Dillo: Does This Ultra-Lightweight Browser Still Work in 2020?

Dillo Feature

Ever since its start way back in 1999, Dillo has been the lightweight browser of choice for Linux users with much older hardware and is still used by ultra-light distributions. Its tabbed browsing and graphical support may make it a very tempting choice, but how well does Dillo function with most websites in 2020?

Why Is Dillo So Light?

Before jumping in, you should know exactly what Dillo doesn’t include, just to temper your expectations. Dillo does not include Flash, Java, or Javascript and only has limited support for frames. It also doesn’t allow you to create a user profile. Presumably, that will be most of the modern Internet out of the picture, but who knows? We’ll see.

The advantage of all that feature-cutting is that it will run on almost anything – even a 486 with dial-up Internet. Running at idle, Dillo was using 2.9 MB of RAM and 9.5 MB of shared memory, which is microscopic compared to the gigs of RAM used by modern browsers.

If you’re willing to trawl the Internet, people have run it on Mac, DOS, and a bunch of Unix variants, but now the website just has source tarballs, mostly focusing on Linux. It can also run on Windows, but the Dillo team actively dislikes the platform!

We’ll be focusing on Linux in this article, as it should be sitting in just about everyone’s repositories. If you prefer to install by terminal, for Debian and Ubuntu systems, enter:

For Fedora, Red Hat, an CentOS systems, enter:

And for Arch and Arch-based distros like Manjaro, enter:

Once installed, you can start the application with the command:

Let’s Get Testing

Starting with Google, web search works reasonably well, but the formatting is completely different than modern browsers.

Dillo Google Search

Gmail doesn’t work – it just complains about Javascript not being there.

Dillo Gmail

Surprisingly, most of the other services do work, except Google Maps, and forget about playing any videos!

Dillo Google Earth

YouTube? That just returned a blank white page, as does Instagram. Trying other social media, Facebook’s front page actually rendered pretty well, but when we tried to log in, it just wouldn’t let us.

Dillo Facebook Welcome Screen

If anything, browsing Twitter seems improved. It gives you a warning about not finding Javascript and a prompt to use “legacy Twitter.” If you proceed, Twitter’s navigation is so much nicer, with a much more logical summary given to a person’s timeline. Unfortunately, like Facebook, it also refused to log in.

Dillo Twitter

Ebay sort of works in that you can at least browse items, but clicking “Buy It Now” returns an error about a missing page.

Dillo Ebay

DuckDuckGo’s Lite edition works fine with Dillo and may have actually been tested on the browser, but the regular version has missing navigational elements and broken formatting.

Dillo Duckduckgo

Testing major news sites, BBC, CNN, and Fox News all worked surprisingly well if you don’t mind misplaced navigational elements, and of course, none of the multimedia plays. It was surprising to find Reuters wouldn’t load, which was unexpected given the already minimalist layout of its website. All three sites suffered from weird stretched images.

Dillo Stretchy News

Dragging the window inward to make thin dimensions fixed the images, so it probably doesn’t like modern desktop resolutions.

Dillo Stretchy News Corrected

Some minimalist websites were attempted at this point. Wikipedia works fine.

Dillo Wikipedia

Slashdot.org sort of works, but the articles themselves don’t load, leaving the site pointless. If you have a relatively simple WordPress site, it will probably render fairly well.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to try some Linux distribution websites. Linux Mint’s page essentially worked fine, although all the navigational elements suffered from the same weird spacing as was encountered earlier.

Dillo Downloader

Unsurprisingly, Debian’s website works fine, as do other decidedly old-school distributions like Arch, Gentoo, or antiX.

Overall Verdict

Does Dillo still work in 2020? No, not really – or at least, not for most people. But that’s not really surprising given its last stable release was in 2015.

Apart from obvious issues like multimedia not working, almost all sites render navigational text links strangely, spreading them vertically instead of horizontally. A lot of search boxes also don’t work, and it seems Dillo isn’t used to modern graphical layouts or widescreen resolutions, hence the stretched images.

But it’s not all bad news, and there are some cool features. For starters, there’s the tabbed browsing, and Dillo has a nice download manager that’s more detailed than most browsers.

Dillo Downloader Closeup

It also adds in a “www.” if a website needs it and you didn’t type it in (a semi-modern feature we take for granted nowadays), and in the bottom-right corner is a warning for any HTML bugs in a website’s code.

If your web usage is very old school, then you may be able to use Dillo. Its main users appear to be with ultra-light Linux distributions and specialist embedded machines. If you’re using something like Lynx because of very old hardware, you might be able to use Dillo instead, enjoying proper graphics instead of resorting to text-only browsers.

Like your browsers niche? Check out our guide on 7 specialty web browsers you’ve probably never explored.

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John Knight

John Knight is a writer, most notably for Linux Format (UK), Linux Journal (US), and Maximum PC (US). Outside of open source and general computing material, John has also written for automotive publications, and is currently writing material on vintage gaming and drumming. Other areas of interest include Psychology, French, and Japanese.

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