad blocker are reasons for a closer look at the Min web browser.

Google Chrome dominates today's market for web browsers, thus leading to a landscape dominated by the WebKit engine. Many free browsers, such as Epiphany, Midori, or Rekonq are based on WebKit, and WebKit is also the foundation for proprietary browsers such as Safari and Opera.

With all this consolidation in the underlying components of popular web browsers, it is both astounding and gratifying to see developers create a browser that embodies a totally different approach. The Min browser [1] does not depend on a rendering engine but is built entirely from the Electron framework, which is used for creating cross-platform applications with JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. The name hints at Min's lean design and minimalist aesthetic: the screen looks pretty empty after the start, except for a menubar.

Min is a light, fast browser with some innovative features, including built-in ad blocking, integrated search, and a unique approach to tab management.

Tabs, Search, and Shortcuts

Min's approach to tabs might be somewhat different from what you are used to with other browsers. The tabs, search, and address line are merged into a single widget. You just click in the area below the menubar to activate the input and start typing. A number of suggestions appear based on search results and previously viewed pages (Figure 1). Click on one of the suggestions, or highlight it with the arrow keys and press Enter, to load the page. Min shows the title of the page on the tab; you can view the URL by clicking on the tab again.

Figure 1: Min expands terms typed in the address bar with suggestions based on search results and previously visited sites.

Open a new tab by pressing the plus icon at the right side of the current tab. Each tab has the same width, and the colors for the background only differ slightly; text in inactive tabs is grayed.

Min's search feature sends queries to previously viewed pages as well as the no-track DuckDuckGo [2] meta search engine. The search results were impressive in our lab, which is just as well, because Min does not offer an easy means for changing the search engine: You need to edit the source code to change to a different search tool.

Min does not offer bookmarks: Instead, the program assumes you will find the right page by entering a few characters. This approach works reasonably well, but it still seems a little impractical. If you are starting from scratch, you might be fine without bookmarks, but many users have extensive bookmark collections gathered over the years and will not welcome the prospect of giving up their bookmarks.

At least Min understands a number of keyboard shortcuts; more detailed information on shortcuts is available in the project wiki [3]. The shortcuts follow the standard used with other browsers and work environments, so you won't have to learn many new tricks.

Modes

Focus Mode hides all tabs except from the currently active tab. If you have opened a large number of sites, this feature is quite useful. To enter Focus Mode, select View | Focus Mode in the menu.

In Reading List Mode (Figure 2), Min will format some complex web pages for easier reading. Although Reading List mode makes the content more accessible, it does remove any hyperlinks embedded in the text.

Figure 2: Pure text without decoration thanks to Reading List mode; unfortunately, this option also removes the links.

The software saves all texts displayed in Reading List mode for 30 days. You can use the View | Reading List menu to access the page again.

Ad Blocker and Multimedia

The ad blocker in Min is fairly near the top of the feature list on the project website. But where other browsers use a plugin, Min builds ad blocking directly into its Preferences page. In our lab, the ad blocker worked well. Choose the Edit | Preferences menu to block scripts, images, or trackers and ads.

Min is up to date on audio and video playback. The browser also scores pleasingly high marks on the HTML5 support test (Figure 3). Google Chrome achieved just two points more on the same machine, and Mozilla Firefox ended up in third place.

Figure 3: Min achieved a very good result in the test for HTML5 support.

Min generally had no problems with Internet radio stations or major platforms such as YouTube (Figure 4) or DailyMotion. The only failures were in rare cases that required the dying Flash format.

Figure 4: Big Buck Bunny takes up the fight in Min, even without Flash.

To provide support for various multimedia formats, Min comes with the FFmpeg library. FFmpeg is one of the installation components when you build Min from source code (see the "Availability" box).

Availability

The Download Min link on the project website takes users directly to a Debian package for 64-bit systems. Min source code, as well as versions for Windows and Mac OS, are available on GitHub [4].

Installing from the source code is not trivial, and maybe also unnecessary. On a test system with Fedora 25, I only needed to unpack the Ubuntu package and the data.tar.xz tarball included in the package. The folder created subsequently (usr/bin/) contains an executable binary, which you can launch by double-clicking in the file manager. The program includes most of its run-time environment itself, only requiring in GTK version 2 to draw the graphical user interface.

To build Min from the source code, you also need the Electron [5] Javascript runtime environment. Electron does not yet exist in the form of packages for popular distributions, which complicates the build. Fortunately, the Electron project has precompiled packages for various platforms [6]; unpack the Linux package in the previously unpacked Min tarball first. On our Fedora test system, we also needed to install the nodejs-grunt and npm packages.

Run the commands in Listing 1. The last command launches the browser. You can convert this command to a desktop file that will let you launch the browser from the Start menu.

Listing 1

Building

 

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