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Who turned off the lights? Internet without GUI

Last night a faulty patch has taken out my X Server, and as a result my laptop has forgotten how to render graphics. This is more of an annoyance than a serious problem, as most of my work is performed in a text console anyways. All of my files are remotely hosted, I develop in vim over a SSH connection, so having GUI call in sick today, there was no reason for panic. Yet it made me wonder – how does the internet look like without all the graphical quirks?

Introducing Lynx – I have heard of text-only browsers before, and at the time was kind of skeptical of their use, so now was an excellent time to find out how it all works. Ubuntu Linux makes new applications easy to get and install.

sudo apt-get install lynx

The interface is amazingly simple: Up/Down to move through the document, Left/Right to follow links, or return through History. There are no pop-ups, no flashing ads, and no distracting graphics. There is a certain poetic beauty to all of this – just pure text content, and no fillers.

It is simply foolish to think that what you see in your browser is how everyone else sees that same page. Alternative browsers, alternative configurations, and alternative preferences are not in a minority. Text-only Lynx is quite popular with visually disabled, and those with slow internet connections. Similarly cookies could be turned off, and JavaScript disabled. A lot of websites simply break, unable to cope with an abnormality. The term we are looking for here is graceful degradation“A programming technique to prevent catastrophic system failure by allowing the machine to operate, though in a degraded mode, despite failure or malfunction of several integral units or subsystems.” [answers.com] If that doesn’t prompt better web design practices, then think in terms of SEO – plain text is how web crawlers see your website.

So where does this place Web 2.0? There are no bright pastel colours, no JavaScript, no dynamic layouts. AJAX doesn’t load, and browsers don’t respond as assumed. It might be time to rethink web design and focus on what’s important – delivering easily accessable content.

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Discussion

  1. Posted by Martin! | August 28, 2006, 1:05 am

    Real men wget html source and look at that.

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