This is an update to my last post using the newly launched Pi 2 W, where I previously tried to setup a Pi Zero W as a desktop  computer with a custom desktop environemnt based on Raspberry Pi OS Lite and IceWM. Pi Zero as desktop

With the launch of the new Raspberry Pi Zero W 2, the processing power of the tiny Raspberry Pi 2 W has been upped from a single core to a quad core CPU. The form factor of the original board has been retained. The 512MB RAM unfortunately still remains the same as before. This has given it a big boost in terms of flexability and options which might not have worked as well before. This has made it even more viable as a backup machine for basic computing, provided memory can be managed very carefully. 

The biggest limiting factor in the above setup was the browser. Whilst Dillo is very fast, not having support for JavaScript meant that it was limited in what you could do. Whilst Midori was installed, it was extreamly slow and only there as a last resort. After recreating this setup on the new Pi Zero W 2, Midori is now more usable, albeit still pretty slow. Looking for an alternative somewhere between Dillo and Midori/Chromium, I've compiled the old and now unsupported Netsurf browser on the Pi. It is impressively fast and it feels virtually as fast as a "normal" desktop machine. However, it doesn't quite support all the current standards as I've found formatting issues on certain websites and it doesn't support logging into Google accounts (It seems to have something to do with an older JavaScript version supported), and thus no Google services such as Gmail work. 

Continuing with testing super lightweight browsers, I installed Uzbl browser and found it very good as well (with caveats). It's also an older unsupported browser (last being updated around 2017). Performance is very good on the Pi Zero, and the rendering of general websites is OK. It fortunately supports Google account login which means that Gmail is accessable (HTML only format). The one caveat to this browser is that it doens't have any URL bar or tabs as other browsers do - It's controlled by hotkeys. At first it doesn't seem to be intuitive, but after understanding how it works, and remembering 2/3 keys, it's not bad at all. The speed of use definitely makes up for the unusal interface. 

I've also installed gnome-maps as a potentially faster alternative to Google maps in Midori. Whilst Google maps is usable in Midori, it's not fast. Having both options alows you to use the faster Gnome-maps when street view isn't important, but there's still the possibility of using Google Maps via browser.

If the performance of the Uzbl browser could be combined with the more conventional UI of Netsurf and supported more current standards, this would be an almost perfect browser for the PI. Now that I've learnt how to use the Uzbl browser, there might not be a need for netsurf, but I'll retain both for options/testing.

With some carefull app selection and a few workarounds here and there, the new Pi zero is very close to being a usable machine for basic computing. As a testament to the impressive ability of this tiny computer, this post has been entirely written on the Pi Zero W 2 whilst listening to music from YouTube and posted via Midori. To me, it's crazy to think that a board like this which was really intended for robotics/embedded electronics projects can be used for general computing as well. 


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