The Lynx Rant

by Zeigen

From: "E. Stephen Mack" 
Subject: The Lynx Rant


This is the latest (and possibly final?) version of my Rant On Lynx.
It was written in response to an anonymous person who flamed me for my
Ode To Lynx (linked from the Dehanced For Lynx pages)...  It's
quite long, but...
let's listen in...

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You just wrote me a very gentle flame about my Ode To Lynx.  I am
responding to your arguments with a lot of detail, because I've been
meaning to summarize my reasons for liking Lynx and disliking Netscape
for a long time.

Sorry to be so long here, but I want to be as persuasive as possible
and also show you how reasonable my viewpoint is.

You wrote:

> Alright, this has gone too far.  I am sick and tired of you lynx guys calling yourselfs 
> "elite" because you use a text-only browser.  You are NOT elite! 

First of all, I notice that you're not using an 80-column width
format.  This means that your mail is very hard to read -- for me, and
for plenty of people who don't use graphical mail clients.  I think
it's a real mistake that Netscape doesn't enforce an 80-column limit by
default.  But anyway.

I have never called myself "elite" or even "3l33t" except as a joke.
The Ode to Lynx does not contain the word "elite" or any of its
synonyms.  So, why do you believe that we call ourselves elite?
Perhaps other people were making fun of you for using Netscape.  Or
could it be that you perceive Lynx users elite and wish you were also
elite?  After all, most Lynx users are shell users, which often means
that they know how to use Unix, a very powerful and useful operating
system -- one which is, by the way, much more stable and functional
than DOS or Windows.

But I don't mean to be catty...  Here are some real arguments.

> You go way to far when 
> you attack Netscape in your Ode to Lynx by saying that Netscape stinks and Lynx is the 
> best of them all.  Lynx is not the best browser in the world at all and it is not cool, 
> good, or of the elite, to be using a text-only browser.

Good start to your argument, but you need to follow-through more.  WHY
is Lynx not good or not cool?  What makes Netscape good?

I state a number of arguments for WHY Lynx is better than Netscape.  To

1. Speed --
   Netscape is limited by the connection type (28.8 for most users) to
   your ISP.  Lynx is unlimited in speed -- if your ISP is connected to
   the rest of the Internet with a T3, for example, then your page
   appears and your file downloads occur at T3 speed.

2. Security--
   Netscape is notoriously insecure.  Cookies have security holes, and
   bugs in JavaScript and other problems compromise your integrity when
   you use Netscape.  Lynx users do not have to worry about these

3. Simplicity--
   Netscape can be very complicated: with Lynx, I never have to worry
   about plug-ins, version incompatibilities, missing DLL files, bad
   registry entries, INI files or anything similar.

4. Utility--
   I can use Lynx to automatically retrieve information and generate
   reports; I can use Lynx in scripts.  Netscape cannot be automated
   without extremely complicated OLE/DLL programming.  For example,
   suppose you need a certain file to be accessed every day at 3 p.m.,
   with a certain stock price saved in a certain file.  I could do this
   with Lynx with no problem.  How easy would this job be in Netscape
   or IE?

So, what's your response to all that?  What is it that Netscape does
that outweighs these benefits of Lynx?

Granted that Netscape can do things that Lynx can't (although many of
the things that Netscape does I'm not necessarily interested in), but
now you need to argue about what value these things have.  Since I'm
interested in INFORMATION, which Lynx serves to me very quickly, that's
why Lynx is a better browser for my needs.

Although I do use Netscape too.  I wrote the Ode To Lynx because I use
Lynx daily and I love it.  Many people malign it.  So I felt like
praising it.  I didn't really intend to rip Netscape (although I do
feel blinking deserves ridicule) -- I think you just perceive it that
way while missing the humor I intended.

