Windows Mobile Web Browsing Bible

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  1. Menneisyys

    Menneisyys Mobile Deity

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    The Web browsing scene has been completely changed since I published the previous version of the Windows Mobile Web Browsing Bible, the well-known (it has been frontpaged by Pocket PC Thoughts and made sticky by MobilitySite; the AximSite, BrightHand and the FirstLoox copy are also worth checking out for more reader feedback) source for the (then) all Web browsing-related information. Even though I've posted on all major (and, most of the time, even minor) releases at least one article / review ever since them, there still remained a huge demand for an all-in-one article / Bible that discusses the current state of Web browsing on the platform and thoroughly compares the available solutions, while also including mostly WM5 / WM6-related compatibility information. This means I had to retest almost everything, along with greatly enlargening the scope of the roundup.

    A quick notice: you don’t need to even read the previous version of this Bible. It’s only at very few areas of discussion (most importantly, the MultiIE / PIEPlus macros and the Thunderhawk cookie bug) that the reader is referred back to it. I, however, recommend it if you’d like to find out more (comparative) information on ftxPBrowser, the only browser not present in the current Bible (along with my article “Do you know ftxPBrowser?").

    First and foremost, do you need Web browsing at all? Why don't you want to prefer offline web browsing via, for example, RSS readers or Web extractor tools like my old Mobipocket Companion Suite for Java programmers? The answer is very simple: lately, Internet access has become really cheap and - with the models released in the last two years and given that mobile operators also very aggressively extend their fast (EDGE / 3G / HSDPA, as opposed to plain GPRS) Internet coverage - traditional Pocket PC's not containing a built-in phone have almost entirely been phased out. This all mean it's much more feasible to browse the Web through an (online) Web browser than a(n offline) news aggregator.

    First, let's take a bird's view on the current state of Windows Mobile-based Web browsing.

    Fortunately, since the publication of the previous version of this Bible, the available Web browsers have really been enhanced. There are no Web browsers (except for the pretty expensive Thunderhawk and the long-abandoned ftxPBrowser) without major upgrades. The current versions of ALL (other) Web browsers are orders of magnitude better than back in 2005. Furthermore, there are two brand new players on the scene: Opera (with no less than two excellent browsers) and Microsoft Live (with DeepFish, a currently still pretty incapable but still promising browser with probably bright future).

    Let us list and quickly evaluate the currently available Windows Mobile (WM for short) Web browsers. Note that in here I don't elaborate on all the (missing) features of all the listed applications; it's in the feature / benchmark / comparison chart (and its explanation) that I do this. I need to point out that, should I have chosen a non-chart-based roundup, the results would be far less comparable. That is, let's assume you look for a browser that allows for direct image saving. Had I refrained from including the Image row in the Context menus and the Save Image As row in the Images groups, I would have ended up having to elaborate on the image saving capabilities of each and every Web browser in this very article. It would not only have resulted in an article at least ten times longer, but also results that are far harder to compare. You would end up having to make some extensive text searching taking a LOT of time to see how, say, Minimo, Thunderhawk and PIE compare in the area of image saving. With the chart, you just scroll down to the given row and you see at once which of them supports image saving. See the advantage of using feature charts?

    Not to mention I've provided mini-tutorials for every feature I've listed. For example, with image saving, I've also provided screenshots of how it can be invoked, where you should look it for, which menu item should you select.

    1.1 Pocket Internet Explorer (PIE) / Internet Explorer Mobile (IEM) (current version: WM6)

    (Note that, while the name “Pocket Internet Explorer” has been changed to "Internet Explorer Mobile" in Windows Mobile 5 (WM5), I generally refer to this browser as PIE for clarity and simplicity.)

    This is the browser everyone knows because it comes built into the operating system. While it’s still lacking some basic functionality (for example, quality scripting and style support and, of course, multitabs), it has really been enhanced in the last two years.

    First, it has become MUCH more stable. Before WM5, PIE was widely known for crashes upon encountering certain style sheet (CSS) / HTML structures, of which I've also frequently published reports (example here). Recently, with WM5 versions of PIE, I have never run into similar situations.

    Second, it's, now, much faster than before the WM5 times. Or, more precisely, the WM5 AKU2 - see this and this for some benchmarks in order to be able to compare the speeds of the pre-AKU2 and post-AKU2 browsers; as can clearly be seen, AKU2 brought approximately 50% speed increase on exactly the same WM device, under exactly the same circumstances. It's not as fast as the best and fastest Web browsers around (Opera Mobile being the one that is in every respect faster than PIE; so are server-based solutions like Opera Mini) but is already very good, speed-wise, particularly if you relocate the cache to a fast medium (for example, a RAMdisk; more on this later). This particularly applies to the case of navigating back to a page by using the Back button. Rendering just-visited pages will be done almost instantly, as opposed to previous versions.

    Third, a lot of other, new nice additions have been made to PIE. Most important of them is the ability to disable pixel doubling and the introduction of Iframe support in Windows Mobile 6 (WM6 or Crossbow).

    Unfortunately, however, it still suffers from some severe problems. The most important of these is the lack of being multi-tabbed; that is, support for browsing the Web in more than one windows (tabs). Furthermore, it still lacks proper (!) JavaScript support (let alone AJAX, which it doesn't support at all).

    Note that while, per se, it doesn't support Macromedia (Adobe) Flash and Java applets "out of the box", it’s still the best browser in that it lets for using so-called "plug-ins" that add Flash and Java support. In this regard, it's unmatched - only the latest (8.65) version of Opera Mobile offers the same functionality - and for Flash "only", meaning no support for Java applets at all.

    1.2 Opera Mobile (current version: 8.65)

    Opera, which is, in many respects (for example, CSS compliance and support for really flawless zoom-in, which is particularly important on high-resolution (for example, UXGA) notebook screens - not even the latest version (version 7) of Internet Explorer is capable of the same), hands down the best browser on the desktop Windows, has been ported to Windows Mobile.

    [​IMG]

    While the first beta, particularly on WM2003 and WM2003SE, was pretty useless (for example, it received really bad reviews from me - you, therefore, can't say I'm biased towards Opera ;) ), the excellent folks at Opera have fixed almost all of these issues for the first commercial version (8.60) released June 2006 and the rest for the second major version bump (8.65) in April 2007. (I'd like to point out that I've also worked for them as a betatester during the development. That is, you can also thank me for Opera Mobile's being so darn good now ;-) ). Now, Opera Mobile is hands down the best Web browser in terms of pure speed, approach to caching, memory usage and standards compliance.

    Note that while the desktop version has long been using the 9.x kernel, the WM port based on the new and even better (for example, it has FULL CSS2 compliance!) 9.x kernel will "only" be released later this year and will only be compatible with WM5 and later.

    1.3 Opera Mini (current version: 3.1.7196)

    The free, but still very capable Opera Mini, the little brother of the above-introduced Opera Mobile, is unique in that it's a Java midlet. This means it's not a native Windows Mobile application but it requires a so-called "midlet manager" to run.

    If you have a Windows Mobile device with a built-in phone (that is, in the pre-WM6 parlance, a "Phone Edition" device), then, you most probably have a midlet manager on your device, which, with most HTC models (ones that are rebranded by HP - for example, the hw6915 - have a different midlet manager), will be that of Intent. The Intent Midlet Manager is a very capable and nice application you won't want to get rid of. Note that if you have a WM5 Phone Edition (or WM6 "Professional", which means the same) device, you can separately download the Intent Midlet Manager here.

    If you can't (because you have a pre-WM5 (Pocket PC 2002 or WM2003(SE)) model or, for some reason (for example, the lack of WM5+ softkey support) don't want to use Intent Midlet Manager, your best choice will be the J9 midlet manager by IBM, of which version 6 is pretty capable and highly recommended.

    There are a lot of major differences between the midlet-based Opera Mini and fully-fledged, "native" Web browsers. First, the good.

