The World Of Web Browsers Is In A Bad Way

There once was a man who invented a means for publishing scientific documents using hypertext. He made his first documents available from his NeXT cube, and a lot of the academics who saw them thought it was a great idea. They took the idea, expanded it, and added graphics, and pretty soon people who weren’t scientists wanted to use it too. It became the Next Big Thing, and technology companies new and old wanted a piece of the pie.

You all know the next chapter of this story. It’s the mid 1990s, and Microsoft, having been caught on the back foot after pursuing The Microsoft Network as a Compuserve and AOL competitor, did an about-turn and set out to conquer the Web. Their tool of choice was Microsoft Internet Explorer 3, which since it shipped with Windows 95 and every computer that mattered back then came with Windows 95, promptly entered a huge battle with Netscape’s Navigator browser. Web standards were in their infancy so the two browsers battled each other by manipulating the underlying technologies on which the Web relied. Microsoft used their “Embrace and extend” strategy to try to Redmondify everything, and Netscape got lost in the wilderness with Netscape 4, a browser on which nightmarish quirks were the norm. By the millennium it was Internet Explorer that had won the battle, and though some of the more proprietary Microsoft web technologies had fallen by the wayside, we entered the new decade in a relative monoculture.

When Using Another Browser Was An Act Of Rebellion

The Google Chrome launch comic book
Google enlisted the comic-book artist Scott McCloud to help launch their new browser.

What saved us from Microsoft having a de facto control over access to the web was the existence of several other browser engines. Opera Software’s browser had been with us since 1995, but it was joined by first Apple’s Safari emerging from the open-source Konqueror in 2003, then Phoenix Firebird Firefox in 2004 from the ashes of Netscape’s legacy. These new contenders were sleek and fast, with features such as tabbed browsing that made the Microsoft browser feel very stale. When Google took Safari’s WebKit engine and a new Javascript system in 2008 to make Google Chrome, the writing was on the wall, and Chrome overtook the Redmond offering early in the next decade.

Ten years ago then, the browser world looked pretty healthy. Chrome was most popular, followed by MSIE, then Firefox and the others. Crucially though, there were four different browser engines among the major contenders, so no one entity could exert control over web standards. Gone were the days when websites had to have different code for different browsers, if you wrote a website properly it would display in all of the browsers equally well.

It seems like a golden age from a perspective here in 2024 though, because in the last decade the number of browser engines has dropped to two, with one on life support. Such has been the success of Chrome that its engine has been adopted by all the browsers which matter, with Firefox the only significant holdout with its Gecko engine against a steeply declining market share. In a couple of decades we’ve gone from a browser monoculture in which one huge technology company has a near-monopoly, to a browser monoculture in which another huge technology company has a near-monopoly. Sadly Google’s days of having a “Don’t be evil” motto are far behind it, so we think this is of huge concern.

The Only New Fully-Featured Browser Engine Is Probably Hiding In A Niche Hobby OS

The BBC News website in the Ladybird browser
Ladybird still has some rough edges, but is a remarkable achievement.

A few months ago I reviewed a hobby OS called SerenityOS, and was particularly excited by its web browser. Ladybird is a browser that needs more development to be ready for the big time, but at the same time its small development team have achieved the near-impossible feat of writing from scratch a fully-functional modern web browser. That you have to look to such a small and niche project to find what may be the only full-featured modern browser engine still in active development which isn’t part of the Webkit or Gecko family should be all the confirmation you need that there’s something seriously wrong in the world of web browsers. If this doesn’t concern you, it should.

When considering what’s to be done about this it’s easy to find people laying into Mozilla’s management decisions as being at the root of Firefox’s near-demise. But while it’s certainly true that there have been some surprising courses of action at  the top in the organisation, it’s probably not the whole story. The fact remains that Firefox is still under development and is still a damn’ good freely available browser. If it can no longer command enough of a percentage of the browser market to remain relevant then that’s not the fault of the software itself but the browser landscape. Perhaps not enough people care any more or perhaps it’s just too easy a choice to develop using Webkit, but either way if Web standards are to remain beyond the direction of a single entity then it’s vital that some attention be paid to the failing contender.

It would be easy to end this piece with an exhortation to download Firefox and give up your Webkit browser, but that is oddly not the solution. What the Web needs is a plurality of browser engines not a duality, and returning to that state is not something fixable by a software switch. There needs to be a moment of collective reflection in which we consider whether we’re happy with a de facto monoculture, and assuming that there is then the will for something to be done, to then change the way we look at web browsers. It should no longer be the norm to treat a new Webkit-based browser as an entirely new browser, and as a community we should find ways to encourage the development of other engines. We’ve got here by complacency and seeing fixing the Web as a done deal, and we need to un-learn that position.