This whole thing reminds me of a similar situation: I don't eat red
meat.  When people find that out, sometimes they question me for not
eating steak, say, and they try to argue with me about how good red
meat is.  That's great, I say, go ahead and eat all the red meat you
want -- because I won't try to stop you.  But it just so happens that I
don't eat red meat (because of health reasons and because I don't like
the taste of red meat).  I say to these people, don't try to MAKE me
eat red meat!  Similarly, don't MAKE me use Netscape.  Does that make
sense?  I just don't want to eat red meat or use Netscape all the
time.  That should be the end of it.

The problem is that people take my not eating red meat the wrong way:
they think that I'm judging them for eating red meat.  (Perhaps they're
already feeling guilty or nervous about red meat, suspecting that it's
not really good for them.)  So they think I'm attacking them for their
choice.  The reality is that I don't care what they eat -- that's up to
them.  I have just made a different decision for myself.  Now, if I'm
forced to go into a restaurant that serves only red meat, I'm annoyed
because I will not get to eat.  Which is too bad, because I was
probably hungry and would have probably enjoyed the restaurant if they
had only served something I could eat.

If I had written an "Ode to Tofu," would you have written me a letter
saying, "Tofu is not so good, only 10% of the world eats Tofu, don't go
saying that Red meat stinks and that Tofu is the best.  The Tofu
advisory board even attacks restaurants that have greasy hamburgers"?

> The enhanced for Lynx page even 
> attacks web pages with too much graphics with the Dehanced for Lynx award.

True.  (Although I personally have NOTHING to do with those guys.  They
just link to my Ode.)

The pages they attack are pages that are USELESS without Netscape.
This is dangerous -- why should the world depend on having a particular
company's product when there are lots of good products in the world
that do a good job?  Does it make sense to become DEPENDENT on
programmers who live in Mountain View?  Netscape could go out of
business next week, and then those pages would be orphans.

Another argument for why pages should be accessible to BOTH Lynx and
Netscape users is that many blind users use Lynx (by hooking Lynx up to
a text-to-speech converter).  You wouldn't want to build a building
that was off-limits to a person in a wheelchair, right?  So why build a
page that's off-limits to blind people?

I've attached a recent post of mine about this topic to the bottom of
this mail.

> Text-only 
> pages look bad. 

I disagree.  Many text-only pages are quite attractive.  I always find
useful things attractive.  And text-only pages are useful:  I can read
them quickly, save the results in a file which can be edited, and I can
search through text-based pages and find the information that I want.

When I read a novel, do I want a lot of decorations and icons and
frames?  No.  I just want the words in the novel.

When I READ a web page, I don't ever want to wait 10 minutes for
pictures to load.  I just want the text.  A text-based page is fast.
If it's also useful, then I usually think that it looks good.
Especially if the author has taken time to make the layout look attractive.
A resume, for example, has only text on it.  There are both ugly
resumes and good-looking resumes.  The same thing goes for pages viewed
with Lynx.

There are also some Lynx-pages that use ASCII art on them.  I'm not
necessarily too fond of these pages, but if you were to see them, you'd
have to admit they were well designed and attractive-looking.

Now, don't get me wrong:

I don't mind a few icons or a pretty graphic; and real art on the web
always takes my breath away.  After all, I appreciate pictures too.
Some of my best friends are artists, and I admire and respect their
skills as visual and graphic artists (and I wish I could create
attractive visuals as easily as they do).

But when I use Lynx, it's because I'm researching a topic or looking
for a file or reading a story.  And that's usually when I really
*DON'T* need to see any graphics.

When I go out looking for pictures or for art, then I use Netscape or
Internet Explorer.

> Why do you think that all these new technologies were invented in the 
> first place.

Because people like eye candy.  And because there are huge marketing
arms at Microsoft and Netscape that need ammunition.  And, because
there are some genuine innovations going on.  I'm interested in
VRML and other new stuff too -- but that shouldn't mean that general
information pages exclude Lynx users.

