Best Browsers for Viewing Pictures

and some general browser talk

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You can use a Web browser to view not only a formatted HTML page, but also a single image, shown without any extras: advertising, banners, other page contents, user interface — all distractive stuff you can imagine.

Sometimes the image is inserted simply as a link to an image file (one with an extension denoting an image contents like .jpg), as opposed to Web contents (.html, .php, and others). That's what I'm doing now in Example #1. To view it, left-click on the link, or right-click and select an option to see it in a new tab or window, depending on your browser.

Some writers choose to link not from a text, but from a smaller version of the image (a thumbnail). The reader then has somehow to know that the thumbnail is clickable (not just ornamental), and giving verbatim instructions ("click on ... to open ...") every time is a little bit amateurish.

There are a number of ways to do it; most browsers show the link address in the status bar or a balloon hint when a mouse is moved over the thumbnail. I'm using a little trick: highlighting the thumbnail border on mouse pass, as shown in this Example #2.

Most often, however, the page designer does not bother with providing a link to a better version of the image, just embedding it in the page layout "as is", newspaper style.

You still may view it separately by right-clicking and choosing "Open image in new tab" (or something similar) from the pop-up menu.

That's the only way to view Example #3, shown at left, out of the HTML context.

A browser may provide (or not) some features to make individual image viewing more convenient, immersive, or enjoyable. And this is the real subject of this article.

The table below lists those features and their support by the seven major Windows browsers. Descriptions and discussion will follow.

Sorry, I don't have any experience with Apple offerings, and things are so messy with Android browsing, that I'm not even coming near.

Firefox Google
Opera Vivaldi MS

Full Screen Mode

Dark Background - - -
Centered - - -
Size Toggle
Hide Scrollbars - - - -
Real Pixels - - - - - -
Local Cookies - - - -
Max JPEG [MP] 200 250 180 160 148 507 148
Full Screen Mode
This hides the title bar, menus, all toolbars, sweetbars, markbars and other UI elements, making your screen less crowded, image viewing or not. All browsers support it (MS Edge only since last April), and all use the [F11] key to enter or leave it (Edge since November).

The next four features may apply to both full-screen and windowed image display.

Dark Background
For me, lack of this feature disqualifies a browser — as far as image viewing is concerned: the bright, white part of the screen not used for the image just blinds you. Good-bye, Microsoft and Apple, don't call us.
If your image is smaller than the screen (or screen window), then placing it in the top-left corner is just plain stupid. Good-bye... oh, we already said that?
Size Toggle
If the image does not fit in the screen (or window), then a mouse click toggles it between shrink-to-fit and 1:1 pixel scale. Supported by all browsers, but I would gladly see some extensions.
Hide Scroll Bars
If the image does not fit in the screen or window, all browsers will show scroll bars, which is quite distractive and not too pretty. In Chrome, Opera. and Vivaldi these can be hidden, leaving you with a pristine screen rectangle. Much nicer for viewing pictures full-screen, especially panoramas,

This is quite well hidden, so here is how to set it up in all three supported browsers. Enter about://flags in the address bar, use text search to find the Overlay Scrollbars option, enable it. If you wish, you may also try the Flash Overlay Scrollbars When Mouse Enter feature.

Real Pixels
The Web page designer may specify the pixel size of some page elements; if this is not done for an image, your browser will assume the actual size. At least this is how things were until a few years ago. This was essential for visual scrutiny of image samples, where we want one pixel in the image shown as one pixel in the screen.

Not any longer. Someone in the Web standards committee noticed that screen resolution is increasing faster every year than the requested pixel size of page elements, including images. Pages shown in display screens were getting smaller and smaller.

There is one thing about those committees: they are like governments. They want to make your life better and easier — whether you want it or not. This was a case now, as well.

So now, when you compose a Web page and you specify something as 100 pixels wide, your browser will say: "No, you don't really know what you need. You may think you need 100 pixels, but we know better, you really need 127 pixels, and that's what we are going to give you, except that we will be still calling it 100 pixels."

As I said, when you display an image without specifying the size, the same logic is applied. In this particular case, every pixel of the image will be 1.27 pixel wide and tall in the screen. Every 4×4 block of pixels will have a fake fifth row and a fake fifth column added, (Actually, this last sentence is not true, but it sounds good.)

That's a pixel-peeper's nightmare. Doing all your peeping on rescaled images!

The only browser free from this unrequested favor is Safari. I bet this is because Apple is behind by a few standard updates.

Local Cookies
This feature is of importance to Web developers or others who, for any reason, would like to use a Web browser on locally stored files. It allows those files to write and read cookies on the local computer (or removable media).

Everybody else may safely ignore this topic. The only reason I'm mentioning it here is because people at Opera said they are not going to implement this. It was taken away after Version 12 or so.

This is the size (megapixels) of the largest JPEG image this browser was able to load and display for me, running under 64-bit Windows 10 with 8 GB of RAM (at least 4 GB free).

(Chrome would load and display files of 300 MP, but redrawing and scrolling was slow enough to make that useless. Compared to Edge, Chrome was a few thousand times slower!)

Anyway, this is not important: very few Web images will be bigger than 100 megapixels; the only ones I've seen were on my own site.

Your pick?

As long as you stay away from Microsoft and Apple, any of the remaining four browsers will be fine — from the angle of individual image viewing. Opera has those vanishing scroll bars, which are neat, but they may be not enough of a reason to switch browsers.

Still, a few months ago I switched to Opera after three years with Chrome (and Firefox before that). Chrome was becoming resource-hungry, slow and inefficient, and Opera — in addition to getting leaner and meaner — got two extremely useful features:

  1. Integrated ad blocker — not a plugin, mind it, but one implemented at the browser engine level, super fast and efficient. It allows you to compare page loading times with and without ads, and for some Web sites the difference can be staggering!
  2. Virtual Private Network (VPN), run by Opera, built into the browser, and free to use!

    Why and when do I need a VPN? If you already know that, skip the rest of the fine print. Otherwise keep on reading.

    Last December, while in Poland, I needed to pay a bill online. My bank is here in the States. The idiot who wrote the online banking software decided not to allow for any access from that part of the world: as we all know, Poland is full of hackers trying to steal our money, while their American counterparts are busy with charity and prayer.

    The bank knows my physical location from my computer's IP address, visible to any server I'm trying to connect to. The VPN hides that address, replacing it with a fake one. Right now I am in Maryland, but with two clicks I can make myself appear like I am in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, or yes, somewhere in California.

    It took me seven minutes to download and install Opera, three more to log in to my bank. The bank saw me connecting from the States, but a different location than usual, so I had to give them the maiden name of my first-grade teacher's uncle, or something similar. Done, bill paid.

    Questions emerge: (1) How many computer criminal's know about VPNs? Answer: 100%. (2) How many legitimate bank customers know about VPNs? Answer: 1%. (3) If 100 criminals and 100 legitimate customers attempt to log in from abroad, how many will pass that first checkpoint? Answer: all 100 criminals and one legitimate client. Great job, kudos to the programmer!

By the way, I will not be surprised if you decide to settle down with Vivaldi. The name may be new, but some of the people behind it are the members of the "old" Operateam, and they want to have a browser like that one: more customizable than any other.

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Posted 2017/07/04; last update 2018/05/03 Copyright © 2017-2018 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak