August 4, 2016
By: gotwf

The Daily Trifecta

Worksations are typically customized to perform various specialized tasks but three apps stand essential: A text editor, web browser and terminal. The daily driver trifecta.

Five nines of my computer time deals with text. Either reading or composing it. No surprise then that text based, command line driven tools take center stage.

Editor

The Big Kahuna is the text editor. I used n/vi for decades before I knew Emacs existed. I used Vim for a long while as well. I now use Emacs and wish I’d found enlightenment sooner. Although I’d taken a look at Emacs a time or two I always had things on my plate that needed to get done. While I may have had the best of intentions, I never stuck with it long enough for Emacs to reveal itself. Things always clicked in vi because that is the first text editor I learned and it was nothing short of a godsend back in the day when whole lots of folk were still carrying around stacks of punch cards.

Familiarity pulls hard at us. Whatever you’re not currently using is going to feel strange and cumbersome by comparison. Don’t be in too big a haste to choose sides in the editor wars. Nor master the one true editor. Not yet. You’ve got plenty of time. A lifetime of time. Rather instead I suggest spending 10 days per each, using nothing but that editor to deal with any and all things text related. To the maximum extent possible. Should an urgency arise that tempts you to go for the famialiar low hangng fruit, just don’t do it. Full metal jacket immersion baby. Yes, you’re going to be inefficient. And frustrated. Budget for it. Even better if you can extend to 20 days. Or 30 days. Yes, this is that big of a decision. If yer' lucky, you may be in a place to make an intelligent and informed choice. Maybe not.

Terminal

Terminals are right up there with text editors. For some while now I have prefered VTE based terms. Yes, VTE/3 is fat and requires more dependencies compared to the likes of rxvt. Howsomever, most functional desktops will have 99% of the dependencies required to run VTE already installed. Most workstations nowadays also sport Gigabytes of RAM. So get over this uber mimimal resource usage thing. Especially for some thing as essential as your terminal. You live in it when you’re not living in your web browser, which likely gobbles enough resources that even the fattest terminal pales by comparison. Hence, in the overall scheme of things terminal resource usage considerations should rightfully take a back seat to form and function. You can have a nice looking terminal. It’s allowed. Groove on it.

rxvt and it’s unicode variants are, of course, pervasive amongst lean and mean cli samurai. Yes, it’s hip to use urxvt but I never cared for it. Color me strange but I think I get better font rendering with VTE based stuff. At least compared to rxvt-unicode. I like apps that use configuration files. I also like the way VTE terms display emphasized text as bold compared to the color highlights of *rxvt (e.g. man page flags and such). Yeah, I know there are knobs to tune this in *rxvt. Somewhere. [1]

Speaking of fonts, much of terminal aesthetics comes down to font rendering. Whereupon we encounter another great debate: TrueType vs bitmapped fonts. I prefer TrueType. I use Inconsolata across my monospaced needs. Its avaialable in both TrueType and OpenType variants. I also kind of like CamingoCode. It feels a bit frisky. On the bitmap side I like Terminus.

To tab or not to tab? That is the none question. There are those who eschew tab capable terminals because of their additional resource consumption. See my arguement above for why this is less of a concern than many make it. Moreover, just because they’re there doesn’t mean you have to use them. But having them there means you can use them when convenient. The rest of the time, configure your term not to display the tab bar for a single tab instance and they’re out of sight and out of mind. Get rid of your scroll and menu bars while you’re at it. See? Pretty lean and mean looking term, eh?

If you’re a zsh user and haven’t yet heard about Termite then you have now. Termite was designed out of the gate to integrate well with zsh and vim. Most zsh users I know are quite fond of Termite.

Roxterm gets my nod in the VTE arena. Sakura looks to be about the lightest VTE term I’ve explored but was glitchy for me during testing. Recently I have been reexamining *rxvt offerrings after a discussion on IRC wherein it was asserted that fonts looked better in rxvt-unicode than VTE based terminals. Once upon a time Mrxvt was my preferred terminal. Mrxvt sports a configuration file. [2] So I took it for a quick spin. And damn! I may have been wrong about VTE looking better. Preliminary a/b testing of mrxvt and roxterm favors mrxvt. I did not have my fonts tuned on that box at the time, however, nor was I running infinalaity ultimiate. So, yeah, Mrxvt is looking like a contender for replacing Roxterm.

