GNU IceCat on a GNU/Linux machine showing the IceCat/Gnuzilla homepage
78.2.0esr / August 25, 2020
|Operating system||Multi-platform (Linux, Windows, macOS, *BSD, Android)|
|Standard(s)||HTML5, CSS3, WebP, VP9, AV1|
The GNU IceCat web browser is a re-branded Mozilla Firefox Extended Support Release version with slightly different more privacy-respecting defaults, different graphics and branding, some additionally really strange bugs and a hand-full of bundled extensions meant to provide more end-user freedom. The practical result of those extensions is a close to useless browser which is not suitable for most people. IceCat can be configured to be a somewhat usable privacy-respecting web browser given some time and effort even it if by default does not provide anything remotely resembling a good user-experience.
GNU IceCat is a re-brand, not a fork. It is literally just a bash build-script called makeicecat, some configuration files and extensions and a different logo. It is not a fork like Pale Moon, GNU IceCat has no changes to the original Mozilla Firefox source code.
The GNU IceCat Specific Features Who Set It Apart from Mozilla Firefox
The differences between GNU IcatCat and plain stock Mozilla Firefox are:
- GNU IceCat is built using the Firefox "extended support" releases (ESR).
- The logo and other graphics is blue instead of red and the icon features a cat instead of a fox.
- The pre-configured defaults are different. Most of the differing default settings are privacy-related. Telemetry spyware and the Firefox "studies" backdoor are disabled.
- GNU IceCat includes several mostly privacy-enhancing web browser extensions that are enabled by default. One of them, Reveal hidden HTML is useless and extremely annoying and another, LibreJS, breaks most websites.
|disable-polymer-youtube||"Disables the use of polymer on YouTube"|
Only active on
|HTTPS Everywhere||Ensures that sites that are available using both |
|LibreJS/USPS compatibility||Ensures that USPS.com, and just that site, works when the GNU LibreJS extension is active|
|Reveal hidden HTML||Makes a very annoying "Hidden HTML detected, would you like to reveal it?" dialog box pop-up on half the sites you visit. Complete garbage. First thing you should do if you try GNU IceCat is to disable this trash.|
|Searxes' Third-party Request Blocker||"Prevent your browser from connecting to third-party resource without user consent."|
The homepage (searxes.danwin1210.me) is dead.
A close-up inspection of
|ViewTube||"Watch videos from video sharing websites with extra options". Provides extra functionality on 3 Italian-language video sharing websites.|
GNU IceCat used to bundle an additional extension called "Onion Browser Button" which claimed to allow you to "Easily browse the internet using TOR proxy with just one click!". It didn't, it would claim to enable Tor and do absolutely nothing beyond claiming Tor was enabled. That extension, last updated in 2010, was finally removed from the GNU IceCat git repository in June 2020 after it had been included in a broken state for half a decade. Don't use it if your distribution still ships a GNU IceCat version with that extension. Fedora eradicated it from their packages for Fedora 31, 32 and 33 in September 2020.
Features and usability
GNU as seen in the SuperTuxKart kart racing game.
GNU IceCat is in most ways identical to the very mature Mozilla Firefox web browser. The page rendering engine is mature and sound. The vast majority of web pages can, in theory, be rendered correctly and used as they were intended. Most websites are not rendered correctly or usable in a stock out-of-the-box GNU IceCat web browser. This is mostly thanks to the LibreJS extension.
GNU IceCat comes with an extension called
Odd IceCat-Specific Bugs
Menu navigation (when the menu is enabled) using the keyboard is utterly broken in GNU IceCat if
layers.acceleration.force-enabled is set to
true. That setting enables OpenGL accelerated rendering. It is not enabled by default, the special
about:support page reveals that GNU IceCat uses "Basic" non-accelerated rendering by default. Navigating the menu with OpenGL acceleration results in up-arrow moving down and down-arrow up the first time you change direction. This very odd bug is not present in Firefox 78esr when OpenGL accelerated rendering. Disabling all extensions makes no difference, it is entirely depended on the
The other "feature-adding" extensions
GNU IceCat comes with a "Reveal hidden HTML" extension that will frequently show a pop-up claiming there is somehow "Hidden HTML" on page which can be "revealed". There is typically nothing to "reveal". This extension will just annoy you regularly and never do anything useful. It is just an huge annoyance.
The included HTTPS Everywhere extension does not hamper general usability (unlike most of the included extensions). Why it's installed or what it is supposed to do are good questions. It does not and can not turn https on everywhere, either a site uses https or it doesn't. That's server-side, not client-side and no extension or plugin can change that. It will supposedly redirect you from http to https if a site supports both. Most sites with https will do that for you anyway and most will set a policy asking browsers only use https the first time you visit. This extension seems utterly pointless but it's inclusion fine, it does not appear to have any negative effects.
Mozilla-Provided Themes And Extensions
GNU IceCat with a Oh My Girl theme made for Mozilla Firefox
Verdict and Conclusion
The very annoying "Reveal hidden HTML" that causes a meaningless pop-up to appear on half the websites out there adds to the very bad end-user experience.
It is possible to make IceCat a somewhat acceptable browser by disabling all the bundled extensions. Doing that kind of negates the point of using GNU IceCat, but it is does solve some of the usability problems.
GNU IceCat is, all-in-all, a broken web browser and a horrible end-user experience. If you just want to get on Instagram and browse your favorite k-pop idol's latest selfies or watch music videos on Naver TV then GNU IceCat is absolutely not for you. It may be someone attractive if you're a die-hard free software enthusiast, but even then it's a hard sell due to the broken preference menu.
Under the hood
GNU IceCat stores it's settings in
$HOME/.mozilla/icecat where there will be a "profile" created when you first start it. It is possible to have several profiles. These can be created and managed by starting it with
icecat -P ProfileManager just like then can in Mozilla Firefox. Profiles can be used by starting it with
icecat -P NameOfProfileToUse
icecat package will typically install to
/usr/lib64/icecat/ with extensions in
LibreJS Script Licensing
GNU IceCat's homepage is at www.gnu.org/software/gnuzilla/ even tough it's been a while since it was renamed from GnuZilla to GNU IceCat.
The git repository is at git.savannah.gnu.org /cgit/gnuzilla.git/.