> The only reason you have that Enhanced for Lynx award is because Lynx 
> pages cannot win any awards because the people who give out the awards have graphical 
> browsers.

Actually, some pages win awards because of their CONTENT, regardless of
the graphics.  I personally have won awards and compliments for pages
and stories that are all words.

> Pictures and Java make pages more unique, and realistic. 

Good argument -- a unique page is more interesting.  Netscape allows
for very unique pages.  But I appreciate Lynx pages that look good
(it's possible, believe me -- you can do both) when they have content.

A great-looking page is useless if it's empty of content.  And good
content makes a page unique.

Furthermore, define "realistic."  Would you write an angry letter to
the New York Times because it doesn't use a lot of full-color photos on
the front page?  Of course not.  The New Republic is also full of
words, at the expense of pictures.  So is the East Bay Express (a local
newspaper).  Yet they are all both unique and realistic.

Lynx pages are the same way.  I would never confuse, say, a novel on
the web written for Lynx, versus a newspaper with a Lynx-friendly
interface, like the SF Gate.  They are unique and realistic.

C'mon, how can you argue that the Ode To Lynx is not unique?

> If pages were all 
> text then the web would be boring and there would be no photo galleries, family 
> pictures, etc.

I disagree the web would be boring.  And it is easily possible to have
galleries that Lynx users appreciate (in fact, the Web Museum [formerly
the Web Louvre], for example, is very Lynx-friendly) -- but less
convenient, since Lynx users would have to download a lot of files for
viewing on a graphics system.

Netscape is much more efficient for viewing photo galleries and clip
art sites since it can download a large number of pictures quite

Fortunately, I've never decreed that no one can have graphics or that
everyone should use Lynx -- there are plenty of graphics at my site,
for example.  But I use Alt text and make sure that Lynx users can
download the pictures if they want to see them.  The site is good for
BOTH Netscape users and Lynx users.  That's all I want from every site
-- that it consider text needs.

All it means is having alternatives for Image Maps and Alt text for
graphic buttons and refrain from using frames without a non-frame
alternate interface.  But these three guidelines help out many people
-- like the robots that index your sites (because they can only see
text too), as well as blind users or people like me who use Lynx a lot.

> You lynx users are a minority not a majority like you say you are.  

In 1992, Lynx users were a majority.  Today, no one would say that Lynx
users are a majority.  But they are not an insignificant minority.  Ten
percent of the Web users use Lynx.  Plus, in many countries, PPP
accounts are not easy to get.  So, for entire countries, Lynx is just
about the only way to see the Web.

So, since we Lynx users agree that we're a minority -- what impact does
that have?  Does that mean we should all be discriminated against?
Does that mean we should just "get with the program" and use Netscape
all the time?  Of course not.  In real life, minorities have rights and
important things to offer.  The same with the minority of Web users who
use Lynx.

In real life, if you had a page that was not friendly to black people,
that would be racist.  Similarly, if you have a page that's not
friendly to Lynx users, that's also bad (but not AS bad of course) --
because it's still discrimination.  (And possibly one day in the future
it will be recognized as discrimination against blind users.)

> Netscape by itself makes up 75& of the Web and if you add in Microsoft Internet 
> Explorer, IBM Web Explorer and all of the Mosaics then graphical browsers make up more 
> than 95%.

I'm curious where you get those statistics.

> DO you think we should make pages look good for a browser that is only used 
> by 5% of the people?  I think Not!

Why not?  The idea of HTML is that it is portable -- that is, viewable
by people on any type of system.  It's a language for describing a page
for any system -- Mac, Sun, PC, VT100, your TV set, or a pocket gizmo that
will be invented tomorrow and will plug into your sunglasses.

The idea should be that you don't write for a particular browser -- instead,
you just use HTML and then the browser will do a good job and render itself
for any type of system.

The problem is that there is now a Cult of Netscape that demands
that you have your web page use whatever new trick is in the latest

But the idea of the Web is to SHARE your pages all over the world, with
whatever funky computer systems and browsers exist now, in the past,
and in the future.