    Opera Mini is free (!) and offers unbeatable advantages over almost all of its competitors. For example, it runs on even memory- and CPU-constrained devices without ever consuming your memory. Just an example: a large(r) Web page can take up Megabytes of the already pretty meager RAM of your WM device. Current WM5 devices have, in general, less than 30 Mbyte and 12M available with models originally having 64M and 32Mbyte of RAM, respectively; 32Mbyte RAM devices inlude the well-known Treo 700w and the HP iPAQ rx1950. This also means you can have dozens (!) of even large Web pages open at the same time, you will still not run into resource problems. You can't do the same with "native" Web browsers - not even with the, in this respect (too) best Web browser, Opera Mobile.

    Also, in addition to using little memory to render (and store) your pages on, it also excels at minimizing the communications overhead. The central proxy server Opera Mini uses makes a great job at stripping "unnecessary" contents (HTML page layout, dynamic JavaScript scripts, CSS style sheets etc.) off Web pages; this also results in heavily reduced bandwidth usage, which may be of paramount importance if you either have a slow (say, GPRS only) connection or need to minimize data usage.

    Now, the bad. It certainly lacks a number of very important features; for example, you can't select any text on a Web page and just copy it to the clipboard of your device. Furthermore, should you have a volume slider on your WM phone (earlier HTC WM5 models almost all had; it has been, later, changed to a scroll wheel), you can't use the excellent tool SmartSKey to scroll a page up/down. Also, while the one column-based rendering mode is very useful particularly on low-resolution (QVGA (240*320) or square-screen (240*240)) devices, the inability to switch to a view more closely modeling the original page layout may become problematic with some kinds of Web pages (for example, the RedHotPawn online chess application or the Web-based Google Maps). It has no access to the standard Web favorites of PIE either. The text / address input method of the Intent Midlet Manager can also be a problem, along with the lack of WM5 softkeys (in this respect, IBM J9 is certainly better). Finally, it has some other, minor problems and shortcomings; for example, the lack of file upload support, which is supported by most of the other "native" browsers.

    All in all, I really recommend this browser. For a free one, it's certainly worth a try and/or leaving it on your WM device installed. Also make sure you periodically check back to the homepage of the Windows Mobile-compliant (advanced) version because it's updated very frequently, introducing new features all the time.

    Note that, as far as IBM J9 is concerned, it's in the above-linked article that I've explained how Opera Mini should be deployed under it. With the Intent Midlet Manager, it's even easier to deploy the file: you
    1. Download the JAR file (you won't need the JAD file!) from here and transfer it to your PDA
    2. You fire up File Explorer on your PDA and click the just-downloaded JAR file. It'll be auto-deployed to the Intent Midlet Manager.

    1.4 NetFront (current version: 3.3; future version with already available demos: 3.4)

    NetFront is also a well-known Web browser for the WM platform. While back in the Pocket PC 2002 / WM2003 / WM2003SE days it was the king of all WM browsers, the currently available, non-demo state version of it, 3.3 (released slightly less than a year ago) does pale in comparison to the alternatives in most respects. For example, its built-in Flash support is definitely inferior to that of PIE and Opera Mobile and it's highly unlikely Access, the developer of NetFront, will ever fix these issues. (For example, I've reported on a very bad DST bug in NetFront almost two years ago. Access still hasn't fixed it. No comment.) Furthermore, its JavaScript (and AJAX) support and rendering speed are much weaker / worse than that of Opera Mobile and the list continues.

    Fortunately, the forthcoming, WM5+-only version 3.4 has some really decent features (for example, slightly enhanced loading/rendering speed, some brand new & nice features like thumbnail view & quick navigation; drastically enhanced JavaScript compliance), which, depending on when the final, official, commercial version of 3.4 is released, may give NetFront back of the old fame.

    For the time being, however, I'd prefer checking out the alternative solutions first. Both Opera Mobile and, particularly, WM5 AKU2+ PIE (preferably with a decent PIE plug-in like the current version of PIEPlus or MultiIE) are much faster and cleaner and, as with Opera Mobile, more standards-compliant. It's only at niche areas that the currently, officially available version of NetFront, that is, 3.3, is better. The currently available demos of the forthcoming 3.4, while technically far superior to 3.3 are not really usable in real-world situations because of the severe demo limitations (10 favorites and two tabs at most, no Flash / Java plug-in etc.) - that is, it can't really be used for serious browsing until 3.4 is finally released. Which, knowing how slow Access is to release new versions of their browsers, will take, in my opinion, at least half a year.

    Finally, don’t forget to switch to proportional font in [Menu / ] Tools / Browser Setting / Font / Use proportional font – this problem hasn’t been fixed in even the latest 3.4 version.

    1.5 Minimo (Mini Mozilla) 0.2

    Minimo is another well-known, free browser for the platform. It has recently received a major version bump to 0.2, with greatly enhanced compatibility to some WM5+ models that were pretty slow when running previous versions of the browser. Unfortunately, the new version has also introduced some new bugs; most importantly, the VAST RAM memory usage. I'm pretty sure this will really soon be fixed; for the time being, you won't want to upgrade to version 0.2 unless you can guarantee you have at least 20 Mbytes of free RAM memory before starting Minimo. (Otherwise, it will just crash at either loading itself or loading large(r) pages.) Note that I'll definitely announce when the bug is fixed - just make sure you check out the updates to this Bible from time to time (or, alternatively, subscribe to the thread / article).

    [​IMG]

    Minimo shares the CSS, JavaScript, frame etc. engine with the desktop version. This, in itself, is really cool and means it has excellent support for CSS and JavaScript (AJAX too!). It, however, isn't really feature-packed. While it does support multiple tabs, it doesn't support any kind of Flash / Java plug-ins, it sports no image saving, link copying etc. capabilities. Furthermore, it isn't the fastest Web browser around to load pages - even the latest, 0.2 version (which according to my benchmarks, is about 25% faster than the last 0.1x series Minimo, to load pages) is significantly slower than most other browsers, let alone the at least three (!) times faster Opera Mobile. The speed difference is especially visible with pages linking in several resources - then, it might prove even five-six times slower than even PIE!

    All in all, while this browser certainly has the potential, it's still not really ready for prime time particularly now that Opera Mobile 8.65 also has excellent support for most Web standards. While Opera Mobile is a commercial product, I think the major speed advantage, the support for Flash, the stability, the support for PIE favorites etc. all make it a much better alternative. If you're an advocate of free and/or open source software, however, make sure you check out the project.

    1.6 ThunderHawk 2.10304

    ThunderHawk, a decent, fast but pretty outdated browser recommended for QVGA users (but not for VGA or square-screen ones - ThunderHawk doesn't at all support the latter!), hasn't really received any upgrade lately - except for a minor upgrade targeting Windows Mobile phones with a clamshell or slide-out keyboard (that is, left-handed landscape mode) and some (server-side) AJAX support in 2006. Otherwise, it's still the same browser as was in 2005. This means for example no high-resolution mode on VGA devices (I do NOT recommend this application to VGA users at all - images are too low-res and butt-ugly!), no text selection / copying, no even basic functionalities like image saving or link copying.

    Its major strengths are as follows:

    1. without any kind of “One Column”-type modes, it’s capable of displaying even multicolumn tables without problems
    2. the server it uses strips all unnecessary HTML markup from the HTML files it sends, resulting in sometimes major bandwidth usage savings. Note that, however, it doesn't use any kind of compression; that is, if there's nothing to strip (for example, the requested document is almost text only, without much HTML markup and scripts), then, it won't reduce your data usage.
    3. its memory consumption and speed is very good
    It also has major flaws:
    1. on VGA devices, it still uses QVGA resolution, which is particularly annoying with images/applets
    2. it is only able to display Western characters – no Chinese, no Japanese, no Arabic, no Hebrew, not even East-European characters.
    3. its persistent cookie handling is buggy
    4. it doesn’t have a multi-tabbed mode – that is, you can only browse/load one HTML page a time
    5. its monthly/yearly fee may be a bit on the steep side ($5.95/month or $50/year).
    6. it doesn’t use any kind of local cache, which may result in far higher bandwidth usage than with browsers that have
    7. it can’t use HTTP proxies – that is, you can’t use any further GZIP compression, unlike with all the other browsers (except Minimo). This may also be a big problem – see my bandwith benchmarks here
    8. it has absolutely no features like image saving, link copy, HTML page save; not even page content copying works
    9. it no longer has a free 30-day trial. You need to shell out at least $5.95 (a month's subscription) to be able to give it a test ride
    10. much as its Java VM (a welcome addition to version 2.1) is pretty capable, it uses a special client/server model that makes a lot of applets very hard to use or even useless. (See for example this article on the Radar applet – using TH, not only map dragging/GUI handling are almost impossible, but also the labels are impossible to read. This isn't an issue with the other browsers.)

