Can Konqueror Compete? A Look at KDE’s Browser

With Firefox marketshare now above 20% and rising fast, can the KDE Project's browser, Konqueror, compete? Recently I started running KDE 4.2.2 and decided to use Konqueror in place of my default browser — Firefox. Let's see how Konqueror stacks up.

How does Konqueror stack up against Firefox as a Web browser? The KDE Project has been building its own browser as part of its desktop stack for years. Recently I started running KDE 4.2.2 to see how KDE 4 was coming along, and decided to use Konqueror in place of my default browser — Firefox. Let’s see how Konqueror stacks up.

Browsing the Web with Konqueror

The first test for Konqueror was to just run through browsing the sites I use on a daily basis — everything from basic news sites like CNN to Google Reader, GMail, Twitter, Gist, and of course I Can Has Cheezburger? for good measure. What I wanted to do is to see how well Konqueror handles a variety of sites using three main criteria: rendering speed, layout, and support for advanced features. In other words — does Konqueror measure up speedwise? Can it render pages as they’re expected to appear in Firefox and IE? And does Konqueror support keybindings in GMail, and other advanced features in Web applications I use day to day?

Static sites like CNN ran OK, though it seemed that rendering speed was just a bit laggy compared to Firefox. When I loaded GMail, it would initially default to the HTML view of GMail. Konqueror can handle the standard GMail pages, but it’s much slower than Firefox. To be fair, the blame may fall on Google’s developers just as much as Konqueror’s, because there’s obviously little or no testing done to ensure that GMail supports Konqueror. However, as an end user, I don’t really care a great deal where the fault lies — just whether or not it works. And though it technically does work, it’s distressingly slow.

Most sites look pretty much the same in Konqueror as they do in Firefox, but there are occasional glitches or oddness. Konqueror shows KDE widgets for things like scrollbars, and CSS menus may not look quite right in Konqueror either. The WordPress dashboard doesn’t look right at all. Widgets that should only take up one-quarter of the page wind up taking up nearly the entire page, obscuring widgets to the right.

If you’re used to Firefox, running Konqueror takes a bit of getting used to, because its keyboard shortcuts differ in many cases from the Firefox defaults. For example, instead of Ctrl-t to open a new tab, you’ll use Ctrl-Shift-n to get a new tab in Konq. This is annoying when you’ve gotten the Firefox shortcuts burned into your muscle memory. On the other hand, if you’re a die-hard KDE user, you’ll appreciate that the shortcuts are standard across KDE applications.

If you’re more of the point-and-click type, though, you’ll probably not notice much of a difference. Opening a new tab, for instance, by double-clicking on the tab bar works just the same in Konqueror as it does in Firefox.

Overall, Konqueror isn’t a drop-in replacement for Firefox, at least if you happen to use many sites that have complex layouts and a fair amount of CSS.

Extensions?

The days of the Web browser being nothing more than an application to display Web pages are long over. Konqueror has a pretty good set of default features, but what about extending its functionality?

The good news is that Konqueror supports extensions, and quite a few are bundled in — including an ad-blocker, inline translation using Babel Fish, and validation tools for ensuring that your Web site is W3C compliant.

But that’s really about it. Konqueror doesn’t have a particularly active community developing extensions, or anything like the Mozilla infrastructure for getting add-ons and extensions. Theoretically, Konqueror could go toe-to-toe with Firefox as it should be possible to write a lot of useful extensions for Konqueror, especially since Konqueror has a number of embedded features it inherits from KDE that Firefox doesn’t enjoy.

The unfortunate reality, though, is that there’s just not enough momentum behind Konqueror for there to be many people writing extensions for it.

Beyond the Browser

One thing that Konqueror has going for it is flexibility above and beyond Web browsing, and integration with KDE. While Firefox is a great browser, it doesn’t do file management or have its own terminal emulator built in.

Konqueror started life as an answer to Explorer, which also serves as a shell for Microsoft Windows and file manager. Likewise, Konqueror was the default file manager for KDE and did double duty as a browser and file manager. These days, Dolphin is the default file manager on KDE, though it’s not as full featured as Konqueror. (You can switch to use Konq as the default file manager, however.)

Using the KIO (KDE Input/Output) slaves, Konqueror supports a number of protocols that you can’t use with Firefox. Want to work with files over SSH? Just type fish://remotehost in the location bar. Typing fonts:/ will show you your system and personal fonts (if any). sysinfo:/ displays system settings. You can also view Zip files and tarballs in Konqueror.

And one really cool trick up Konqueror’s sleeve is the audiocd:/ KIO Slave. Slip an audio CD into the drive, type audiocd:/ in the location bar, and you’ll see virtual folders with all of the CD’s tracks as FLAC, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and WAV files.

Note that you can also divide Konqueror’s window into several slices by “splitting” the window horizontally and vertically, and even open a terminal emulator within the Konqueror window — which can be useful when you don’t need a full terminal instance to run a few quick commands.

Konqueror also embeds other KDE “parts” so you can view PDFs, images, edit text and other files using the advanced editor part, and so forth.

Konqueror Conquered?

Konqueror is an interesting browser, and its integration with KDE make it interesting for users who have chosen that desktop — but it’s a small slice of the overall market. Even with the KDE Project’s alleged support of Mac OS X and Windows (try actually finding packages for those platforms from the KDE Web site), Konqueror is pretty much limited to Linux and other *nix platforms.

Die-hard KDE fans might be able to do all their Web work in Konqueror, but if you’re hoping to get the full enjoyment out of the Web, you’re not going to get it from Konqueror.

But that doesn’t mean Konqueror doesn’t have its place. Linux users should take some time to explore Konq and see where it can fit into their routine. While it may not replace Firefox, it definitely has a place in any power user’s toolbox.

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