So if you just keep to the basics of HTML, you will ALWAYS have a page
that is perfectly viewable to Netscape, IE, Mosaic, AOL and Lynx as

Imagine when, say, Chinese users view your page.  They may have a
program that translates English into Chinese.  That will be great for
translating the text.  But if you have a button that says "New!" in
vivid, rotating 3-D, how will their program deal with that?  It can't.
Unless you put in an Alt tag that says <img src="new.gif" alt="New!">
...and then the translator program will just work off the Alt text and
translate it properly.

Think about it this way: if your page doesn't work for Lynx, it won't
work for the past, the future, or anyone who speaks a different
language than you.

It's easy to make a page Lynx-friendly.  All you have to do is make
sure that:

1. There are alternate links for image maps (which is a good idea
   anyway, since many browsers don't support image maps -- including
   the early versions of Netscape that some people still use, as well
   as Mosaic and AOL's browser; plus, indexing robots can't click on
   image maps, so if you want your site indexed, you have to have an
   alternative for your image map anyway).

2. There is "alt" text in your images that describe what the image is
   (which is a good idea anyway, since Netscape and IE both depend on
   alt text as a placeholder, and many people surf with autoload images

3. There are alternates for frames aside from a line that says, "Your
   browser don't do frames -- Get Netscape D00D!!!1!!"  You can use
   the "NoFrames" area to provide a list of important places at your
   site.  This is definitely a good idea -- lots of people don't like
   frames, not to mention those indexing robots).

Some Lynx advocates would tell you that you should not use tables; that
depends on what you're doing.  It's definitely a good idea to put in
some extra white space so the figures and data don't smush into each

There, is any of that so hard?  No, not at all.  But people say, "I
can't be creative!  I want to do ultra-modern pages that take advantage
of everything Netscape can do!"  Fine, go ahead -- I'm not stopping
you.  But if you want me to get something useful out of your page,
don't forget Lynx.  If you're doing art for Netscape, more power to
you.  But...

The trouble is, there are already a million different systems out there
-- it's IMPOSSIBLE to write a great Netscape page that also looks good
in Internet Explorer, Mosaic, AOL's browser, etc.  (Heck, since this
1996 alone saw over 10 different versions of Netscape counting all the
betas, you can't even guarantee that all versions of Netscape display 
your page properly.)

So why limit your audience?  Similarly, you already have to consider
all of the people using only black & white screens, 256-color screens,
or 640x480 screens, or Mac screens, or Next screens.  So it's best to
be simple.  And what could be simpler than Lynx?

> If you are jealous because you can't use Netscape, 
> then go buy an ISP Internet Connection and a computer needed to run it.

Why should I do that?  I already have an ISDN connection at work and can
run Netscape whenever I want to.  Most of the time, I PREFER to use Lynx.
My computer, by the way, is a Pentium with several gigs of hard drive
space and 16 megs of memory.  But that's really the minimum to run
Netscape well, since Netscape is not efficiently written.  Lynx, on the
other hand, runs very well on a 286 that we have sitting around.

Many schools and third world countries and private citizens can't
afford the latest Pentiums and costly software from Netscape and
Microsoft.  Why should they have to buy all those things just to get
access to the net?  Instead, with a shell account (which is usually
cheap -- as cheap as $15 per month with unlimited usage in most areas)
that features Lynx (for FREE!), a 286 system (which could cost less
than $200 used) and a modem (even a 2400 baud or slower -- many stores
sell these for $10 or less), you can have access to almost all of the 
very useful information available on the Internet.

It would be even better if all the web designers considered the low end
as well as the high end when they created their sites.  However,
fortunately, there are many sites that are useful for Lynx users.  Since
there are some sites that COULD be easily made accessible to everyone,
I can't help but urge people to consider all the possible users when
they create a new site -- after all, why limit your audience for some
gimmicky frame or other trick, when it probably will have to change a
few months from now anyway?

