Lynx, the text-only browser

OK, now you want to sit down at your computer and surf the World Wide Web. What type of software do you need? You will need what is termed a "browser". (I have no idea how that particular name originated.) Browsers come in two classes: graphical and text-based.

Most probably, you have heard of Netscape's Netscape Navigator and/or Microsoft's Internet Explorer. These are graphical browsers. Graphical browsers are the ones which show you pictures and let you hear sounds. These are the browsers that have buttons (icons) to push. They also require the use of a personal computer (or workstation).

You may not be aware of Lynx, the text-based browser. Lynx, however, came first. I have a fairly good idea how Lynx came by its name. This browser literally lets you travel from one link on the Web (or Gopher) to the next, in sequential order. Lynx will give you access to all of the information that the graphical browsers can show you, just without the pictures or sounds. All Lynx requires is the use of a terminal(sometimes called a "dumb terminal"). (It also can be used on a PC.)

Which is better? It depends.

If speed is what is most important to you, Lynx runs faster. This is because it takes time to download each and every graphical file to your PC so that you can see that picture (or icon). Yes, you can turn off the automatic loading of every image and this allows you to download only the graphic which you might be interested in. Even with this caveat, Lynx will get you where you want to go more quickly.

If, however, what is important to you is the look and feel of a Web site, you will want to see the pictures and have the opportunity to hear the sounds. This means using a graphical browser, such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer (these are just the two biggest brand names- there are many more available!).

Say I wanted to look up a book in the Library of Congress online catalog. Which browser should I choose? One Library of Congress site LOCIS is only available through Telnet. It is text-based. Lynx will work fine here. The graphical browser calls up Telnet and I would see the same screen using the PC that I would see using the terminal. The LOCIS doesn't use the mouse. Instead, like Gopher, it asks the user to choose a number to tell it what to do. (The Library of Congress now also has a Web-based catalog site as well.)

Say I wanted to see the home page for the television program Star Trek: Voyager. This particular Web site is almost all graphics. It has images of the starship, the actors playing the various characters, etc. You HAVE to have a graphical browser to see a site like this.

Good Web site designers realize that there are still a lot of people using Lynx to surf the Web. Plus there are still some people who prefer speed to graphics.

So a number of the better Web sites offer a text-based version (sometimes called a "graphics-lite" version) on their opening page as an alternative to the main version (or AT LEAST "alt tags" which are kind of like Internet "link captions"), designed for the graphical browsers. People using Lynx, and people running without their graphics turned on, choose that option and can use the site happily.

So if you are doing research and mostly strictly in need of information, Lynx will probably work just fine for you. If you mainly want to be a tourist and "visit" a site virtually (like take the pictorial tour of the Tower of London!) or you want to hear RealAudio(tm) such as a NASA press conference with a space shuttle crew, you will have to use a PC with a graphical browser. It all depends on how important seeing the pictures is to you.

Give Lynx a try sometime. Text-based Web surfing may not be as glamorous but it gets the job done, in most cases!

Next segment *You still cannot believe everything you read*

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Last Modified: 2/16/99