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Why browse the Web in Emacs?

“Are you browsing Slashdot in Emacs?”, W- asked me after he glanced at my screen.

With Emacs’ reputation for including everything _and_ the kitchen sink, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that there’s more than one way to surf the Internet using your text editor. With today’s Javascript- and image-heavy websites, it can be hard to believe that anyone would use a text-based browser with limited support for many of the things we take for granted. Still, a Web browser in your text editor can be surprisingly useful. Here are some of the reasons why you might like it:

  • Browsing is faster and less distracting. Forget flashing ads, garish colors, and large images. When you surf the Web in Emacs, you can focus on reading, and you can use all the typical Emacs shortcuts for navigating around. You can view images when you want to.
    If you need to see something that Emacs doesn’t support, you can easily open the current page in an external Web browser.
  • You can integrate it into your work. With a little bit of Emacs Lisp, you can qucikly look up information on the Web based on what you’re currently working on. For example, PHP mode comes with a shortcut that lets you look up the current function’s documentation in the PHP manual. You can look up bug report details, dictionary definitions, and Wikipedia pages with minimal typing, too. If you use Emacspeak, you can set up the web browser to speech-synthesize more than what’s displayed on screen. The more you use Emacs, the more benefits you get from the integration.
  • You can customize everything. You can customize your Emacs experience quickly and easily, and if you spend a lot of time on the Net, you’ll appreciate having your own shortcuts and functions. For example, I’ve completely remapped my keyboard shortcuts to support tabbed browsing on a Dvorak keyboard, and I’ve defined a few functions to make frequently-used commands much easier. You can even use functions to process Web pages and either summarize the information you’re interested in or make pages more navigable. It’s all just Emacs Lisp.
  • You’re safe from browser exploits. No Javascript pop-ups, no image bugs, no browser-based malware that can take over your comuter or steal data. Just content.
  • You need less memory. Why open up a memory-intensive graphical Web-based browser when you’ve got Emacs open anyway?

There’s more than one way to browse the Web in Emacs, of course. Browse-url is a package that makes it easy to open URLs in your preferred browser or browsers. For example, you can use it to browse the Web in Mozilla Firefox, and (of course) you can use it to browse the Web within Emacs itself. For browsing within Emacs, you can use w3m.el, an interface to the external W3M browser, or w3, a Web browser written entirely in Emacs Lisp. Of the two, I prefer w3m.el, which is much faster and more featureful than w3. Both can display graphics, tables, and frames, and w3 supports stylesheets.

More about Emacs and browsing the Web soon! Planned projects for this chapter of Wicked Cool Emacs:

*** Project XXX: Browse the Web
*** Project XXX: Open the current webpage in an external browser
*** Project XXX: Different browsers for different pages
*** Project XXX: Toggle between Web and work
*** Project XXX: Quick search
*** Project XXX: Customize your keymap
*** Project XXX: Download files
*** Project XXX: Add access keys
*** Project XXX: Use social bookmarking
*** Project XXX: Typeahead
*** Project XXX: Preview HTML
*** Project XXX: Read Web pages as news