    Please see the first version of this Bible for more information on the buggy cookie handling.

    1.7 DeepFish

    Microsoft's latest, some-days-old technology is pretty promising. It's based on the same principles as Nokia's S60 OSS browser, NetFront 3.4 and Opera's announced 9.x series for Windows Mobile: while keeping the original layout, it lets for dynamically zooming in/out of a certain page section to make it easier-to-read.

    [​IMG]

    You can sign up for the beta HERE; note that you’ll only get on a betatester list to be granted rights only later when Microsoft actually gets able to provide the thousands of would-be betatesters the necessary proxy server throughput capabilities.

    As no client-side markup-based rendering takes place with DeepFish, it's vastly different from the two other proxy-based solutions (Opera Mini and Thunderhawk). The latter two render client-side Web markup code and, therefore, have, essentially, much lower bandwidth requirements and better responsiveness than DeepFish. They, however, can't really make use of the other advantages of local Web markup rendering due to the simplicity of both clients; that is, while a decent, fully-fledged Web browser has for example page saving, copy-to-clipboard etc. capabilities, these don't.

    Unfortunately, currently, DeepFish is not the fastest browser, as far as current browsers using dynamic zooming and minimaps are concerned. Both Nokia's OSS and NetFront 3.4 are FAR faster at on-page navigation and zooming in / out. For example, in the latter two, it only takes a fraction of a second to completely zoom out to the page thumbnail view and, after quickly moving the zoom rectangle on the page outline, it zooms back in also a fraction of a second. Of course the two browsers use an entirely different architecture (NetFront has a full HTML renderer engine, while DeepFish "only" displays images of pages pre-rendered by the internal DeepFish server); still, usability and speed-wise, NetFront is still much more usable. Hope this will chnage, though.

    Note that DeepFish being really new, under development and lacking even basic support for JavaScript, Flash, AJAX, Java and similar Web technologies, I haven't included it in the comparison chart. Now, DeepFish is no more than a simple, Compact Framework 2-based (this, unfortunately, also has some speed-related consequences) clever image zooming-based client/server solution with minimal client-side tools (highlighting and clicking links). That is, I would have needed to put a "not supported" (-) almost everywhere in the chart regarding DeepFish; this is why I've completely left it out. As soon as it gets advanced capabilities, I include it in the chart.

    I'll report on any news regarding this question in the future. Also, when DeepFish does mature and does receive additional functionalities common with most other browsing solutions, as already promised, I'll include it in the chart.

    2. PIE plug-ins

    So far, I've elaborated on fully-fledged Web browsers not depending on any other Web content rendering engine. There is, however, a second group of WM browsing solutions: applications that enhance the functionality of the already built-in PIE using its engine instead of providing a brand new browser. They are common in that they at least (!) provide multi-window, page, image saving and full screen support; these (not considering the last two under WM5, where PIE has received built-in support for them) are really worthful additions.

    The "let's not throw away the already built-in PIE, but build on it" approach has both advantages and disadvantages. The clear advantage is that PIE itself, particularly as of WM5 AKU2+ / WM6, is pretty mature, definitely bugfree, dependable and comparatively fast (albeit still not the fastest). It's not very easy to write a HTML engine even matching (let alone surpassing) the sheer compatibility and stability of this engine - actually, only the authors or direct porters of already-established Web browser engines (most importantly, Opera and, to a lesser degree, Mozilla) can really compete with the engine, quality-wise. A start-up developer with a brand new HTML renderer engine has no chance of producing something better and more dependable.

    The disadvantage is that relying on the PIE engine means having to put up with some of the inherent problems and shortcomings of PIE. For example, not any PIE plug-in is able to provide in-page text search capabilities or some kind of better JavaScript / AJAX / CSS / frame / Iframe support. The same stands for getting rid of pixel doubling on VGA devices on VGA WM devices prior to WM6 (remember that it was only in WM6 that "Use High Resolution" was added to PIE). Finally, a plug-in just can't enhance the inherent characteristics of page loading and memory usage. That is, as they need to rely on the same Web page parser and renderer engine, they can't provide a much faster one.

    2.1 PIEPlus 2.2

    It was during 2006, with the debut of the brand new 2.x series, that this plug-in was seriously enhanced. The original 1.x series paled in comparison to the, then, definitely better MultiIE (an alternative PIE plug-in) and its only real strength was providing Pocket View (that is, built-in one column mode) for pre-WM2003SE models.

    Now, with the new, 2.x series, the situation has radically changed; now, I'd say it's PIEPlus that is the better of the two PIE plug-ins and it's only at few areas (for example, direct GPS and keep-backlight-on support) that MultiIE is decidedly better.

    This plug-in offers a lot of goodies: in addition to the standard multitabs, page / image saving, link copying, it allows for in-program scroll mode switching, a lot of advanced URL builder capabilities (macros, domain completion etc), advanced tab history and so on. Furthermore, it's unique in that it offers "Pocket View", a really welcome one column view mode addition for all pre-WM2003SE devices. No other PIE plug-ins are capable of this (all they may offer is support for background usage of an external Web compression / content stripping sevice like Skweezer, with all their problems and shortcomings; for example, the stripping of dynamic contents).

    All in all, this should be the first plug-in to check out, should you want to stay with the built-in PIE engine and not long for something inherently better and more advanced (for example, Opera Mobile).

    2.2 MultiIE 4 D72

    This plug-in hasn't received so many updates as PIEPlus during the 3.x - 4.x major version change; actually, some of its old functionality (for example, viewing image texts, making a given image a Today wallpaper or some of the old button associations) have been taken away in the new series. However, it’s still a very sound and highly recommended alternative, particularly when you look for a browser (or browser plug-in) that disables shutting down the screen backlight while running or when you plan to use your browser in conjunction with your GPS unit to quickly look up location-dependent information on the Web.

    It should also be pointed out that some of the inherent problems with the 3.0 version have been fixed; most importantly, the HUGE additional memory usage upon creating a new browser tab. With the 3.0 version, on a VGA device, creating a new tab easily resulted in an additional 2 Mbytes of memory wasted; with the new series, "only" 800-900k is used for each new tab. This is definitely an improvement, which lets open far more parallel tabs even on (more) memory-constrained devices.

    Note that I've thoroughly elaborated on the macroing capabilities of MultiIE in the first version of this Bible (links at the start of this article). Please consult the MultiIE section in there for more information - it'll explain a lot and you'll be able to use that information with both the new MultiIE and PIEPlus. As MultiIE severely lacks any kind of documentation, it'll be the only place where you find a very thorough tutorial on all these questions.

    2.3 Spb Pocket Plus 3.2.0

    Spb Pocket Plus (SPP) is a long-established multipurpose application for the Pocket PC. It not only has a PIE plug-in, but also several other goodies like excellent (!) Safe Mode support (see the Safe Mode Bible for more information), a good (but, in my opinion, not excellent - the comparable iLauncher 3.0, which is also a full set of tools like these - except for a PIE plug-in - has an, in my opinion, better one) Today plug-in, a Close button, a battery meter, ZIP compression support for pre-WM5 devices etc.

    In addition to a sound set of all kinds of utilities, it also has a big advantage over almost all the other PIE plug-ins: along with the highly recommended PIEPlus, it uses the least memory overhead upon opening new tabs. While the, in this respect, worst MultiIE uses some 0.6…0.9 Mbytes (depending on whether it’s running on a QVGA or a VGA device), PIEPlus / SPP "only" consume about half of it. The same stands for the initial memory needs of the three apps: while PIEPlus / SPP only need about 50-100 kbytes of RAM, MultiIE needs about 300-500k. Also, along with PIEPlus, it's the only current application that still supports the Pocket PC 2002 operating system.

