A web browser for the Raspberry Pi

As I previously mentioned, Collabora has been working with the Raspberry Pi Foundation on various projects including a web browser optimised for the Raspberry Pi.
Since the first beta release we have made huge improvements; now the browser is more responsive, it’s faster, and videos work much better (the first beta could play 640×360 videos at 0.5fps, now we can play 25fps 1280×720 videos smoothly). Some web sites are still a bit slow (if they are heavy on the JavaScript side), but there’s not much we can do for web sites that, even on my laptop with an Intel Core i7, use 100% of one of the cores for more than ten seconds!

The browser is based on Gnome Web (Epiphany) using WebKit 1 (i.e. the non-multi-process version of WebKit).

Our main achievements are:

  • More responsive UI and scrolling, even under heavy load (like when loading a page)
  • Progressive tiled rendering for smoother scrolling (as mobile browsers do)
  • Startup is three times faster
  • Avoid useless image format conversions
  • Better YouTube support, including on-demand load of embedded YouTube videos to make page load much faster
  • Hardware decoding of videos (through gst-omx)
  • Hardware scaling of videos (again, through gst-omx)
  • Reduction of the number of memory copies to play videos
  • Faster fullscreen playback using dispmanx directly (a bit buggy at the moment, we are working on it)
  • Memory and CPU friendly tab management
  • JavaScript JIT fixes for ARMv6
  • Disk image cache (decoded images are kept in memory mapped files in a cache, saving CPU)
  • Memory pressure handler support


The Raspberry Pi web browser (mp4 video file)

To install the browser, just update your Raspbian and install the “epiphany-browser” package:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install epiphany-browser

Thanks to all the people at Collabora that, at some point or another, helped on this project: Julien Isorce, Emanuele Aina, ChangSeok Oh, Tomeu Vizoso, Pekka Paalanen, André Moreira Magalhaes, Derek Foreman, Gustavo Noronha, Danilo Cesar, Emilio Pozuelo Monfort and Jonny Lamb (I hope I haven’t forgotten anybody!).
Also thanks to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and in particular to Eben Upton, for their commitment to making browsing on the Pi better, and to Ben Avison for his work on optimising pixman and libav for ARMv6.

Update: people have reported a few bugs since the release, in particular a problem with Raspbian configured to use 24-bit or 32-bit mode for graphics. We should be able to fix this in a week or so.
Another problem is that Vimeo videos stopped working. This seems to be due to a change made by Vimeo that broke playback also on other browsers and on Android.

Empathy chat accounts and GOA

Two years ago the first version of GNOME Online Accounts (GOA) was released and Empathy got the ability to use the GOA accounts that supported chat. This feature was a bit incomplete as you could configure Google and Facebook accounts in the control center (through GOA), but the other accounts could only be configured directly in Empathy. Similarly, you could use, but not modify, GOA accounts in Empathy. This problem was not fixed before as it required a lot of work, even if (from a user point of view) it was just a matter of moving some UI around.

In the last month at Collabora I worked hard on fixing this issue (and it took more than 160 patches in several components) and now you can configure every type of IM account in the control center.
All of this was done without breaking compatibility. If your program uses the Telepathy API nothing will change; if your program uses the GOA API then it will also able to handle Telepathy accounts.
This was also a good chance to fix several UI issues (mainly misaligned widgets and too much/too little spacing between widgets), see what the old UI looked like.

Adding a new account in GNOME Control Center
Adding a new account in GNOME Control Center (click for a bigger version)

Personal Details dialog
Personal Details dialog (click for a bigger version)

The task is not 100% finished yet as Empathy still opens its own accounts dialog instead of the control center and there are also a few other UI improvements to make.

Thanks to Emanuele for starting the job, Rishi and Guillaume for the help and the reviews, Allan for the designs, and Intel for sponsoring the bulk of the work.

Boss Mode extension

Gnome-shell’s popup notifications and integrated chat are great, but sometimes I’m annoyed when the content of a chat is displayed on screen at the wrong moment (for instance if a colleague sends you a work-related message while you are sitting at a conference next to other people).
The Boss Mode extension allows you to quickly disable notifications, without any UI feedback, by just pressing Win+B. Press Win+N to enable notifications again.

The default keybindings can be modified by clicking the preferences button on the extension page (next to the switch to enable/disable the extension).

Better notification support

Yesterday I released a new version of my message notification extension for gnome-shell (3.2 and 3.4), to install it or to update it just visit its page on extensions.gnome.org.

The main feature in the new version is that it just handles notifications coming from well-known applications: Empathy, XChat, XChat-GNOME, Pidgin and notify-send. Handling the Empathy notifications is easy because they are well integrated with the shell, but the other notifications required some hack because all the applications handle notifications in different ways. I did my best to make the notifications as useful as possible, similar to the Empathy ones, but there are some small limitations.
Some of the handled applications require plugins to show notification bubbles:

  • Pidgin: Click on the “Tools” menu and then “Plug-ins”. Make sure that the “Libnotify Popups” plugin is enabled. If the plugin is not in the list it means you need to install it. On Debian the package is called “pidgin-libnotify”, other distros should have a package with a similar name.
  • XChat-GNOME: Click on the “Edit” menu and then “Preferences”. In the “Scripts and Plugins” tab make sure that “On-screen display” is enabled.
  • XChat: Click on the “Settings” menu and then “Preferences”. In the “Alerts” tab make sure that “Show tray baloons” is enabled for both “Private Message” and “Highlighted Message”. If the notifications pile up in the bottom right corner of your screen and clicking on them does nothing, it means that XChat is using notify-send because it cannot find libnotify. I don’t know how to fix this issue on different distros, but I found a Red Hat bug explaining the problem.

Message notification
Notifications coming from Empathy and XChat-GNOME

Is there any other common application that you would like to be handled by my plugin? The only prerequisite is that they somehow use standard notification bubbles (and this means I cannot implement it for Skype).

If you are looking for the source code, it’s in this git repository.