One of the biggest changes I have noticed over the past 20 years is that we have become so reliant on the Internet, that it is now an integral part of everyday life in a way that we perhaps couldn’t have imagined back in the 1990’s. A good proportion of our daily existence revolves around the Internet from reading the news, to moving money around and paying our bills or booking our next trip away. We use the Internet every day to seek the advice of others and keep in touch with friends via social media. We rely on the Internet now for our entertainment through the streaming and downloading of music and TV, we order our food and clothes from websites and many of us have met our wives/husbands or love of their lives through the Internet. It has such a vice-like grip on our daily existence that we even have major conflicts start or even peace summits brought about by a simple tweet.
Given the nature of the Amiga scene (a mainly low user base, installed hardware and the complete lack of funds for development) it is fair to say that Internet browsers on the Amiga have really struggled to keep pace with the advances that have taken place over the past 20 years. I remember back in the late 1990’s when I had an A1200, web browsing using browsers such as A-Web and I-Browse were already lagging behind their PC and Mac counterparts which had access to Internet Explorer and Netscape.
When I first got my hands on the AmigaOne 500 back in 2014 it was a nice surprise to finally have an Amiga which could handle more modern web browsing tasks and with some updated browsers in Odyssey and Timberwolf, although after a couple of years using the machine it became clear that the machine was not powerful enough to handle the some of the demands of modern-day Internet browsing and was one of my main reasons for upgrading to the X5000.
Today I thought I would take a look at the various web browsing options that are available for us to use in 2018 on AmigaOS 4 and how they perform with the added power of the X5000 and what realistically you can expect to do on each browser.
Odyssey Web Browser
Odyssey Web Browser is without doubt the main browser when anyone thinks of Amiga Next Generation computing. Based on the Webkit engine which is found in more well-known browsers like Apple Safari, this browser dates back from 2013 when it was developed on the MorphOS platform and later ported across to AmigaOS. The current AmigaOS 4 version 1.23 dates from late 2013 but there have been a few tweaks and bug fixes to it since then so that we are using version 1.23r4 which was last updated late last year.
Odyssey was the big game changer as far as AmigaOS browsers were concerned, as for the first time we had a browser that was capable of supporting HTML5 video. This means that we can now view videos from You Tube although thanks to a limitation of the AmigaOS port we are limited to viewing this in a small You Tube window within the browser. Granted, it is not ideal, but we have a number of work around solutions to this. The first one I would recommend is to spoof as I-Pad as you will find that it will open up a video area which covers a much greater potion of the screen as shown in the screen shot above. Playback of 360p and 480p videos shouldn’t cause too much issue, however expect some serious frame drops if we try anything higher.
The other option for You Tube viewing is to ditch the browser completely and use SMTube which will allow you to either download a video to your Amiga for playback in MPlayer or stream the file directly into MPlayer. 720p video is possible via this method and you also get the added advantage of full screen browsing, so for many a user this is considered the best and preferred option.
However for other video based sites, the advice to spoof as I-Pad also works well for websites like Daily Motion. Its limitations? Well you can’t access BBC I-Player or Netflix, in fact Netflix will not let you even get past the log in page!
Talking of the BBC, here is how the website displays in Odyssey. Generally I find it works quite well although the BBC’s insistence on using Flash for video playback on many of its news items is a bit of a bugbear as Adobe Flash is not supported on the Amiga.
However by spoofing again as I-Pad and then reloading the page you then find that you are able to view the supposed flash enabled content. I am not quite sure what is going on here, but the BBC are renowned for supporting Apple based products over and above any other platform, so whether they chose to have their content displayed in HTML 5 instead of Flash when browsing as I-Pad, it does mean that we are not totally stuck.
Banking transactions can be done via Odyssey and the following UK-based websites appeared to load into the log in page: Santander, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, First Direct. Whether or not you may think its safe to be doing these types of transactions on an Amiga is totally up to you. But it is interesting to note the web statistics from browsing with Odyssey; basically it thinks you are using Safari (albeit an older version) which makes sense as it is based on Webkit, however it is worth bearing in mind that some banks openly state that log in should only happen from a list of what they consider to be approved browsers and Odyssey being on the Amiga generally is not one of them, so you may expose yourself to all sort of risks in the event of any fraud on your account.