    Unfortunately, the PIE plug-in module is as simple as was in previous versions (except for it having received the "Open link in a background tab" functionality during the 2.x -> 3.0 version jump). This means it offers no special features at all, particularly not for WM5 users, where image saving and full screen switching is already supported. Actually, it doesn't even have on-screen tabs to let the user quickly (with only one screen tap) switch between Web pages, quickly close them etc.

    Also note that, currently, SPP may have compatibility problems with WM6 devices in general. (See the remarks in the chart!)

    2.4 Webby 2.6.0.5

    This Compact Framework 2-based application has become pretty usable during its maturation. Now that there are some (not many) external plug-ins for it and the initial, major speed problems have (mostly) been fixed, it became a serious contender to the other solutions, particularly if you look for an entirely free solution. (Except for Minimo, everything else is commercial.)

    It's a hybrid application meaning it's not strictly a plug-in (unlike PIEPlus, MultiIE and SPP) but more of a front-end for the underlying PIE engine. This, in this case, results in some problems:
    1. It doesn't let for accessing the WM2003SE+ "One column" and the WM6+ "Use High Resolution" menu items of PIE, while all the other PIE plug-ins - except for ftxPBrowser - do. This results in some severe usage restrictions, particularly if you don't want to use Skweezer and similar content stripping / one column-converter services and/or you have a WM6-based VGA device.
    2. It, as the downloaded Web content must go through an additional layer of programming code, is definitely (albeit, as of now, not much) slower at downloading and rendering Web pages than PIE itself. This was a major problem in earlier versions (see my older reviews); now, fortunately, the additional speed hit it introduces is only 20%
    3. It can't add menu items like "Save image", "Save target as", "Open in new tab" to the original link / page / image context menus of PIE; rather, it needs to provide the same functionality through much slower-to-use menus

    In addition, while the additional widget plug-in architecture of Webby is pretty nice, it has several related problems; for example, it can't hide for example the tab bar and the address bar plug-ins in full screen mode (which isn't what you will necessarily want), unlike almost all other solutions (except for for example Opera Mobile and its address / icon bar or NetFront and its tab bar; they can't be hidden either). Also, some of the additional widgets are buggy (see my remarks on, for example, the bugs of the Tab bar widget).

    However, as has been pointed out, if you don't plan to pay for your Web browser (plug-in) at all, the free (or the registered free) version of Webby can prove pretty useful. I, however, don't see much point in shelling out $20 for the Pro version - for the same amount (or a little more) of money, you can get much better & faster functionality (PIEPlus, Opera Mobile etc.)

    3. Not included: ftxPBrowser

    While I've (still) reviewed ftxPBrowser in the previous Web Browsing Bible, I don't see the point in doing the same in here as, unfortunately, ftxPBrowser
    1. hasn't received any updates (let alone enhancements) in the meantime and seems to be a pretty much abandoned project
    2. has severe compatibility problems with WM5+ (please see this and this for more information on this).

    This means I do NOT recommend it for WM5 / WM6 users at all. If you have a model with an operating system prior to WM5, you may want to give it a try, though.

    3.1 Disqualified: Maximus

    Maximus, a CF2-based hybrid PIE add-on is very poor and isn't at all recommended. Please see this review for more info.


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  2. Menneisyys

    Menneisyys Mobile Deity

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    4. Comparison / feature chart

    It's available HERE. It also contains some 360 screenshots, almost all taken on a WM6 VGA HTC Universal (don’t forget to click the links to see them if interested)!

    As with all my feature charts (and roundups), I’ve paid special attention to provide you with mini-tutorials when discussing a particular question. For example, when I elaborate on the “One column” mode (see the “One (single) column view?” row in the chart), with, say, Minimo, I also show how you can actually switch to this mode by showing a screenshot of the menu item taking you there. This means the chart contains hundreds of small, but, in cases, very useful quick tips & mini-tutorials you won’t find anywhere else. All in a very compact form: just imagine how much I would have ended up having to type upon trying to convey the SAME deal of information in a non-tabular form – yeah, dozens if not hundreds of kilobytes.

    Of course, I have tried to be as verbose and clear as possible when explaining the different test cases. I’ve also paid special effort to linking in my previous, related articles on the different tests I’ve conducted. For example, when I provide a link along with the Internationalization support group, it means you may want to follow the link to find out what the tests in this group are all about.

    4.1 Explanation for the Comparison / feature chart

    (Note that all browsers support SSL (secure connections); therefore, I haven’t included this in the chart, as opposed to the previous version of this Bible (at that time, Minimo still didn't support SSL). Note that Opera Mini has only recently, with the 3.x series, received support for SSL.)

    Platform compliance? group: in here, I've elaborated on the operating system compliance of each and every browser. I've grouped together the platforms that, compliance-wise, behave the same way. That is, a WM2003-compatible program will surely run on WM2003SE; a WM5-compatible program on WM6. I've also noted the exceptions or some problems; for example, with SPP. Also noted is the lack of support for newly introduced PIE features like One column in WM2003SE, Save images / Full Screen in WM5 and Use High Resolution in WM6 VGA.

    It's no news older platforms are all phased out - and this, unfortunately, already means completely losing support for relatively new operating system versions like WM2003SE. NetFront 3.4, Minimo 0.2 and DeepFish are all WM5+-only; so will be the forthcoming Opera 9. However, older versions of these browsers (except for, of course, DeepFish) do/did support WM2003(SE); in the chart, I've mentioned the actual version number that still did this. Support for the now-ancient Pocket PC 2002 operating system is even more scarce; of the new releases, only PIEPlus and SPP support it. Finally, non-ARM-based Pocket PC (2000) devices are completely abandoned.

    Screen group: in here, I've elaborated on the different screen resolutions (QVGA, VGA, square) and orientations (Portrait and the two Landscape modes). Fortunately (except for the complete lack of support for square screens in Thunderhawk), current Pocket PC browsers are all VGA (including native (non-SE) VGA modes) and Landscape-compliant, where the latter also includes left-hand landscape modes used on WM models with built-in slide-out / clamshell keyboards.

    Screen estate utilization group: everything related to how browsers are able to make use of the available screen estate.

    Full screen mode?: can you switch to full-screen mode, hiding the taskbar at the top and the command bar at the bottom? I’ve also noted the way to switch back to normal mode; it’s, for example, a little icon as with all the three (real) PIE plug-ins, which is the best and least space-consuming.

    As can clearly be seen, Opera Mobile, Minimo and NetFront all display the tab bar (and, with Opera Mobile, the address/icon bar) even in full screen mode. This is certainly a drawback.

    Address bar hiding?: in pre-WM5 PIE's (as with several other browsers), you could hide the address bar to free up some screen estate. In here, I've scrutinized whether you can do the same in the reviewed browsers. Note that Opera Mobile displays the combined address bar / command bar even in Full Screen mode, which should be addressed in a later version.

    Scrollbar (may be) hidden in full screen mode?: better browsers and browser plug-ins may be configured to hide the horizontal/vertical scrollbars in full screen mode. Unfortunately, only MultiIE and PIEPlus support this; Opera Mobile, Minimo, NetFront and PIE (without either PIEPlus or MultiIE) don't.

    Context menus group: while I've also dedicated separate rows to elaborating on mostly context menu-based functionality like opening a link in a new tab (instead of the current one), saving an image or copying a link target address to the clipboard, I've also chosen to collect screenshots and a quick list of the additional, new context menu items available with all the three different entities in a Web page (not counting in special entities like Flash animations, Java applets or frames; with the first two, there are no context menus; the latter is scrutinized in the Frames group): images, links and generally non-image/non-link content.

    Advanced address bar features (macros, completion) group: this section lists the different types of macros and address bar (auto)completion. The rows and screenshots in this section are pretty self-explanatory; therefore, I don't explain them in here.

    Rendering modes group: the screen resolution of a Windows Mobile device is inherently smaller than those of desktop / notebook computers. Even the largest WM screens (800*480 in, for example, the new Toshiba G900) are still smaller than the XGA (1024*768) screens used in even basic notebook models, let alone higher-resolution ones (for example, I'm writing this article on my UXGA (1600*1200) Thinkpad.) Low-resolution WM devices with either a QVGA or a square screen are even worse.

