Alternative Browsers for Linux

All I can say right now is wow. Having been a long time user of Firefox, it's been a while since I last used a different browser under Linux... well... because there really weren't any better alternatives for a long time.

However, since webkit-gtk has been stabilizing lately, I decided to check out a couple of alternative browsers that were mentioned in the Linux Browser Shootout - namely Midori and Epiphany. I already tried Chrome (Chromium) a while ago and was quite impressed. What I really liked about Chrome was a) that it was blazingly fast, and b) that it did a great job of importing my Firefox preferences and bookmarks. There are still a few other issues with Chrome though. For example, some Flash functionality does not work properly. I'm sure that will be sorted out eventually.

So anyway, on to the good stuff. Most people are familiar with Epiphany (formerly Galeon) when it used the Gecko rendering engine (from the Mozilla project). Epiphany is the official browser of the Gnome desktop, if I'm not mistaken. Back when it was based on Gecko, it was good but just seemed like a less featured version of Mozilla or Firefox. Ever since they changed the default rendering engine to WebKit, it has been blazingly fast. Epiphany still suffers from having too few preference settings for the 'advanced' user. Also, when in full screen mode (which I tend to use frequently while browsing on my EEE 701) there is an annoying button at the top-right that says 'Leave Fullscreen', and it doesn't go away (until you leave fullscreen), which becomes bothersome when trying to actually view / click something that is underneath the button. Epiphany accomplished its goal of providing a very simple and easy-to-use browser for the Gnome desktop, but it really lacks appeal for advanced users.

Next, I tried Midori - and was really impressed. Not only was it fast (using the webkit-gtk engine), but it also had a few more settings that Epiphany was missing. Furthermore, it didn't have an annoying 'Leave Fullscreen' button to get in the way of things. There are a couple of issues I've found with it still, such as random cursor placement in a text area after pressing End / Left / Right / Down, etc, but I'm sure those will get ironed out eventually too.

I'm actually writing this entry using Midori, and have to say that it's very responsive and feels extremely light-weight. There is practically zero load time when going through GMail or Slashdot. Considering the Midori project has had less time to reach maturity than either Firefox or Epiphany, and has had less manpower, I would have to give it the best review overall.

Now, I am a huge fan of Firefox - Mozilla and its contributions to the Linux community have been fantastic over the years - but I have to admit that the webkit-gtk engine will probably take the GNU/Linux Desktop Browser crown once mature whether that is in Chromium, Midori or (with little likelihood) Epiphany.


Simple Fortran Cross-Compiler for ARM

Run Fortran code on my handheld ? Are you insane?

That's probably the first thing that comes to your mind after seeing the title of my latest post - but with the power of ARM processors of today, why wouldn't we run Fortran programs on them?

Fortran was (back in the 70's ... and arguably still is) the scientific computing language of choice for many academics and engineers. It became the basis for many of the most advanced matrix-algebra math libraries available to date, including BLAS, LINPACK, and LAPACK, which are used by the most powerful number-crunching machines in the world, not to mention all of the banks and stock-exchanges! What I find more interesting is that the popular math engine known as MATLAB makes heavy use of BLAS and LAPACK, as does a free MATLAB-like environment called Octave.

I should take a step back and say, that the simple cross-compiler I have devised is not in-itself a cross compiler, but a two-step solution using F2C and your friendly-neighborhood cross-GCC ;-) That is, the Fortran code is first translated to C code, and then cross-compiled into machine code. Although many people swear that a well written Fortran code pushed through a good Fortran compiler will always blow away C code (and they probably are right), it's always true that something is better than nothing. The advantage of using F2C is that you don't need to link your programs to libgfortran, and having fewer dependencies is always good in embedded systems.

In any event, F2C (and the resultant libf2c) were authored by several friendly and very smart people who were kind enough to make their software available to the general public on NetLib.Org.

Using a popular perl script called Fort77, and my tiny patch, you should be able to cross-compile Fortran code to object code (.f -> .o) just like you would with C (.c -> .o). You'll need a libf2c.so compiled for ARM as well as f2c.h installed and in your cross-compiler's default search paths. I built the cross-compiled libf2c using an armv5tel-softfloat toolchain using Gentoo's crossdev, and created a small overlay for the package, available here.

I have something special on my evil agenda for this... and will hopefully be announcing something about that within the not-to-distant future!

Lastly ... for all of the gadget-geeks that are reading this... what sort of devices are you hoping to find in your stockings this holiday season? I'm fairly infatuated with the Qualcomm Snapdragon / MSM devices, but the Nokia n900 (with an OMAP chip also looks very tempting).