112 thoughts on “The World Of Web Browsers Is In A Bad Way

    1. Totally agree about this, if they continue to force ads on us, we will leave their ecosystems. ‘Internet by consent’ really needs to be a thing, I don’t consent to advertising constantly, I don’t consent to having my meta data gathered and shared. We’ve had enough already.

        1. I pay my telephone bill, my Internet bill, my mobile connections, my mobile devices, my routers and switches, my electricity and utilities bills.

          With depreciation, maintenance, installation, I’ll round up to $500 per month. Don’t see Zuckerberg, Page or Brin or any of the other Internet-Parasites in Wall Street putting their hand in his pocket for me.

          And I pay taxes 50%-80% on everything I earn. Another 5-figure sume.

          Google and Meta, and their Investors in Wall street don’t even pay taxes here. Just spending that money corrupting politicians to keep their mouths open or shut as they need.

          I’d ban them from operating on the Internet. Hell, ban them from operating businesses. The world would be a better place without them. Parasites.

      1. I’m actually ok with ads, but I’m NOT ok with ads tracking me and following me around.
        I’m also not OK with ads that disrupt the content, or use so much resources that it causes issues with my browser, such as when YouTube ads load in 4k/8k and crash my browser, or when the YouTube ad is longer than the content I’m watching.
        I grew up in the era of analog broadcast TV, and as a result I developed the best ad blocker ever: my mind.
        I tune out ads, mute them with the mute button, get a snack or somethin’ when I can’t skip them, or don’t look at them.
        Though I suppose even that could be enforced against, by having required protocols that require the user to be visible in the webcam, speakers unmuted, window in focus, and the user’s eyes focused on the screen for 80% of the ad, and to maximize profit- all of this just for the privelege of being able to use your paid subscription of a particular service.
        —Sorry, just a rant about our impending and increasing cyberpunk dystopia. We need hackaday and hackers like you more than ever!

        1. I also grew up in the era of analog broadcast TV and I hate ads with a passion. Ignoring them is not enough.
          I started blocking ads back in the dial-up days with a 33.6kbps modem because they were wasting my time and money.
          These days, ads are a waste of resources and a possible security attack vector. I don’t need any of that.

        2. Yeah, me too, but on analog TV if you were channel surfing, you didn’t have to mute the tv and wait a minute every time you changed the channel, because it wouldn’t immediately play two long loud ads every single time. If the ads came on you could either change channels or come back later.

          I was using a plugin in the past to prevent youtube from autoplaying ads when you open the tab, a few years ago. That stopped being necessary, and then for awhile I used another one to mute and auto-skip the ads once they had loaded, so that everyone could be mostly happy – I could look away, but they could make their money. Google broke that extension punitively – it gave me multiple minute, unskippable ads over and over and sometimes the video wouldn’t even play. I was forced to block all the ads in order to avoid a bunch of loud scams, political nonsense, etc before I could even tell whether I wanted to watch a video or not. I may have to look for an extension that can mute without being detected, and then pause the video after the ads are done.

          1. Youtube premium is $13.99 a month. If you don’t want ads then get an account and pay the creators through that alternative mechanism. The idea that you are somehow owed free entertainment is just so much ludicrous entitlement.

        3. The folly of ads is that:

          – Ad-funded services encourage individual consumption that is actually paid by others. It’s an exploitative system where companies spam the market with cheap and pointless clickbait, but the consumers don’t mind because they don’t see the direct cost. It seems to be just a minor annoyance, but the high cost of advertising is directly contributing to inflating the price of bread in your local supermarket.

          – Ads are well past the point of informing consumers of the options available on the market. Instead companies pay for advertising to eclipse their competition, such that the one who pays the best gets the most visibility. The one who “wins” loses the most money. This cost is then transferred back to the consumer. Ads are counter-productive for all parties involved – except for the ad-brokers like Alphabet/Google.

          – Ads don’t even work. Usability studies have pointed out that people quickly learn to ignore ad-elements in webpages even when visible. The click-through rates are abysmally low, and mostly accidental. Most advertising, even personally directed advertising, fails to meet its intended audience because it’s reactive: people get ads for things they already bought, or for things they were viewing for comparison but rejected because it didn’t meet their needs. The dirty little secret is that companies like Google can’t really provide any added value to marketing and are just selling snake-oil to companies looking to advertise.

          In summary, ads are exploitative, ineffective, and anti-consumer waste of everyone’s time and money. You should mind ads.