    With these low-resolution screens, it's pretty understandable a Web page can't be correctly rendered in its original layout. A layout designed for a horizontal resolution of at least 800 pixels just can't be correctly rendered on a screen with a width of 240 pixels. This results in (mainly) three approaches:

    1. render the page as is, in its original layout - that is, make the user scroll horizontally. This is the worst approach as you will end up having to scroll horizontally to read each and every row.
    2. while trying to keep the original horizontal layout, try to resize every horizontal page entity so that they fit in the screen horizontally. This approach, in general, works OK on VGA devices, particularly when used in Landscape orientation (that is, with 640 active pixels, even when you subtract the width of the vertical scrollbar). On the other hand, with QVGA screens (and particularly with square ones with a meager 240 pixels), this approach wont really work because, in some cases, each column will only have space for 3-4 letters at most. (See the examples in the first row of the group showing this in practice; or, the NetFront Just-fit example showing a QVGA screenshot in the earlier version of the Web Browsing Bible!)
    3. finally, try to render all cells in a row of a table or all frames vertically; that is, one cell or one frame a row.

    Note that there may be combinations of the latter two approaches; NetFront's Smart-fit rendering is a perfect example of this (using the most recommended Full Rendering mode). It, when it notices that there simply are too many for example table cells in a row, makes sure it renders all of them vertically. When, however, it notices somewhere else on the same page there isn’t enough screen estate, it will render the cells in separate rows. The PPCMag test example, used throughout the entire chart for testing, is a perfect example of this. At the top of the page, where there are only two text input fields and some text, these are shown in the same row (unlike with "real" One column solutions). However, with much more information / text in a row (the case with the body chart itself), most of the cells are aligned vertically. This approach unifies the good sides of both approaches and should be implemented by at least the Opera Mobile folks as, say, a fourth way of content display.

    The first two rows in this group compare the applications' ability to fit the contents of a Web page (horizontally) on the screen and to render the page in the One column mode, if possible.

    Fit-to-screen (tested with the PPCMag test)?:

    As can clearly be seen, PIE has always delivered pretty bad results, unlike with all the comparable and fit-to-screen-capable alternatives (except for Minimo, where SSR doesn't always work). Both NetFront's "Just-fit rendering" and Opera Mobile's "Default" mode are far better at really crunching the horizontal contents of a Web page to the available screen estate and, in most of the cases, are perfectly usable on especially VGA devices.

    Minimo's SSR mode (whish is enabled by default) is a different animal - it doesn't work with many sites (see the RedHotPawn example). When it does work, however, it also delivers good results.

    Opera Mini doesn't have a comparable rendering mode at all (as it's solely using an One column mode). Finally, Thunderhawk renders the page using the original layout, which is pretty much OK in most cases.

    One (single) column view?:

    As can be seen, the reviewed apps use vastly different approaches. The best approach is, without doubt, that of NetFront for the reasons outlined above. It's closely followed by all native One column-capable browsers: PIE in WM2003SE+, Opera Mobile (particularly now that, with the brand new, 8.65 version, the old bug with the limited horizontal column width has been fixed) and Opera Mini (incidentally, the latter doesn't have other rendering modes at all).

    As has been pointed out, it's only with WM2003SE and later WM operating system versions that the built-in PIE supports the One Column mode. In earlier operating system versions, should you really want to have One column rendering and still want to stick with PIE (while, of course, Opera Mobile is far better a choice on WM2003), you will want to take a closer look at PIEPlus, the only PIE plug-in to force the incoming Web content into one column.

    Note that you can achieve the same effect with ANY browser using external one-columnizer services like Skweezer, MobileLeap and the like. However, they may result in some problems (for example, because they also get rid of JavaScript code); therefore, you may still want to go for something else.

    Rendering mode (does it show the start of the document even when it’s not entirely downloaded?): this test elaborates on how the given browser loads a new document: does it start rendering it only some 2-3 seconds before fully finishing the download (that is, does the user face an empty screen for, say, 90% of the download), or, does it try to render the page as soon as possible?

    As can clearly be seen, there are two types of browsers: one set of them (PIE, Opera Mobile) will start rendering the page as soon as possible, while some wait until the download & parsing is almost entirely done (Minimo and the proxy server-based solutions). NetFront is a strange animal because in the normal Full Rendering mode it sometimes delivered very good (starting to render right at the beginning), while, at other times, pretty bad (starting to render only later) results.

    Note that NetFront also offers a "Rapid-Render" mode, which guarantees the content will be rendered during page fetching. I can't at all recommend this mode, however, because of the HUGE time overhead, which is particularly an issue in the new, 3.4 version, where the difference in time needed for page fetching can easily be fivefold. Furthermore, the rendered contents you're presented aren't the final ones; they will only be presented later, after a really distracting full screen clear. This may be pretty annoying for the user because he or she may even forget where he/she was and/or will have to scroll around a lot to find it.

    Multiple page operation (multitabs) group: in this group, I've elaborated on how the application handles multiple pages; is it, for example, possible to open a link in a background page for background download, and, then, get notified when it's downloaded. All this in order to avoid having to waste time on waiting for the page to be downloaded, which is especially important with slow connections.

    Feedback on page loading events (sound effects / bringing to the foreground)?: A decent browser should notify the user when a page has completely been downloaded and rendered in the background. For example, the desktop Opera browser turns the color of the text on the tab where download has ended to blue, which is very easy to notice, even with disabled sounds. In here, I've listed how the tested browsers behave in this respect. Unfortunately, the Windows Mobile version of Opera doesn't do the same trick as the desktop one (and not any sound notification either). This is the case with all the other browsers too. Actually, it's only PIEPlus and MultiIE that lets for configuring what should happen in these cases. Kudos to their developers!

    Opening links in…-support, particularly as opening something in a background tab is concerned: in here, I've listed whether it's possible to open a link in a new and, particularly, in a background new tab in order to avoid having to manually switch back to the current one to continue reading it while the requested page is loading in the background.

    As can clearly be seen, some browsers don't let for background link opening at all; unfortunately, Opera Mobile, NetFront and Minimo also belong to this group. Actually, it's only the three "real" PIE plug-ins that offer background link opening capabilities.

    Max. number of tabs open at a time?: die-hard Web browser users may want to prefer having as many pages open as possible. Most browsers and PIE plug-ins do let the user do so; the most important exception is NetFront, which only lets for opening up to five tabs. This is far from perfect and you'll run into this restriction pretty easily if you often open a link in a new tab.

    Something should also be emphasized. The Windows Mobile operating system, as of now (the WindowsCE 5.2-based WM6; it's only the brand new WindowsCE 6 and the forthcoming WM version based on it that (will) have got rid of this restriction), doesn't let for more concurrent processes than 32. Most of the reviewed applications (except for, for example, Opera Mini), however, create a separate process for each tab. This means, depending on the operating system used and the number of other programs you run, in general, you can't have more than 20-28 tabs opened with a browser before these start to be terminated (which, in cases, may result in terminating all the browser processes at once). Again, this restriction doesn't apply to Opera Mini - with it, I had 30 pages opened several times without any problems.

    Note that, as both opening new tabs (at least with PIE plug-ins; with non-PIE-based browsers, the memory consumption in these cases isn't at all bad) and rendering Web pages (which is an issue with several Web browsers; most importantly, with PIE) may be memory-intensive operations, it's highly possible you fill up your dynamic RAM program memory much faster than reaching the process limit of the operating system. With the least memory-hungry application, Opera Mobile, I've had no problems in browsing some 27-28 tabs at a time, however - that is, you can make a good use of your dynamic memory very easily.

    Tabs constantly on the screen, their taking up screen estate etc. group: while the previous group didn't concentrate on the visual representations of the multiple browser document windows, this one does. In here, I elaborate on whether you can alter the tabs' size (and their taking up valuable screen estate), whether they're displayed in full screen mode, whether you can configure the system to open the new tabs next to the current one, or, strictly at the end of the tab list; whether the tabs have context menus (in this respect, Minimo is clearly the best) and, finally, whether the tabs can easily be closed with, say, only one screen tap.

