Midori vs Epiphany Review

In the last couple months I've been seeing a lot of articles concerning the Midori web browser. It's a lightweight GTK-based browser that uses the WebKit rendering engine also used by browsers like Chromium and Safari. At version 0.2.9, it's relatively new (it's still a ways away from a 1.0 release), but it's included as part of the Xfce "goodies" package. It's also the browser of choice of the Elementary project. I've tried Midori before and like it because it isn't too much of a system resource hog, and it faithfully displays the webpages I visit.

browser wars

More recently, when testing a prerelease build of Debian 6 "Squeeze", I came upon the Epiphany browser. Epiphany used to be called Galeon and has been the default browser in distributions that use stock GNOME for a long time (though for the last year and more distributions using GNOME have been replacing Epiphany with the far more popular Mozilla Firefox). Epiphany's version numbering roughly corresponds with that of GNOME as it is kind of like a core GNOME utility; the latest version is 2.30. Versions prior to 2.28 used the Gecko rendering engine shared with Mozilla Firefox, making Epiphany a sort of  "Mozilla Firefox-lite". 

Since then, Epiphany has also jumped onto the WebKit bandwagon. I've used both browsers before, but I've never tested them side-by-side. They are quite similar (at first glance) in nature and goals. Both aspire to be relatively lightweight GTK+ browsers. Both are built on the WebKit rendering engine. Both score 100/100 on the Acid3 browser standards compatibility test. But I want to see if there are any significant differences beyond that.

I've never rigorously tested web browsers before; this is my first time, so please bear with me, as this certainly is nowhere near as rigorous as the tests performed by technical sites like Phoronix. I'm going to use the "time cat" command in the terminal as a sort of stopwatch; note that due to errors resulting from my human reaction time, though "time cat" reports times to the millisecond, I'm only going to report times accurate to the tenth of a second (that being the uncertain significant figure). 

I'll time the browsers' start-up times, times to load pages like Google, YouTube, and a site called Cville.ownyourc.com that exclusively uses Adobe Flash. I'll also test page load times for sites I commonly use, like Gmail, Facebook, and Blogger, among others. At the same time, I'll also be monitoring RAM usage of the browsers when starting and loading such pages. What this means is that along with the browser window, there will also always be terminal and system monitor windows open. I am doing all this testing in a live USB session of Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME. Continue reading to see how each browser fares.

Epiphany Web Browser

Midori vs Epiphany Review

Starting Epiphany took 1.7 s to load and used 11.8 MB RAM. Epiphany's default homepage is the Debian homepage though this was tested on an Ubuntu-based distribution. The user interface is nothing out of the ordinary – present below the main menu bar are buttons for going back, forwards, stopping, and reloading the page.

Next to that is an address bar which seems to combine the search feature of Chromium's address bar with the nice browsing history/bookmark-based feature of Mozilla Firefox's "awesome bar"; even beyond that, Epiphany allows searching through search engines other than Google as well as through Debian's bug tracking system. That's cool. Also, the progress bar is integrated into the address bar à la Safari, which makes for a cleaner interface in my opinion. Next to the address bar are buttons to increase or decrease the size of the page content, which I don't feel is necessary for inclusion by default. Of course, these toolbar buttons/layout can be changed easily.

Epiphany has a couple of extensions, but these are only available as packages in the repositories of the distribution in question (i.e. there aren't any widespread user-generated extensions). Some extensions include adblocking, Greasemonkey scripts, and an RSS extension, among others. It's a decent collection, but it's still nowhere near those of Mozilla Firefox or even Chromium. That takes care of the large part of the browser interface, so now it's onto the numbers.

Midori vs Epiphany Review

Google took 1.6 s to load and used 12 MB of RAM. The YouTube homepage took 2.2 s and 30 MB. The "Crazy Indian Video – Buffalaxed!" video on YouTube took 1.6 s and 35 MB. My Gmail took 5.0 s and 45 MB. The gateway to the Adobe Flash-heavy site Cville took 7.2 s and 45 MB, but that's because I needed to reload the page once as I was just getting a blank gray page. The actual Adobe Flash-heavy part of Cville took 10.5 s to load and used 55 MB of RAM. The Blogger sign-in page took 1.6 s and 55 MB. The Blogger dashboard page took 4.5 s and 55 MB. My blog Das U-Blog by Prashanth took 2.3 s and 55 MB. Tech Drive-in took 5.1 s and 60 MB. TechDirt took 7.0 s and 75 MB.