          1. To put things into perspective, the global online advertising industry is slowly creeping up towards a trillion dollar business, and employs enough people to fill the country of Denmark.

            Imagine that there’s virtually a small state or country whose sole livelihood and purpose in life is to show you advertising, and its average GDP is about $120,000 a year per capita. We all pay for this, and what do we actually get for it?

          2. In terms of USA, in the year 2021, the people spent on average $838 per capita in “promotional activities”. Advertising is expensive.

            I bet if you had that money cash in hand, you would have spent it elsewhere.

          3. Ads on TV (… assuming you’re not watching some crap secondary channel), or in a magazine – when was the last time those ads were extremely irrelevant, offensive or annoying? Ads in those media get reviewed and judged; some win awards. Even the public gets a bit excited over superbowl ads.

            Compare that with Internet advertising. Those ads are often intrusive, they’re not often well-produced, they’re pushing crap that has no relevance to the page or site you’re on. They often devalue the page they’re on (eg the fake news story ads on CNN.com). Despite allegedly having all this data on us, the ads they serve are often uninteresting, inappropriate and frequently disgusting or offensive. You hit the X on an ad that’s particularly annoying, maybe add something to the “reason” field, submit… they just serve it up again.

            This is a big fail. With all this interactivity and feedback, there’s no need for poorly-targeted scattershot advertising. If a consumer tells you that an ad is not interesting or it offends them… serve them something else. Here’s a clue – why not ask the consumer what sectors they wouldn’t mind seeing ads on, and what not to show? Ask them to rate ads. Use the frigging data.

            (and yay Firefox. Still using it)

          4. Case in point: Gillette shot themselves in the foot, making a “woke” advert that was widely ridiculed. My recent YouTube videos have been heavily laced with a “new” Gillette advert.
            Whenever I am forced to watch the new ad, I think of the old woke one – and make it a point to avoide Gillette razors.

        4. I’ve given up and just don’t use Youtube anymore or the other avenues which ask you to pay for the product and then up their revenue by putting ads in because they just can. Things I used to love like computer games and videos are a thing of the past because they’re just financial parasites.

    2. What gets me about Google’s plans is that while no one *likes* ads, a lot of people would be willing to live with them if there were some reasonable guarantee that they wouldn’t fuck up content (eg by appearing over text, or playing sounds) and that they couldn’t serve as vectors for malware. All Google has to do is restrict ads presented through their service to non-dynamic content–an mp4 or such at the absolute most, with exactly zero scripting. But no, they have to abuse their dominant position in both ads and browsers to have their cake and eat it too. This is near guaranteed to eventually get them hit with *historic* fines, if not worse. But here we are.

      1. The problem is that Google has to have a plausible excuse to get paid. They have to say “our advertising works for you.”.

        Meanwhile, usability studies using eye-tracking has shown decades before that online ads don’t work. People start to skip all identifiable ad elements on webpages and not even look at them. The same studies point out that click-through rates with the introduction of new ad elements quickly fall down to “nothing”, and the only way to consistently maintain attention is by being extremely annoying. You have to keep annoying people with ads to keep them paying attention to the ads, so Google is really straddling that point of alienating users and serving their actual customers in the companies buying the adverts.

  1. This is a good start, but what is missing is a clear REQUIREMENTS plan. By requirements I mean descriptions limited to functional requirements, cost requirements, performance requirements, and maybe some aesthetic and legal requirements. (Things like the development language are specifications that should be left to the engineers tasked with meeting the actual requirements. If I learned anything in the last 59 years of being a computer professional, it is: NEVER LET THE CUSTOMER SET THE SPECIFICATIONS! Meeting the requirements is a job best left to the experts and professionals.) Sure, there is probably a cascading hierarchy of requirements within the architecture, but they should all conform to the need for function, cost, performance, aesthetics, and constraints like legality, privacy, and security, etc.. Just saying, “Let’s have a new engine” is too vague.

  2. I disagree with the assumption that four different web engines messing up the standards is healthy. If you look at the standards that were created in that time, they are all over-complicated, don’t solve the original problem, are impossible to implement correctly, do a lot of unnecessary pointless things, and are very badly described on top of that. If you compare them to standards that started out as implementations in one of the browsers, and then got adopted by the others, they are much, much, much better in every way. Browser wars are not healthy.

    1. The counterpoint to this is javascript. It’s a nightmare of a language, yet we’re all stuck with it because it was adopted by one browser, spread to the others, and thus became the least common denominator for pluginless dynamic content. Every major website has dozens of js crap that has to download to just to show some text and menus.

