The spec is EpiphanyDefaultBrowser

Characteristics of a default browser

  • simple to use for people new to Ubuntu as well as people new to computers in general
  • predictable behavior that is consistent with other Ubuntu applications
  • low resource requirements to ease use on a variety of hardware
  • active development to combat bugs, integrate new features, and refactor code for efficiency
  • supports open standards in web content
  • multimedia support for embedded audio/video content

Normal people's impressions of Epiphany or Firefox

  • do they notice a difference? **
  • ease of adoption?

Epiphany advantages


  • Epiphany has session management. When you log in, you see the same windows and Web pages as you did when you logged out. And when you log out, you don't get an error message complaining about Firefox not being able to remember its state.
  • "session saving" is built-in which means that if for some reason it does crash, it will ask "do you want to restore you previously open pages" when restarting. Although there is a Firefox extensions that does this<s>, it is not installed by default</s>. (Firefox fixes this issue with FF3)

  • well integrated with GNOME and follows the global theme and global options (like displaying text beside buttons, GNOME proxy settings, etc) (Firefox fixes most of this issue with FF3)
  • GNOME icons on toolbars and in menus <s>(Firefox has no menu icons)</s> (Firefox fixes this issue with FF3)

  • adheres to GNOME Human Interface Guidelines which helps it look and feel more consistent with the rest of the GNOME desktop. For example, the preferences dialog uses tabs and takes a more simple approach than that of Firefox.
  • On middle-config (between 600MHz and 1GHz), Epiphany is much faster and doesn't eat 100% of CPU when a website is not responding
  • Doesn't crash as easily as Firefox
  • seems to use less RAM than Firefox (possibly because it utilizes GTK+ without the overhead of XUL?)
  • The translations for Epiphany are done on l10n-status and as thus more consistent with the GNOME desktop than Firefox in most cases, this is important for adoptation in government, school and enterprise use.
  • Has proper focus integration with Gnome, new windows recieves focus when opened from Liferea etc. (Sometimes Firefox opens in the background = confusion)
  • At least, we can use the icon and the name as we want... (you know what I'm talking about)
  • bookmarks and browsing history are both integrated with the lovely new Deskbar applet
  • uses ZeroConf standard for bookmarks

  • tab interface is consistent with other GNOME applications (gnome-terminal, gedit, etc.)
  • Epiphany's download manager appears in the notification area when downloads are in progress.
  • Epiphany's download manager's Pause and Resume buttons actually work, unlike Firefox's.
  • bookmarks and history can be searched with Deskbar Applet
  • Epiphany will soon use WebKit which is a lot lighter, easier to maintain and faster than now-bulky-buggy Gecko engine.

    • Numbers, Mrs. Landingham. Please point to benchmarks, tests, and statistics supporting the "a lot lighter/faster" argument (I don't note easier to maintain because it isn't directly, empirically measurable) which are representative of normal browsing and which demonstrate significant speed and memory usage differences between the two, and make sure they compare against newest versions (Hardy ships Firefox 3 beta, and Ibex will ship 3 final or whatever's latest then, probably).


  • Follows the GNOME/Ubuntu release schedule
  • Translations are easier because of Epiphany's l10n/i18n support
  • Integrates with desktop file type associations instead of duplicating functionality like Firefox (which can be a real pain)
  • GTK+ themes work better (e.g. Clearlooks ring around location bar when it has focus)
  • Uses freedesktop.org bookmark storage standard (XBEL), which is also used in Galeon, Konqueror and some other browsers. There is a firefox "Bookmark Synchroniser" plugin that can import/export to this format but Firefox does not support it natively. Bookmarks can be imported from Firefox, Mozilla, Galeon, Konquerer or Epiphany to ease migration. They can exported to Firefox/Mozilla if the user decides to use Firefox instead.