Surfing Amiga based browsers creates no issues, which is no surprise really as a lot of these are designed to display on lower specification machines and outdated browsers like I-Browse.
Online blogs like WordPress and Blogger work in Odyssey. However I have found that WordPress can be a little temperamental with its standard display. Until I recently reinstalled Odyssey I was pretty much restricted to the slightly clumsy looking mobile version which I can access at m.wordpress.com
However as you can see, this website is produced using Odyssey so I am able to make use of most of the functionality within WordPress.
You are also able to access Microsoft Office Online and use Word or Excel and Powerpoint.
Or make use of the Google equivalent Google Docs.
You can stream music online using websites like Digitally Imported.
It is possible to use Facebook and Twitter on both full website and mobile versions. On the desktop Facebook site, the chat works with no issues and you can also playback video.
I am also able to use Odyssey for web-based Outlook access, however unless you are browsing as Odyssey you are often greeted with an older looking version of Outlook Web Access which I find easier to use especially when it comes to attaching files which are stored locally on your Amiga.
I regularly book train tickets too on websites like Virgin Trains and London Northwestern Railway.
Expedia renders with no problems and I can print off boarding passes from airlines like Ryanair.
Talking of shopping, websites like Amazon and Ebay render really well in Odyssey and I tend not to experience any issues when paying with PayPal for any items either.
Some websites like Argos here in the UK don’t render so well, however it is still possible to browse their website and make purchases.
Overall I would say that I use Odyssey for about 90% of my total browsing needs. It is a pretty stable browser too which doesn’t seem to lock up my system in a way that my AmigaOne 500 machine used to do. To give you an example, whilst writing today’s blog post, I have had several tabs open, I have also had Tunenet playing in the background and I have also been doing screen grabs non stop with Fastview. So far I have not experienced a lock up of the browser of the system. Out of all of the browsers I have reviewed here today it is also the only option which allows you to print pages from the browser via a Postscript compatible printer.
Yes there are some negatives like there are with any browser. It is starting to get a little out of date and there are a few websites that will not render correctly. Not being able to stream any TV from any UK-based websites is probably its biggest handicap I would say and given today’s web browsing needs Odyssey is need of an update to be able to support such tasks. Although compared to what we used to have on the Amiga in the form of I-Browse and A-Web, this feels far more modern and once you accept its browsing limitations it’s a pretty good browsing experience. Let’s hope we see an update on AmigaOS to version 1.24 which is currently running on MorphOS or version 1.25 which can be found on AROS (an X86 based Amiga like operating system)
Timberwolf is the name given to the Amiga port of Firefox which dates back from 2010. Now the origins of this port are quite interesting in that it basically came about as the result of a bounty raised by Amiga users to the tune of about EUR 6,732 to help support turn the dream of seeing Firefox on the Amiga into a reality. Timberwolf is the work of the Frieden brothers, Hans-Joerg and Thomas, who are also employed as developers for Hyperion Entertainment, so their involvement was not without controversy especially when certain financial backers to the bounty felt that the end version provided was slow and lacking a number of features like for example HTML 5 video playback which could be found on other platforms.
This version was last updated in 2012 and is based on quite an old version of Firefox. It hasn’t really been updated since then which is a bit of a shame really, even more so when we consider that the source code was released a few years back and no one has really picked this up to work on it further. Back when I owned the AmigaOne 500 machine I tried to give this browser a go, but found that it crashed too often and that my computer was a little bit underpowered, so I guess like many other Amiga users we were a tad too quick to focus on the negatives.
What also doesn’t help matters is that the versions of Timberwolf which are knocking around are incomplete or are not totally up to date and then require a bit of work in order to set up correctly. One version of Timberwolf on OS4 Depot is missing a number of files, however this incomplete version is a newer version than the one which exists on Aminet. What you will need to do is download the Aminet version which contains the full files and then overwrite these with files from the updated OS4 Depot version for this to work.
You will also need to read the instructions that come with either version about deleting and installing the font configuration as if you do not do this, Timberwolf will not start-up correctly and crash.
One final thing I will also need to make you aware of, certainly as far as the X5000 is concerned is that if you install this on a NGFS partitioned drive, then it will work for about 20 minutes, but it will then crash at some point and you may find yourself unable to re-open the browser even after a reset of the machine.