> Most ISP 
> connections cost 20$ a month unlimited or less and you can get a 486 for about $600.  

That's true -- but don't expect your 486 to be able to run the latest
versions of Netscape or IE.  Plenty of people have been frustrated
with how slowly their 486's perform when running big, bloated, graphical

On the other hand, 486's run terminal software really well -- you could
have a great Windows 3.1 system, for example, running Procomm Plus to
log into a shell account, and then you could take full advantage of all
of the power of Lynx.  This was the system I used for many years,
in fact.  And the beauty was that my 386 system was almost as fast,
and just as useful, as the 486 system.

> And edit out that Ode to Lynx.  Some of it is fine, but attacking Netscape and calling 
> Lynx the best browser is not.

Yeah, that "Netscape stinks" line is a bit too much.  Maybe
I will change it.

But for me, Lynx IS the best browser, so I'm keeping that line.

Especially lately.  How much do you enjoy constantly downloading new
versions of Netscape?  Don't the bugs really annoy you?  All of those
INI files and registry problems and blinking pages out there that take
15 minutes to load?  If it all ever gets too much, give Lynx a try

Sincerely hoping I changed your mind,


P.S. Here's the article I mentioned above.  I wrote this recently 
for ba.internet:

Newsgroups: ba.internet
Subject: Lynx (was Re: Download Here - Hot new program) (Philip J. Koenig) wrote:
>> As for Lynx, I only WISH I could use that as my only browser.  But too
>> many boneheads setup their pages in such a way that they make no sense
>> to Lynx. (i.e. the only labels for various links are contained in
>> button graphics)

Amen, brother.  Here comes a defender of the boneheads: (Larry Jandro) wrote:
> While Lynx *can* be accomodated by writing crippled and/or redundant html, 
> most users are now weaned on Netscape/Explorer, etc., and will never look 
> back.

There is nothing "crippled" or "redundant" about the HTML that all
webmasters should use to accommodate both text-browser users and 
graphics-browser users.

A simple ALT="[description]" parameter to an IMG tag has two
useful benefits:

1. Lynx users will be able to take advantage of the full functionality of
   the graphic buttons on your page with no loss.

2. Graphic browser users who do not automatically load images will
   see descriptions of each button, allowing them to decide whether
   to switch on image viewing for the entire page or for an individual

A further benefit is that the current versions of IE and Netscape
display the description of an image (from the ALT text) as a
placeholder for an image while it is loaded.

> All dogs have their day.  It's sort of like if you're still riding around in 
> a horse-drawn buggy - most areas won't accommodate you with a blacksmith - 
> gas stations are much more prevalent...

The Lynx day is not yet done.  There are large groups of people still
using text browsers:

1. Visually-impaired users who hook Lynx (or another text browser)
   up to a text-to-speech converter.

2. Users from schools, libraries and third-world countries where
   not everyone can afford to own the latest Pentium computers
   supporting Windows 95 and IE/Netscape.

3. Curmudgeonly old internet users like me who have built up
   years of command-line based habits and appreciate Lynx's speed,
   simplicity and security -- and usefulness in scripts and for
   automated tasks.

Believe it or not, shell accounts are still popular for people
in all three of the groups above.  Shell account users, by and
large, are as fanatical about Lynx as other people are about

Instead of your "horse and buggy vs. cars" analogy, just consider
it this way: you're publishing a magazine.  Part of your audience
can't see pictures (either because they're reading Braille
versions of your magazine, or because they're reading just a
plain-text version).  Are you going to make your Table of Contents
out of images, so that part of your audience can't read it, or
out of words, so that it can be usable by the widest possible
audience?  Should be a simple choice.
E. Stephen Mack (Zeigen)                    
Winter Weather, Berkeley, CA   
                  As for me, I use Lynx about 65% of the time.

Copyright © 1996

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