Impressions on Web Browsers

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I like to muse about technology and have a fetish for web browsers, since I love the open web, being old enough to remember its rise and the browser wars. I’ve used Netscape Navigator, Mozilla 1.x, SeaMonkey and saw the rise of Firefox and then of Chrome. Recently I’ve uninstalled Firefox and fully embraced Chromium.

NOTE: I’ve been reading Digital Minimalism and I’m on a hiatus from all social media, and from optional technologies in general. This isn’t the first time I take such breaks, but this means I won’t reply to comments on my automatically published articles. When you’re on a hiatus from technology it may seem strange to think of technology, but I still have to vent, and this blog is all I have 😛

As a tidbit of history, Chrome initially used and then forked Safari’s WebKit, which itself forked from KHTML, a browser engine developed as part of KDE, an open-source Linux desktop environment. It’s a beautiful story of open-source.

I’ve stayed away from Chrome because, soon after its release, Firefox became the underdog, and it was still the more customizable browser. But even to this Firefox fan it became clear that Chrome was superior — for example, when the Flash plugin or some tab or extension crashed, it wouldn’t crash the whole browser. This was unheard of. Firefox on Windows was riddled with extensions installed by third-parties without the user’s consent, whereas Chrome stayed clean. Chrome was the one implementing fine-grained permissions for extensions, alongside the ability to disallow extensions in “incognito/private mode”. It took a very long time for Firefox to catch up. Even today, Chrome is the more secure browser.

For a long time, I’ve been both attracted and repulsed by Chrome. With Chrome, things just work, and it isn’t just because of its near-monopoly. Chrome isn’t very customizable, but it stays out of your way. It’s the same experience we got 14 years ago, nothing changed. If you’ve never read Chrome’s comic book used for marketing (2008), you should, as it shows how much Chrome was ahead of their competition. Chrome took over the market due to its excellence, and the competition never recovered. Chromium truly is the new IExplorer, except for it being open-source; when people talk of IExplorer’s former monopoly, they tend to forget that IExplorer 5 was the superior product, and its dominance seemed inevitable even without the Windows bundling.

The big problem I have with Chrome is that I have to be defensive in using it. I have to check every checkbox and to question every UI decision, or new development, in order to keep Chrome from leaking my data to Google. In spite of its excellence, Google has perverse incentives due to their business model, which makes this browser an adversary instead of a trustworthy tool.

Brave is a Chromium-based browser. Brave received its fair share of criticism for introducing their crypto-driven “rewards”. And I agreed with all that criticism. But I now changed my mind 180°.

What changed my mind is Brave Search, and I’m now a fan. Their search engine works so well for my usage patterns, being objectively much better than DuckDuckGo, Qwant, Bing, or any other Google Search alternative I tried. With Brave’s Search I even have usable local searches. They also have their own independent search index, which means they aren’t dependent on Bing. I’m so happy with it that I’ve decided to become a paying subscriber.

Offering valuable services with a subscription model is a credible long-term business model. Not sure if this will work, since in all honesty people just want free stuff, and free stuff has to be powered either by donations, or by ads. They are in a pickle, since in Brave’s browser the “aggressive” mode blocks ads on Google Search. This is the catch-22 of ads-blocking. Just like software piracy, it actually benefits the monopolies, because for disgruntled users it takes away their incentive to search for alternatives.

At least there’s hope for a sustainable business model to speak of. It’s an open secret that Chrome’s biggest competitors, Safari and Firefox, are entirely funded via Google’s search deal, and I don’t understand how that can work for keeping the web open, since you can’t fix the web without upsetting the applecart.

Disclaimer — I am in no way affiliated with either Google or Brave Software. I have no crypto or stock market investments either.

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Tags: Opinion | Web