Firefox advantages

  • well-known and has lots of "hype"
    • (well-known by whom? most "average" users I have talked to don't know what Firefox is, if they have heard of it. having Firefox as the default browser probably won't get anybody to switch, but having a simple, straightforward computing experience might. --Michael10)

      • although ~90% of windows users use IE, i'd imagine the type of windows user that is likely to try ubuntu will have also tried firefox --SamTygier

        • (Windows or Mac users who use Firefox HAD to install it on their other platforms, so there's not any real difference if they have to install it on Linux as well. --DanaOlson)

  • brings familiarity for users of Windows and MacOS that already use Firefox. However, Firefox has a few interface differences between platforms which can confuse users who expect Firefox on Windows to be identical to Firefox on Linux. (e.g. "Preferences" menu entry is under "Tools" in Windows but it is under "Edit" in Linux, clicking the URL entry area once in Windows selects all text but clicking once in Linux does not, etc.)
    • (but again, the average user has familiarity with Internet Explorer, not Firefox. and Epiphany is pretty darn similar to Firefox, anyways. --Michael10)

      (Why is a minority chance of browser familiarity important when we offer a very different desktop experience? Everything else is different, why is this a sticking point? --TomvonSchwerdtner)

    • The "well-known" factor doesn't make a difference for the rest of the desktop, so why should it make a difference here? Of far greater importance is whether it is the intuitive choice, and Epiphany, being the browser which actually fits in this environmnent, definitely wins in that respect. The web browser is one of the most commonly used applications, so it is a good place for users to learn about the little tricks that exist in GNOME and GTK that can help them be more productive. However, if it is Firefox being used as that browser, this can't happen! There are examples everywhere of a single well known application having little impact on one's preference of a platform, and there are also many examples of platforms succeeding even when they are completely different. The iPod (notably iTunes) has a market share far larger than the Mac crowd, even though iTunes is software very particularly shaped around MacOS. The Opera browser exists on many platforms, but those platforms are in no way popular as a result of that browser. Consider also that the software's behaviour changes significantly as soon as one considers aspects such as setting up networking, window management and default mouse settings. Firefox in Ubuntu is nothing like Firefox in Windows, and a notable reason for this is that Firefox is very much aligned towards Windows compatibility as opposed to GNOME compatibility. Just because something that can be recognized as Windows software runs on another platform does not mean that it runs well on that platform. (Case in point: Opera DS, Quicktime, Windows Mobile). -- DylanMccall 2007-10-21 03:39:03

  • Firefox extensions make it easy for users to customize their browser for a better surfing experience. Even if Epiphany currently has its epiphany-extensions package, Firefox has some widely-installed extensions that Epiphany has no equivalent for (yet). The most commonly referenced is Adblock, although Epiphany has a plan for an equivalent http://live.gnome.org/Epiphany_2fAdBlockExtension

    • (This is, IMHO, not an argument since it's only a power user tool. You cannot provide by default a browser that alter the web like AdBlock! So, the extension is not to be installed by default and must not be considered, like many extensions, as an argument. Same apply to webdev extension (wich is very cool, but is a no necessity for the Average Joe) or the Gmail Notifier (which is only useful if you do use Gmail).)

      • Disagreed, extensions are definitely not a power-user tool. Almost anyone who uses Firefox knows about extensions. Also, if popups are blocked, why wouldn't ads be? I think it should be off by default, though.

      As of 1.9.1-0ubuntu1 adblock is in epiphany-extensions (MadMan2k)

* Firefox is more of a "selling point" to Linux users than Epiphany, for example, Distrowatch keeps track of a limited number of packages,and while one of them is Firefox, Epiphany is not listed. Why is this relevant? Well I'm sure that if you asked Ladislav Bodnar he would answer you something like, those are the packages that in his opinion (and he's as close to an expert on the topic as your likely to get) are generally the most important when deciding on a distribution for certain groups of people.

General points

  • Firefox contains more "power user" features, which could be argued as being good or bad
    • (power users can install firefox later, if they really need to do DOM debugging. average users will stick with what they have, and they will be happy if they are given a simple, integrated browser. --Michael10)

  • Firefox supports keywords in the address bar "google search term" (use google to search for "search term") or "dict word" (to look up "word" in an online dictionary), whereas in Epiphany "keymarks / smart bookmarks" appear as a dropdown menu from the address bar.
    • Not any more!

