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First Look: Lunascape Multiengine Web Browser

Web developers have traditionally kept multiple browsers on their computers to facilitate testing, but a fairly new Japanese-made experimental browser called Lunascape rolls the three most important engines into one. According to the company's Web site, Lunascape was first released in December of last year, with its latest release happening in June.

Lunascape's main feature is the ability to switch back and forth between different rendering engines in real time. The three most important rendering engines to test for are Gecko (Mozilla Firefox), Webkit (Safari, Konqueror, Google Chrome and others) and Trident (Microsoft Internet Explorer). Much to the chagrin of developers, these browsers often render the same code differently.

Switching between browser rendering engines is nothing new. IE Tab, a popular Firefox extension offering similar functionality, has been available for years. Lunascape stands out because it adds Webkit support to the mix. To see for myself, I tried the 5.0.0 alpha3 release of Lunascape.

Transitioning between engines is a fairly smooth process. I used WebFX to test this out, a site that has many browser-specific scripts that can be used as proof-of-concept tools for testing DHTML capabilities. My test consisted of viewing different scripts using all three browser rendering engines, and Lunascape did the job fairly well.

I found the tabbed browsing in Lunascape to be rather buggy, but the experience wasn't too bad for an alpha-phase project. From a developer's perspective, I found Lunascape's ability to switch between rendering engines quickly to be useful, although this alpha release is not ready for serious production use.

Lunascape has an interesting niche as a hybrid browser, but its usability suffers badly in the current alpha version. First of all, Lunascape does not respond to keyboard shortcuts that are nearly universal in other browsers. For example, while CTRL + T opens a new tab in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome, it does nothing in Lunascape. Middle-clicking on a link opens it in a new tab in most browsers, but Lunascape ignores this action.

Lunascape has a nice little RSS ticker that can fetch and display RSS content. Unfortunately, the ticker shared space on the screen with the tab bar. With several tabs open, there was barely any space left for the ticker, which made this feature almost useless. Lunascape will pop up a message balloon whenever RSS content gets updated. I quickly found a way to turn it off. I just don't like having parts of my other applications covered by pop-ups.

Another area that could be improved is the Lunascape start page. This was obviously built to resemble the Firefox start page, but I could see the potential for trouble. With the prevalence of malicious phishing sites, many knowledgeable people are understandably wary of sites intentionally designed to resemble popular or frequently seen destinations, even in applications that are benign. A quick redesign of the start page would go a long way toward assuring security.

Lunascape is an interesting experiment, and it has the potential to be useful once some more work goes into it. Right now, it is Windows only and is probably going to stay that way because of Trident. I doubt Microsoft would look kindly on a third-party port of the Internet Explorer rendering engine. Gecko and Webkit, by contrast, are open source and can be freely ported.

The Lunascape browser can be downloaded for free here.

About the Author

Will Kraft is a Web designer, technical consultant and freelance writer. He can be reached at will@willkraftblog.com. Also, check out his blog at http://www.willkraftblog.com.

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