Deserving of special mention is Terminology. Terminology is capable of cool things like playing videos. Yep. You read that right. Plays videos. In your terminal. Terminology comes to us courtesy of Rasterman, founder of the Enlightenment project. Many terminals are variations upon common themes based around rxvt or VTE. Termninology thinks outside of the box and brings something fresh and different to the table. Check it out. Especially if you’re using Enlightenment. [3]

The plethora of offerings in the terminal space is an indication of just how quirky we are when it comes to choosing one. Most are highly configurable and there’s probably a knob somewhere to tune to your particular quirky tastes. In the end it boils down to personal preferences. Find a terminal that looks good to your eyes and tweak it to behave as per your preferences.

Web Browser

It’s Web 2 Roh, roh! We pretty much gots to to have a full featured web browser installed nowadays on this here durn' computer. However, this enhanced, the browser is the app web is also fraught with danger. Decisions, decisions. In my experience resource usage is comparable between Firefox versus WebKit versus Chromium [4] Well, I say Firefox all the way, baby! Out of the box security is not what matters. Ultimately. Ultimately what matters is what you’re left with once you’re done tweaking. And in this respect I give Firefox and it’s rich plugin ecosystem the nod. Your mileage may vary.

Tons to choose from, fer' sure, fer' sure. A sampling that I like and use at various times includes: [5]

So where does this leave us? With a functional, reasonably secure, privacy aware, full featured browser for exciting stuff like online horse tradin'. But while each of the plugins listed brings its benefits, it also brings a cost. The cummulative effect of which is decidedly noticeable and you may find the ensuing experience too lumbering for your tastes. So what’s a body to do?

Bailing On Javascript

And other scripts. Neuter the devil where he lives. If your web browser does not run scripts then it’s a lot more difficult to be exploited, eh? Smart…​ Problem is, lots/most web sites will be broken. If you’re into FOSS though, chances are that you visit sites with a lot of informational related text, in which case these minimalist web browsers shine. I frequently use Emacs Web Wowzer for browsing documentation. Split the frame and enjoy an entre of copy pasta. I’m pretty happy with EWW fulfilling this minimalist role and haven’t been shopping around for a lean and mean daily driver web browser. Last I did, I would have thrown you a short list something like this:

'Twixt the Extremes

Conkeror is a keyboard driven browser utilizing Mozilla’s XULrunner that provides a very Firefox like browsing experience. So what’s so special about Conkeror that it makes my short list? Conkeror’s keybindings are Emacs centric. If you use Emacs you owe it to yourself to checkout Conkeror. Conkeror also plays well with tiling window managers. I used to be aware of some Vim centric analogs but their names escape me. Suffice to say that they’re out there for inquiring minds.

Opera Cake

I was an early Opera user back in the day. I loved that I could carry it around on a floppy. I even had multiple frames per window (Yeah, opposite of emacs speak). Nice. Opera innovated on a lot of stuff. Including some of the best CSS support going. Then, things happened. It matters not what. What matters is that the guys who started the original Opera project have rejoined their efforts into producing Vivaldi. A browser for their friends. Dumped core last I tried it but maybe a project to keep a weather eye on.

Well. There you have it. My $0.02.

Enjoy!


1 I grant it could be argued that Xresources is itself a config file.
2 It’s very Xresources-esque. Imagine that.
3 What I don’t like about it is that most of the themes sport an obnoxiously bright flashing, glowing, fading, throbbing cursor and there’s not a readily exposed knob to tune this. The Terminology devs like it so it will probably remain that way.
4 The browser built for tracking. No thanks.
5 Yep. This list is much shamelessly lifted verbatim from our About page. Mad props to the author of that rig for saving us some time.
Tags: roundups browsers editors terminals
gotwf