    Misc. group: the tests in this group speak for themselves. Please make sure you consult the screenshots, should you still not get the point what they are all about. I only elaborate on the Access to standard PIE favorites? group, which elaborates on whether the given browser is able to access the PIE favorites for either reading or writing, or both.

    As can clearly be seen, while the traditional file system representation of favorites is very simple to handle, only three browsers have support for it: Thunderhawk, Opera Mobile and NetFront; neither Minimo nor Opera Mini have support for them. (The latter is, of course, understandable, taken the restricted “sandbox” midlets are provided, file access-wise.) Furthermore, Opera Mobile isn’t able to create PIE-compliant favorites (not even when you create these favorites explicitly in the Internet Explorer Favorites folder); this means favorites added in Opera Mobile will not be visible to other browsers and you can’t synchronize them back to your desktop computer(s) either.

    Note that the WM operating system also stores favorites in the Registry; both NetFront and Opera Mobile were able to read these Registry-based favorites.

    Standards compliance groups: in the five groups here, I examine the following four areas (and a miscellaneous area with some "not suitable for bigger groups" tests):

    JavaScript, scripting, Java (Part I) : in here, I've run several tests to find out the compatibility of all the browsers with some well-known pages having very strong and complicated scripting. As can clearly be seen, Opera Mobile and Minimo have by far the best JavaScript and AJAX support. PIE has always had a very bad JavaScript support and, even as of WM6, non-existing AJAX support. (Frankly, I don't understand why Microsoft states PIE in WM5 AKU3 / WM6 is AJAX-compliant, when it just isn't. Its JavaScript compliance isn't a tad better than in older versions either.) NetFront had mediocre JavaScript support in 3.3 and good in 3.4; as far as its AJAX compliance is concerned, 3.4 was indeed a BIG step ahead (albeit it's still worse than that of Minimo or Opera Mobile).

    Finally, it's in here that I also elaborate on the Java applet compliance of the Web browsers. Unfortunately, Minimo and the two Operas have absolutely no Java support. This isn't that big a problem, however, because very few sites do actively use Java applets - it's mostly Flash that everything is based on (see Flash compatibility later).

    Thunderhawk and NetFront both have their custom Java support, which can't be swapped to something else. With PIE, however, you have some choices when choosing a JVM: CrEme and the no longer sold / supported JEODE, which, back in 2001-2003, was shipped on iPAQ CD's. Of the two, I'd prefer CrEme because of the vastly superior speed and generally better compliance. The reader is kindly referred to my other, related articles (just look for "CrEme" in my articles) for more information on CrEme.

    HTML Frames: these test concentrate on the frame support of the Web browsers. You may have already heard of PIE's only supporting few parallel or embedded frames and absolutely not supporting so-called "Iframes". In here, I elaborate on all these issues. If you know a bit about HTML and would you find out how I've did the tests, don't forget to check out the HTML test pages I've created for these tests: I've linked in them all. They're pretty instructive.

    As can clearly be seen, Opera Mobile has the best frame support when it comes to the maximal number of parallel / embedded frames. Its only problem is the lack of "go to a frame" functionality (to maximize a given frame to the entire screen), which, otherwise, would be REALLY important, particularly when you really wouldn't need the contents of the other frames. The Opera folks will want to address this issue. PIE, on the other hand, is at the other end of the spectrum: its frame support is the worst of all, frame number-wise.

    Finally, some really good news for PIE freaks: in WM6, Iframes support has finally been added. It's not really flawless (see my comments and the screenshot), but, at least, it's already there.

    Internationalization support (Part IV): please see this article for a complete description of what this all means.

    Finally, the fifth subgroup, Misc, dives into a lot of disjunctive compatibility areas: file uploading, Flash, YouTube etc. Please do read the linked-in articles for more info if interested - here, I won't waste any time on telling the same stuff again. As can clearly be seen, Opera Mobile is the best of all in this group, particularly YouTube video-wise.

    Speed, dynamic RAM memory usage benchmarks group: on Windows Mobile devices with, typically, heavily restricted CPU and memory resources, it’s very important Web browsers don’t tax neither the CPU nor the memory much. That is, they load the requested Web page as quickly as possible and try to radically reduce their memory consumption. As there are really radically differences between the different browsers, a Web browsing-related roundup MUST elaborate on these quantitive results.

    Overall rendering speed: PPCMag test loading speed: in this test, I’ve measured how much time it did take to completely download and render the linked test page. Note that I’ve repeated the tests in different rendering modes to see what their effect on the overall rendering speed is. In general, I’ve made the tests on two current devices: the WM5 VGA 624 MHz Dell Axim x51v (running the A12 ROM) and the WM6 520 MHz VGA HTC Universal. In every case, I’ve noted which of the two I’ve measured a result on (the x51v is slightly faster, which is also reflected in the results).

    Overall memory usage: program itself with a blank page (important particularly for HP iPAQ rx1950 / Palm Treo 700w users with ~11Mbytes of free RAM at most). Note that the PIE plug-ins show additional RAM usage, in addition to the "base" PIE RAM usage. : in this test, I’ve measured the memory usage of the applications without displaying any Web page (as displaying pages may dramatically increase the memory usage.) Note that, as with the next benchmarks, I’ve done separate QVGA and VGA tests; I used the HTC Wizard running WM5 as the QVGA test device. The reason for this is pretty simple: on VGA devices, Web browsers have the tendency of taking up more memory. As can be seen, Opera Mini and PIE are the most memory-friendly, followed by Thunderhawk and, then, Opera Mobile. Then follow the other browsers: NetFront and, finally, Minimo.

    Note that, with PIE plug-ins (except for the hybrid Webby), I’ve measured the additional memory usage. That is, don’t think Spb Pocket Plus / PIEPlus only require 56k / 90k RAM memory; that is, that they greatly reduce memory load. It’s the additional memory usage, added to memory usage the “base” PIE.

    An opened, new tab: unfortunately, not only the Web browsers themselves take up memory, but also the individual windows you open in them. This is especially true of PIE plug-ins, which, in effect, need to load a brand new instance of PIE into memory. This is why they, in general, consume at least an order of magnitude more memory (per window) than non-plugin-based, multiwindow-capable solutions (NetFront, Minimo, Opera Mobile, Opera Mini).

    PPCMag test memory consumption: totally independent of the above-mentioned cases (how much memory the program itself / an additional tab take) is the memory taken up by the in-memory representation by actual Web pages you visit. This, in general, in cases, may be even an order of magnitude larger than the original size of the page – for example, (in this respect) worse browsers (most importantly, PIE) may take 7-8 Mbytes of the meager RAM to load a 600 kbyte Web page with some icons in there.

    In this test, I’ve measured the memory consumption of all the tested browsers upon loading the above-introduced, 590 kbyte-big PPCMag test page. As can clearly be seen , there may be even two orders of magnitude differences in the results: while Opera Mini takes very little memory, PIE (the, in this respect, worst-behaving browser) takes between 7.5 and 9Mbytes.

    Network connectivity group: in here, I’ve elaborated on generic network connectivity questions / issues.

    Proxy support? If it does support proxies, does it require the proxy settings entered locally, or, does it get from the system-wide Connectivity framework?: Is the given app able to use proxy servers?

    Proxy servers can be very handy in a lot of respects. Please see this article (also linked from this PPCMag article) on the usage of proxy servers. Also, you may want to read this article for more information on configuring proxies on the PPC/switching between them.

    Opera Mobile and Minimo both support locally-set proxy servers.

    As you can see, PIE, starting with Pocket PC 2002, uses the system-level proxy server setting. PIE plug-ins also use them as they have access to all the PIE resources. NetFront is also able to do the same, but you can also supply a different proxy server to it locally (which is the preferred and easiest solution in most cases). Thunderhawk and Minimo have no proxy support at all.

    Proxy-based anonymity?:

    If you use proxies, you can also anonymously surf the Web (please see this and this article on anonymity). This is why PIE (with all its plug-ins), Minimo, Opera Mobile and NetFront are preferred for anonymous surfing. TH, while it doesn’t support proxies, doesn’t pass anything client-related (no IP, no ThunderHawk username) to the HTTP server, so, it can safely be used for anonymous Web surfing too. Opera Mini, unfortunately, does pass the client IP in an extended HTTP header.

