Updated: April 11, 2018
The world of browsers is a weird one. There are many programs out there, but in essence, it all boils down to only several rendering engines and their numerous forks, spin offs and adaptations. You may think you have a lot of choices, but you don't.
In the KDE world, there have been many players - Konqueror, rekonq, QupZilla - and now Falkon, and I have probably forgotten some. Falkon, you ask? Yup. QupZilla used to be the official KDE browser until it was renamed, rebadged and slightly revamped as Falkon. Well, the official domain name is still the old one, but the use of the letter k is the giveaway, right. Is it any good, you ask some more. Well, that is something we shall answer today.
My past experience
QupZilla has never been my cup of tea. It isn't just the browser's fault, though. The implementation in different distros has been less than stellar, leading to a marred experience that goes beyond the pure browser code. All in all, it felt like Firefox, only not really, it felt a bit like Chromium, only not really. You're not really sure what it's meant to do, but then it suddenly does something unique and unfamiliar, and you feel like you're fiddling with a piece of alien technology that's suited for different brain waves.
The big problem was the coupling of the browser to the underlying system. Crashes, stutters and laggy performance, which also affected other software, but I could not separate the two. However, I now have a robust and dandy test platform, in the form of the KDE neon Dev Stable Edition, and this will allow me to test Falkon with clearer results and a calmer mind. To wit, we begin.
Setup and first use
With neon, it's just a one-liner - apt-get install falkon. Once the browser is installed, launch it. The browser is not the prettiest, I must say. There's this inexplicable fuzziness about it, which feels 1999. Perhaps it's the occasional low-res button or icon, perhaps the font. I don't know. There's nothing inherently wrong, and yet, it silently screams old school.
But in the end, it's not all about the looks. Functionality is the key. Falkon ships with DDG as the default search engine, although others are also available and very easy to set up. You also have a built-in adblocker, which might be a questionable choice, but at least it's there. Customization is simple, similar to Firefox.
Falkon also has an Opera-like speed dial. I am not fond of this concept, but some people may like it. From my testing, it would seem that pages are not auto-added, as in by history or usage, and you must manually pin sites you want or like. That's a bit cumbersome. I did not find any right-click option to do so on currently loaded pages.
Usage, performance, speed
Overall, Falkon was reasonably fast, but it never felt as snappy or crisp as Firefox or Chrome. It just has to do with the frontend rendering and animations. Regular and HD playback on Youtube was decent, different pages loaded all nice and correct. When it comes to resources, it does not feel any lighter than Firefox 58/9. More or less the same, so the whole concept of Falkon being extra lightweight might be a little exaggerated.
Or perhaps only applicable on weaker machines. But from my knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, it does not seem to be the case. You cannot magic extra speed when the technology you use to do so is more or less like the technology the rivals use. There might be some small differences in benchmark values, but that means nothing in day-to-day use.
So we mentioned the adblocker. That's nice. There's also a good session manager, something that Firefox has lost with the whole WebExtensions nonsense revolution. You also get a built-in RSS reader, and a somewhat fancy combo interface for your history, bookmarks and feed updates.
One thing that bothers me is the scarcity of extensions. There are some available in the preferences, and it's a nice thing you can just toggle them on/off so easily, but without a strong repo of extra packages, this browser stands no chance against Firefox or Chrome. One of the reasons why Internet Explorer faded was the lack of any ability to add on to the basic functionality. Even Edge is severely limited in this regard. Falkon has some nice things, but there should be several orders of magnitude more stuff. Perhaps there is, but I couldn't find it, which makes for the same end result of disappointment.
In general, Falkon is fairly customizable. There are a lot of goodies in the system settings. You can change the looks - you can have Windows or Mac skin if you like - edit fonts, tweak your own user agent, and more. Some of the stuff feels over the top, the rest if it feels like, oh, nice touch. A combo of Opera nerdy and old Firefox neat, without using the config page. Plus dubious choices here and there, like the plaintext thingie. Worst part, there's the encrypted backend too, it just isn't selected as the default option. Why?
I was surprised that Falkon did not find any spell checkers - they are installed and part of the system, and used by various other programs. Must be some integration element missing, although I'd expect this not to be the case on KDE neon. After all, it's the Plasma flagship demonstrator. The whole explanation on dictionary directories and the wiki and all that, not interested. I want seamless functionality out of the box.
Falkon and QupZilla may be the same product, but just re-branding it has already improved the overall impression. Not by a huge margin, but enough to make it interesting. Once you start using it, you do realize that it's a mix of good and odd, much like the predecessor, with some really brilliant and dubious choices packaged together. Adblocking, session manager versus fuzzy interface, missing spellcheck and database plaintext thingie. Then, the behavior is nowhere near as stellar, lithe or fast as it should be.
Still, this has been my most successful QupZilla-ed experience so far. Falkon was stable, it did not crash, there were no errors, and overall, it worked well. But the sense of unease remains. I can't put my finger to it, but there's just something slightly out of place with it. Not sure what it is. But whatever it is, it's probably the reason why there hasn't been that much uptake with this native KDE Internet-giving program. Once that part is sorted out, Plasma may have a nice and friendly browser. Worth testing, and try not to be dissuaded by the oddness.