As you can see, RAM usage just kept going up even when loading sites that really shouldn't be so resource-intensive. Other than that, load times were reasonable and Epiphany never seemed unstable.

Midori Web Browser

Midori vs Epiphany Review

Starting Midori took 0.8 s and used 12.9 MB of RAM, but that's because the default homepage is a local HTML file (and not a webpage). Like Epiphany, Midori's UI is nothing out of the ordinary. Below the main menu bar (which, unlike in Epiphany, can be compacted into a button on the right side, giving a more streamlined interface) are buttons to add a new tab, go back, go forwards, go to the next subpage, and reload the page.

Next to that is an address bar which doesn't have the cool features of the Epiphany address bar (aside from the progress bar integration as well as searching, which is a little more limited). Next to that is a button to open the sidepanel. Next to that is a Yahoo! search box. Next to that is a button to undo the closing of the last tab. I'm not really sure why these last three things are present; I don't think they're particularly necessary. Of course, as with Epiphany, these toolbar buttons/layout can be changed easily.

Like Epiphany, Midori has extensions, but also like Epiphany, they are somewhat limited in number. In fact, many of the extensions are common. Thankfully, the extensions come with Midori and don't need to be installed as part of a separate package.

Midori vs Epiphany Review

Midori took 0.9 s to load Google and used 12.9 MB of RAM. YouTube took 1.8 s and 35 MB. The video took 1.5 s and 45 MB. My Gmail took 1.9 s and 35 MB, but that's because for some reason, Midori was unable to load the full version of Gmail and could only load the basic HTML page. That was a real disappointment. The Cville gateway took 5.7 s (also needing a reload, but this time I (not Midori) was a little quicker about it) and 55 MB, while the actual Adobe Flash site took 10.4 s and 65 MB. The Blogger sign-in page took 1.6 s and 42 MB, while the Blogger dashboard page took 2.5 s and 44 MB. Das U-Blog by Prashanth took 3.0 s and 69 MB, while Tech Drive-in took 3.4 s and 65 MB. TechDirt took 5.4 s and a whopping 90 MB.

Aside from a couple exceptions, as was true in Epiphany, Midori exhibited increasing RAM usage even for sites that shouldn't use that much RAM.

So what's the verdict? I would say that loading times and RAM usage between the two browsers are essentially a draw. Midori did feel slightly snappier than Epiphany, though. Epiphany seems to have a few more extensions than Midori, but both include the most common ones, so it's not a huge deal. Given all that, the dealbreaker for me is that Midori couldn't load the full version of Gmail, which is important considering that, on Mozilla Firefox Gmail is my homepage (and hence the one I will likely see most often). That seals the deal for Epiphany. I'm not really sure how Midori could score 100/100 on the Acid3 test and not properly render Gmail.

There are, however, more browsers than just Epiphany and Midori, and out of the entire pool, I wouldn't choose either of these for day-to-day browsing. Both browsers are pretty promising, but there's still a lot of work to be done. Although it isn't a GTK application, Chromium integrates OK with GTK environments and is quite lightweight and extensible. [learn how Chromium is different from Google Chrome]

Mozilla Firefox of course is the king of extensibility and it integrates quite well with GTK environments, though it too isn't a true GTK application; that said, with the upcoming release of Ubuntu 11.04 "Natty Narwhal" and the ongoing work regarding the global menu, even if Mozilla Firefox isn't truly a GTK application, the point will be made moot. Therefore, I see no reason to migrate over to Epiphany or Midori just yet. I think the Elementary developers might just want to consider including Mozilla Firefox instead of Midori (as hopefully Firefox 4.0 will be out before the first official Elementary OS release), and the Debian developers might want to put Mozilla Firefox/Iceweasel on the top panel as opposed to Epiphany (which probably won't be chucked out entirely as it's a core GNOME product).

1. Epiphany
It has a better address bar and better rendering, though the speed isn't anything special.
2. Midori
It's a little snappier and has the option of hiding the menu bar, but displaying the plain HTML version of Gmail seems to go against the goal of rendering pages well.

This article was contributed by Prashanth Venkataram, who writes at Das U-Blog by Prashanth discussing topics related to open source software and people's freedoms relating to technology. His previous article compared two of the most popular Ubuntu derivatives, Linux Mint and Pinguy OS. [first image via]

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