    Does use the PPC2k2+ Connections framework to diff. between The Internet/Work connections?: You may have already run into the The Internet/Work distinction, which effectively plagues the life of a lot of people. PIE is based on this paradigm; this is why you run into a lot of ‘can’t connect’ messages because of just using the opposite type of connection of what’s needed.

    Non-PIE browsers aren’t based on this framework, which is a big plus with them, at least for people that don’t understand the The Internet/Work distinction ( it’s not an easy stuff; furthermore, it’s not really documented either).

    Bandwidth reduction: GZIP/Compress support? Does it really work?: HTTP browsers that support GZIP compression (please read this article on this subject) and support working through proxies (the case of Toonel – more on this later) may deliver a big win in bandwidth usage.

    Toonel-compatibility?: Toonel is a great and, even better, free online HTTP compression service, a great friend of everybody not having unliminted (or very fast) Internet access. It requires explicit proxy support (and manual configuration) in the Web browser. In this row, I’ve noted the compliance of PPC Web browsers with Toonel. As can be seen, all of the "big" titles support Toonel because of the proxy support. It's only client-server solutions like Opera Mini, Thunderhawk (and DeepFish) that don't support Toonel.


    Saving, downloading group:

    Saving the current (Web) page (also see this)? (Note that it can even be a, say, as textual "rendered" CAB file too!): This shows if the browser is able to explicitly save Web pages. As can be seen, most of them do, Minimo, the two Operas and Thunderhawk being the exceptions. Some of the browsers (NetFront, PIEPlus, MultiIE) can even make a full save, downloading all the resources as the desktop IE in File/Save As - see the default Web Page, complete option in the Save as type: drop-down list.

    Please note that the inability to explicitly save pages shouldn’t be a showstopper: you can get the Web pages from the cache of browsers that have local caches. It requires some manual work and searching, though. Consult the Download Bible for more information.

    Save link directly to file, w/o opening? (""Save Target As...") (also see this): should you save something without actually peeking into it, you will want to look for browsers that do support this kind of functionality. (Please, as with the other rows in this group, do consult the Download Bible for more information on this subject - it's way more complicated than it seems!)

    Co-working with HandyGet : Currently, HandyGet is the best Windows Mobile downloader tool/accelerator. In here, I’ve elaborated on whether it’s able to automatically “capture” the binary URL’s clicked in the browsers in order to download the file inside itself.

    File download (NOT "Save Link Target"!)?: without relying on features like the above-mentioned "Save Link Target", is it possible to download files if they are offered for download (that is, if they are of binary content); is it possible to select a destination to store the downloaded file at. (Again, check the Download Bible for what this implies.)

    Caching; cache benchmarks group: most Web browsers use local file stores called “caches” to quickly speed up transfers and lower data usage. These caches, as they are stored in the file system, may result in a variety of problems, particularly when you visit pages with more than a handful linked resources (for example, images). In these cases, the sometimes vastly reduced file creation speed of non-RAM (read: flash ROM) media – for example, the built-in, default storage in all WM5+ devices. Please also see the related article What do you need to know about optimizing storage card speed? for more info on the speed issues caused by trying to write dozens of files to a flash ROM-based file system.

    In here, in addition to elaborating on whether its size is settable, I’ve also elaborated (see Relocatable?) on whether the cache can be relocated to a storage card / RAMdisk etc. Note that, should you relocate it to an even slower medium (as are most of today’s non-high-end memory cards), the page loading times may become even worse with browsers (particularly sensitive to this problem is PIE), particularly when there are many files to store in the cache. In these cases, you will REALLY want to consider disabling caching entirely or using an area, RAMdisk, in the fast dynamic RAM (the program memory) to store the files. RAMdisks, however, have their share of problems (see the linked RAMdisk article).

    I’ve benchmarked all the caching-enabled applications in separate scenarios. First, I’ve benchmarked them in my WM6 HTC Universal, using its built-in storage memory for the cache. Second, using a RAMdisk; third, using a VERY slow-to-write to, cheap SanDisk 1Gbyte SD card. As can be seen, with the latter card, PIE’s results are much worse than in the default or the RAMdisk one. Note that the results starting with + mean additional time needed for caching – in addition to the non-cached or the default case.

    In Explicit cache navigation?, I’ve elaborated on whether it’s possible to examine the contents of the cache from inside the browser itself, as is the case with NetFront.

    Finally, in Offline mode: Highlighting favorites present in cache (like on desktop browsers?) Loading cached pages without a connection? , I've elaborated on whether the browser supports showing what's available in the cache and what not. In the Favorites list, highlighting available pages is a pretty nice feature of all PIE’s except for WM5 (where, for some reason, it was removed). The second part of the test concerns cases of browsing without an internet connection, just from the file system cache. As can clearly be seen, this is not always possible.

    Images group: in here, I've elaborated on image saving, (alternative) image text inquiring and wallpaper setting capabilities. As the latter (wallpaper setting) no longer works in any current Web browser or plug-in, you'll want to consult my well-known (Please read the "Today Wallpaper Bible" (alternatives: iPAQ HQ, AximSite, PPC Magazine, FirstLoox, BrightHand)) for more information on reusing downloaded / saved images as Today wallpapers, should you ever want to reuse an image on the Web as your wallpaper.

    Copy/paste support group: I've elaborated on whether it's possible to directly copy a link to the clipboard and whether the browser supports arbitrary text selection from the given page.

    As far as link copying is concerned, should it be missing with a particular Web browser / PIE plug-in, you can still do the same with just clicking the link and, then, when it's displayed in the Address bar, just stopping the loading (if you don't need to see it) of the page and copying the address from the Address bar to the clipboard.

    As far as the second (text copying) is conerned, all browsers support it, except for Thunderhawk and Opera Mini (and the forthcoming DeepFish).


    Hardware buttons not related to scrolling group: here, I've elaborated on hardware button assignment capabilities, which is REALLY useful and supported by some Web browsers (and PIE plug-ins). Assigned buttons can make operation (for example, the Back button) much easier, particularly if you don't like / can't use the touchscreen on a non-Smartphone (non-WM Standard) device. I've also elaborated on the WM5+ softkey support, which, traditionally, hasn’t been the strongest point of some browsers.

    Scrolling group: you may want to prefer scrolling down/up the page (OR, select a link) using hardware keys (or the redefined volume slider / scroll wheel / jog dial, when available) instead of using the scrollbar (or, screen dragging) on the touch screen (if your device has a touchscreen at all). In these cases, you will most probably want to know what scrolling capabilities the given browser supports and whether it's possible to override / change them.

    In a nutshell, there are two traditional ways of scrolling: the "scroll one page at a time when you press the Up/Down arrows" ("page" scrolling) and "highlight the next link above/below/on the left/on the right when you press a directional key and scroll the screen contents when there's no visible link in the given direction" ("link" scrolling). In addition, some browsers also offer the capability for "line" scrolling, which scrolls the screen line by line.

    Traditionally, PIE in operating systems prior to WM5 utilized page scrolling and, starting with WM5, link scrolling by default. The switch to the new paradigm took place to make it possible for non-touchscreen-enabled smartphones to select (click) links to follow (and to let for one-handed operation even with touchscreen-enabled devices). However, the change to link scrolling wasn't really welcome by many users because it meant, sometimes, multiple keypresses to scroll down the screen contents.

    There are a lot of different solutions to the problem, all of them explained / shown example screenshots of in the chart. Of them, hybrid solutions are the best and most usable. This is particularly true if you occasionally would like to use your otherwise touchscreen-enabled WM device in one-handed mode. Then, while still having the ability to both quickly scroll up/down the contents ("page" scroll), you also have the chance to do some link scrolling. This can happen with either the same keys (not) used with press-and-hold also used for page scrolling, or with different hardware facilities (either a scrolling wheel/jog dial or a redefined volume slider) to do the link scrolling.