I would recommend that you try to install this on a separate SFS partition and you should find that things work quite well on the X5000. In fact I would go on record to say that it is a much more useful browser than it ever was when I was using my AmigaOne 500 machine. Whether this is simply down to the extra power of the X5000 I cannot be totally sure, but it sure does feel like a different browser. I think many of the criticisms which were levelled against the original version about it being slow are simply down to the hardware it may have been running on. Modern day browsing and browsers like Firefox simply require a lot of processing power and it stands to reason that the better the specifications, the more you are going to get out of the browser both in terms of speed and performance. The same comment also applies with Odyssey on the X5000 which feels far more snappier than it ever did on my old machine, so it is proof that if you can go for the faster hardware and specs you will be rewarded.
Whilst we are not going to be able to view You Tube Videos or even write my blog on this current version, a lot of basic Internet browsing is still possible with Timberwolf.
BBC news tends to display quite well.
As does Bing News
Outlook Web Mail access
I can still shop for bargains on Ebay using Timberwolf, although given the age of the browser, it is clear less and less sites are going to render correctly with this browser.
As you can see with this example from Argos for those familiar with the website, the rendering is a bit of a miss and the layout of the items should be presented with at least 10 options on the same page. Here we have to painfully scroll down each item.
It is a bit of a shame that Timberwolf hasn’t been developed further especially as we now have hardware powerful enough to handle the browser, but looking at the release candidate notes, perhaps there is an insight as to why nothing has been pushed forward here. First it has taken countless hours of spare time to port this thing across to the Amiga. I dare say it also requires countless hours more of even more spare time to update this further and there are heavy hints in the read me file that we should in fact help to contribute to its development. It sounds logical but there is only so much work these programmers can do out of love, so perhaps the Amiga community would like to organise a fundraiser to update either Odyssey or Timberwolf.
Netsurf is a nice lightweight CSS based browser that is being developed on and updated regularly and currently stands at version 3.7. It was last updated on the 15th of October 2017 and on average we tend to see an update every 6-8 months. As it is a CSS based browser, it means that it won’t be able to play videos within the browser, however the latest update and an ARexx script which has been installed, it will now open up SMTube in order to then display videos via MPlayer.
Web browsing on a CSS based browser can be a bit of a hit or miss experience in so much that the way the pages are displayed on-screen can be formatted incorrectly. Therefore it is best to recommend these types of browsers for websites which are not too heavy on images.
You will certainly get most mileage out of this website on pages like Wikipedia which display items correctly.
Again Bing News displays its content correctly and you can always increase or decrease the size of the fonts by using the right Amiga key and + or – on the numerical keypad.
As Netsurf does not support HTML5 or Flash, it means videos from BBC’s website are not supported.
You will find that most web pages are displayed in a mobile/tablet format as you can see from the example above. Again you can enlarge this by pressing the right Amiga key and the + on the numeric keypad.
Shopping is possible although it can be a tad hit and miss here. Ebay seems to work ok.
However with Amazon as it is a little more graphic heavy so you can find the text a little too squashed together at times.
You can access Facebook, however as you can see from the above example it appears to be a modified mobile version of the website.
There is actually a lot to like about Netsurf, largely down to the speed at which you can move between pages and tabs and whenever a new update appears I am always very curious to see what new features have been added. Amiga 68K and Vampire owners also get to join in on the fun too as a version has also been released for their systems so it means you can finally retire the classic I-Browse and A-Web.
So how does Internet browsing on the Amiga fare in 2018? Well if you have upgraded from the classic side of things, browsing with Odyssey in particular doesn’t appear to be that bad and we can still get a lot of productive things done like blogs, emails, online documents and the streaming of You Tube and radio. However if we compare things to 2013 when the Odyssey browser was released for the Amiga, it is scary just how much more reliant we have become on the Internet for things like streaming movies and TV. I do hope that any updates that we see to our browsers in the future are able to support things like Netflix or BBC I-Player as it is clear. As mentioned before it would be nice if we saw another stab at Timberwolf/Firefox on the Amiga. Anyone up for another bounty??
Until next time have fun with your Amigas.