Every time I start an FTP, Telnet or SSH session, I'm reminded of how much
the Internet is perceived to be the same thing as the World Wide Web. It isn't,
of course, but that's difficult to remember if nearly all you do on the Internet
is done through a graphical web browser.
The problem with that misperception is people tend to forget that the Internet
is not really about fancy formatting and sharing pictures. Sure, these have
become common reasons for doing anything with the Internet and that's fine.
You need to occasionally remind yourself, though, that the majority of the Internet
is devoted to old technology designed to work over simple telephone connections
via modems. Things like E-Mail, Telnet, Secure Shell (SSH) and FTP were really
designed for a time when all Internet connections were friendly and there were
no Black Hats out there to steal data, change data or destroy your computer's
configuration. This was also true when the World Wibe Web came along. There
really were a lot of nice tools out there, Archie (and Veronica) and there was
even a link based navigation technology called Gopher. The Gopher system was
so good that there is an active movement to bring Gopher servers back into practical
use at http://www.scn.org/~bkarger/gopher-manifesto.
So to help the rest of us remember what's underneath the World Wide Web and
to help those of us whose connections are text only shell accounts or even those
who have no use for graphical displays on the web, I thought it might be a good
idea to go back to basics and show you an old standby, a text based web browser
In some ways, LYNX can be thought of as a web browser designed for efficient
web use by those folks with less than perfect eyesight or even those computer
users who are blind. But LYNX was really designed to do much more than reasonably
render web pages for the vision impaired; it was designed to allow text based
systems like mainframes to present a web browsing tool to its accounts. And
if you are a web developer concerned with your site's visitors and the ease
with which they can use it, LYNX is an excellent tool to use for the appraisal.
This becomes even more apparent if you need to support blind visitors since
LYNX does an excellent job of showing you how much of your energy you wasted
on entertaining peoples' eyes instead of devoting your time to clear organization
and communication techniques.
The software development lifecycle of Lynx is admirably slow and stable. It
is supported under the GNU Public Licene, the original open source software
movement, and is available compiled for most of the more common platforms. Since
most people are content with Internet Explorer, Netscape or Opera, there is
a smaller community of people driving changes at LYNXand its stability
is probably a direct result of the fact.
To get LYNX is quite easy. Visit http://lynx.browser.org/
and follow the links on the page to find the compiled binary appropriate to
your platform of choice. Installing LYNX is remarkably easy. Simply decompress
the archive file and start the LYNX executable from the folder to which you
decompressed the files.
If downloading and running LYNX in a command prompt environment is simply too
stone-aged an approach for your tastes, there are still other ways to test with
LYNX. For example, using the Lynx Viewer at http://www.delorie.com/web/lynxview.html
allows you to enter a URL and get a fairly accurate LYNX representation of that
Learning about LYNX is simple and so is its use. However, you're likely to
not appreciate how much you've assumed about your web site designs and how hard
people might have to work to use your site until you try using this tool. And,
if you happen to be someone who actually needs a text-based browser just to
get along on the web, LYNX is for you.
I encourage you to check it out and learn what you've been missing or, worse,
assuming about the Internet and the people and tools using it!