    As far as the first group (doing page/link scrolling with the same hardware facilities) is concerned, NetFront has an interesting scrolling behavior; with the brand new, 3.4 version of NetFront, you can fine-tune how the Up / Down keys behave; then, if you, otherwise, use link scrolling with the D-pad, you can still instruct NetFront to scroll through several pages up / down when you long-press (press and hold) the Up / Down key. (Note that the default behavior is immediately switching to the PagePilot mode for quick navigation.)

    Also the scrolling model of Webby is of special interest: when you press the Down key, a page scroll will take; when you press Up, line scrolling. With this, you can still quickly scroll through a document without having to suffer from the disadvantages of link-only scrolling and, when you do need to access a link, you can scroll down one page and, then, gradually up (and left/right when there are several links in row) to get to a link. This is a very clever approach more closely modeling user behavior.

    Note that you are very lucky if you have a WM5 device with a real volume slider (for example, a HTC Universal, Wizard etc.); then, you can use one of the best, free tool meant for these kinds of devices, SmartSKey. With a redefined volume slider, you will always have page up/down scrolling in PIE (including all its plug-ins), (the new) Opera Mobile and NetFront (but, unfortunately, not in the other browsers); then, you can safely leave the D-pad in the default Line scrolling mode.

    User-Agent group: the ability to redefine the so-called "User-Agent" can prove very useful because many Web sites check this information and act differently on mobile and desktop Web browsers. The ability to redefine this information can be very important because

    1. many sites may refuse to provide (usable) content for a mobile browser introducing itself a mobile browser to the server, even when the client would be able to meaningfully render the contents. Just an example: while Opera Mobile's JavaScript and Iframe support is so darn good that it’s even able to make use of the very useful Gmail address autocomplete, Gmail switches to PDA view NOT offering autocomplete when it sees a mobile browser (including, by default, Opera Mobile too).
    2. many other sites rely on for example authentication requiring a browser to identify itself as a desktop, while they aren't really using the advanced scripting or ActiveX capabilities of them.

    In these both cases, redefining the User-Agent can prove very useful.

    Note that you won't always want to redefine the User-Agent. There are many Web sites that, upon recognizing a mobile browser, provide mobile-/bandwidth-friendlier content. Just a few examples: the Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine blogs, Pocket PC Thoughts, AximSite, FirstLoox etc. With these sites, it can prove very useful to be able to dynamically switch the browser identification (User-Agent) to the default (mobile) setting to get the mobile content.

    Built-in browser identification change : in here, I've elaborated on whether the given browser / plug-in is able to change the User-Agent from inside the application.

    On-the-fly external browser identification change visible without PIE restart in tabs opened after change? (Everything is +, also showing that all reviewed PIE plug-ins load a full copy of PIE into memory for each and every tab, unlike the old ftxPBrowser, which does require a full restart.) : As has already been pointed out, most PIE-based apps (except for ftxPBrowser) load an almost new copy of PIE into memory when a new browser tab is opened. This, on the other hand, also means that registry changes, which PIE only notices when it’s started, will also be visible after opening a new window (because PIE also reloads the registry), without even exiting PIE.

    This can be of tremendous help. Let’s assume you prefer visiting a banking site pretending to be desktop browser (because the page just doesn’t let you in say, non-desktop-IE browsers), while you would like to access the, say, the PPCMag blog or Pocket PC Thoughts pretending to be a Pocket PC client so that you receive lightweight-formatted content. And, you would prefer doing this at the same time: in one window you browse online banking pages, in another one you browse the Pocket PC-optimized pages of the above-mentioned sites. It’s indeed possible if you always remember which tabs you opened after toggling the User-Agent.
     
  3. Menneisyys

    Menneisyys Mobile Deity

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    Slightly updated (mostly, English / comprehensibility); no REAL changes made.
     
  4. Menneisyys

    Menneisyys Mobile Deity

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    UPDATE (04/05/2007): Added a new row on Address bar (history / deletion / autocomplete), with a lot of screenshots; other minor changes in the chart.
     
  5. Menneisyys

    Menneisyys Mobile Deity

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    In addition to yesterday's cleaning up the English & additional proofreading and today's adding a new row on the Address Bar history (deletion) / autocompletion, I've slightly modified the Opera Mobile-related information in the chart of the article, based on ResearchWizard's excellent feedback. (BTW, his Opera Mobile guide is just excellent and really worth checking out (alternative, direct link here)).

    BTW, many have asked why there's neither "Verdict" nor "Most recommended" section in the Bible. The answer is very simple: while I, personally, consider Opera Mobile 8.65 the best browser closely followed by the WM6 (or, at least, WM5 AKU2+ - previous versions were 50% slower to load pages and, therefore, I wouldn't really be able to return to using them) IEM equipped with PIEPlus 2.2 if the bad JavaScript / non-existing AJAX support and the relatively high memory usage aren't a problem.

    However, as you may have drastically different requirements, the above may not be the right solution for you. For example, you can ONLY use free software because, for example, you need the cheapest solution for enterprise-wide deployment, which means you'll need to cast a glance at Webby, Minimo or, probably the best free alternative, Opera Mini. Or, alternatively, you want to keep the original page layout on your low-resolution QVGA model; then, the first browser you should check out is Thunderhawk (not taking DeepFish into account).

    That is, there was a reason I didn't (and still don't) provide a quick recommendation. There are a LOT of factors you need to consider when selecting your browser of your choice. You WILL want to thoroughly examine the feature / comparison chart, thoroughly compare each feature and consider whether the lack of a given feature is a showstopper for you or not. Providing a some-sentence-recommendation like ""go for Minimo if you need a free and, therefore, easily mass-deployable browser and memory consumption isn't an issue", "go for Opera Mini if you need minimal memory consumption, speed and also being free" or "stay with PIE if you don't need strong JavaScript / AJAX / CSS support and multitabs but want a free, dependable browser"" would have been an oversimplification.

    I felt it useless to try to even replicate the information available in the comparison / feature chart in a Verdict section - there's simply too much information, I would have ended up pages on this "simple" subject. This is why I’ve left it out altogether – you’ll need to consult the chart so that you can make an educated, informed decision..
     
  6. pdaadp

    pdaadp Mobile Deity

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    great read...thank you :D

    been playing opera beta 8.65 for a few days now...

    it's still fast, but there appears to be a delay now on every page, just before the final part of the website is done downloading... it's as if it stops to think before finalizing what should be displayed....

    i still can't use my scroll wheel to scroll down the whole page, the way netfront does it.... opera still scrolls down, hitting every link along the way (what does that grab and scroll option do in the options? i see no difference with it on or off)....

    was able to play clips on youtube.com now, which was nice.... all sites with animations (assuming they are java and flash) displayed properly...

    one other odd thing i found was that my pda was offering me word suggestions when on password fields.... this should be a big no no, in my opinion... don't recall this on previous opera versions or on other browsers...

    oh yes...and thankfully, clicking a link now goes to that link on the first shot... i had problems in the past where each link clicked would select the entire word with the copy option...

    assuming some of this will be resolved once out of beta.... regardless, it's still the best browser out and will continue to use it...
     
  7. Menneisyys

    Menneisyys Mobile Deity

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    Updated the chart with Thunderhawk-related information. This means there are no question marks in the Thunderhawk-specific column any more. I've also provided several screenshots of Thunderhawk in action. Thanks to the Bitstream folks for providing me access to their service!

    BTW, the article has been frontpaged by Pocket PC Thoughts in the meantime.
     
  8. qwertyu

    qwertyu Mobile Deity

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    If it's on you can put your stylus on the screen, hold it there and physically drag the screen left, right, up, down, etc. This is especially useful if you have Opera set on the desktop display setting.

    One word of caution, if you want to highlight something you'll have to remember to turn grab and scroll off or it won't allow you to highlight because the screen keeps moving.
     
  9. Menneisyys

    Menneisyys Mobile Deity

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  10. Menneisyys

    Menneisyys Mobile Deity

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    PPCT frontpage; Just Another Mobile Monday frontpage

    Finally, I can not stress and emphasize enough: if you have a specific need but lack the time to fully scrutinize the chart, use in-page searching (Ctrl-F) to quickly find the compatibility information you need. For example, if you want to know Flash, AJAX or JavaScript compliance, just use the word in question (for example "Flash") as the search expression and you'll really quickly find out which chart row discusses the given question.
     
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