  • Firefox has a search field in the toolbar, which can be configured to use different search engines. In Epiphany any 'smart bookmark' can be put into the bookmark bar, which creates an entry field - this allows users to have boxes for dictionary lookup, babelfish translation, etc.
    • It would be great to provide default smart bookmarks to match the ones in Firefox. Also, Deskbar is able to pick these up and slightly mimics the search bar of Firefox, perhaps we can add Deskbar to the panel by default? (though this is a little extreme...) -- EaldenEscanan

  • Epiphany integrates RSS feeds with external reader (liferea) when Firefox manages RSS itself. They are opposite approaches.
    • The accepted behaviour in GNOME, and indeed as in the Unix philosophy, is that applications should each do one thing well. This idea should not disintegrate as we move from CLI to GUI, but rather reinforce itself as technologies like D-Bus become more prominent due to the now-common act of multi-tasking. Thus, Epiphany's way is preferable; it gives the user a choice of RSS readers, which is good, and it moves unnecessary chunks out of the web browser. -- DylanMccall 2007-10-21 04:25:33

  • Epiphany currently has some better tab handling features, such as re-ordering (although Firefox 1.5 gets some of these). Firefox's behaviour of shrinking tabs, when there are a large number, is generall considered to be better than Epiphany's behaviour of having scroll buttons (re http://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=153792).

    • (but does the average user ever have enough tabs open to have this problem? --Michael10)

    • Firefox has the interesting behaviour of opening pages in tabs very frequently, such as when links have the target _blank. Epiphany's tab handling features are inhereted from GTK. As a result, any changes in behaviour are intuitively visible to the user as desktop-wide changes (which make much more sense to some less knowledgeable users who see the behaviour of the operating system's installed software as if one single program). This also means that changes in tab bar behaviour are not developed specifically for the web browser use case. Realistically, this should not be a problem, as being a web browser does not justify being "weird". Put very simply, a web browser is a document renderer with an address bar and a few navigation features. While how it opens documents is a matter of discussion, the difference in tab bar behaviour, at the level of the user interface widget itself, should not be considered a thing that necessarily impacts the performance of the web browser. This is a matter of the user interface toolkit used in the desktop, and it does not seem likely that GNOME will be moving to XUL any time soon... -- DylanMccall 2007-10-21 04:25:33

    • Some people have stepped up to provide extensions that changes some functionality of Epiphany, such as mimicing the tab bar behavior of Firefox. A blog post regarding the New extensions and 2.15 developments of Epiphany seems to mention that they will be added in Epiphany 2.16 -- EaldenEscanan

  • Firefox keeps bookmarks in a heirachy, whereas in Epiphany bookmarks can belong to a number of "topics" (like folders). In practice Epiphany's method lets you put bookmarks in several places so you don't have to remember exactly where you put it, but it can be awkward if you have a large number of bookmarks.
  • Firefox has been called slow, but it is only as slow as your ram.
  • (Personal experience) Epiphany took at least 2 minutes to start up before I (majikstreet) got a ram upgrade.

Outstanding issues with Epiphany

  • Epiphany currently depends on the Firefox packages, so to run Epiphany, Firefox needs to be installed. This could be dealt with by creating a seperate Gecko package, on which Firefox, Epiphany, Galeon, Mozilla, Thunderbird and all other Gecko-powered applications would depend on.
    • (doesn't it make sense to create a separate Gecko package regardless, for all the people who do use a different browser? --Michael10)

      (this has been planned for a long time by mozilla, and is starting to come to fruition. I wouldn't depend on it being done by Dapper+1 though. --DSas)

      (this has been implemented. Epiphany can be compiled against XUL Runner, making the "Firefox as a dependency" argument invalid: http://blogs.gnome.org/view/epiphany/2005/11/20/0 --JeffFortin)

  • If we want to allow RSS feature in Epiphany, we have to ship by default a compatible RSS reader. Liferea along with epiphany-extensions will integrate both program very easily, allowing to subscribe from epiphany in liferea, liferea is thus a perfect candidate ?
    • Liferea has a DBus interface so maybe we can ask them to provide a D-Bus .service file which can be used to start liferea if it isn't running?"

  • Is the smart bookmarks system slightly to diffirent from standard bookmark systems for new users to adopt it? i personally think its a great system but i doubt i would see my mum creating smart bookmarks that let her search various places by typing the query in the address bar. --GordAllott

  • several rather small points are better implemented in firefox than in epiphany
    • tabbar should resize tabs, not scroll
    • focus to url bar after opening a new tag
    • option to clean personal data
    • history and bookmarks as sidebar

EpiphanyDefaultBrowserThoughts (last edited 2012-01-23 08:01:59 by ploum)