      The real pain point, imo, isn’t who sets the standards or how they’re enacted, it’s that the businesses are fundamentally at cross purposes with the users. Corporations have every incentive to hijack and/or subvert any sort of non-profit standards body, and the resources to be the one to effectively dictate the emergent standards–there’s a reason each generation’s “reason we can’t have nice things” has come from a megacorp.

  3. Having multiple browser engines provides nothing except a pile of incompatibilities. The best model is a single, open source engine with community control. Use a plugin type model to add experimental extensions to it. If an experimental plugin achieves widespread use, add it to the base implementation.

    Also, don’t underestimate the security work which has gone into the existing engines. Hackers have been trying to poke holes in these engines for a decade and all of those holes get fixed as soon as they are located. It will take years for a new engine to plug all of its security holes.

    My wish would be for Windows, Linux, Mac to move to more of a Chromebook model where the GUI API is the browser engine instead of the various legacy GUIs, then apply major effort to making the core browser engine more efficient.

    1. No. Google already undermines standards, so there will never be a single engine. If “the community” wants to come up with a plug-in standard, fine.

      The fact is that the Web is still a primitive mess, with hacks galore simply to present a page layout roughly equivalent to what you want. HTML should’ve been replaced by a PostScript-like (or SVG) approach years ago.

      And while we’re on the topic of why the Web sucks: Canned TLDs should have been abolished years ago. But ICANN is a scam that does more than its share to keep the Web shitty.

  4. The biggest problem with web browsers is the shear number of standards that need to be implemented. Google/Alphabet has been pushing hard to constantly expand standards to prevent the possibility of an alternative browser engine. Furthermore, they made it possible for sites to use an obscene amount of processing power using JavaScript by adding JIT and which has been exploited to no end. What is really needed is a rendering standard that can do basic animation stuff but also isn’t Turing-complete.

    1. While I don’t doubt that part of Google’s push for more standards is to push others out, I also wonder if part of it is that Google employs web browser developers who… sit around and develop their web browser all day. If not coming up with all sorts of new standards, what else would they be doing? Finding new and exciting ways to regress the UI?

    2. The problem is that standards aren’t self-executing. You can have the best standard imaginable and it won’t do any good if the forces opposed to its very existence are more powerful.

  5. ” If it can no longer command enough of a percentage of the browser market to remain relevant then that’s not the fault of the software itself but the browser landscape.”

    I disagree with that, at least to some extent. Mozilla has become famous for ignoring the desires and feedback of long-time Firefox users in favour of some aesthetic ‘vision’ that makes the browser less usable on computers. Examples of this include the incredible shrinking and disappearing scrollbars, the disappearance of an always-there status bar at the bottom of the window, the inability to have multiple rows of tabs, the inability to entirely remove direct search-engine access from the area around the URL bar, enabling Pocket and other phone-home features by default, and on and on. I think these changes – and the attitude displayed by Mozilla in their user forums – have cost the company a LOT of users. I get that mobile and tablets are “where it’s at”, but there are still a lot of us who use desktops and laptops for much of our Web browsing.

    Add to that the scandalous and still-increasing compensation of their CEO, and their forays into areas like healthcare which must negatively impact core browser development, and I’d have to say that Mozilla itself shares a significant portion of the blame for their declining user base. Heck, even if they spent some of their budget on advertising instead of non-core-business development initiatives, they might be better off. I encounter many, many people who are unaware of Firefox and the benefits it confers, even in its current diminished state.

      1. I would like to see at a glance how far into a page I’ve scrolled, and a disappearing bar that when present shows as light grey on dark grey (or vice versa) feels like a regression from what came before. Scrollwheels are vital but don’t cover everything that scrollbars did.

      2. Yes!
        I do.

        My Logitech Cordless TrackMan FX does not have a scroll-wheel, and using any other pointer input device causes wrist/arm pain issues.

        I feel it is a poor understanding of users to assume everybody has a scroll-wheel, and I find it very frustrating when software includes scroll wheel only features (come on, at least provide a hot-key or something).

      3. Yes.

        When the UI for some reason doesn’t respond to scroll events, such as when your touchpad drivers aren’t loaded correctly and you don’t actually have the slide-to-scroll function available.

        It’s also a point of discoverability – you don’t know that there is something to scroll for unless you can see a scroll bar. It’s bad UX design to have people guessing.

        1. > “It’s also a point of discoverability – you don’t know that there is something to scroll for unless you can see a scroll bar. It’s bad UX design to have people guessing.”

          That!

          Scrolling is generally a bad interface paradigm in most cases (works well for maps and such, no so great for finding settings). Making scrolling harder and obfuscated signals that user experience is low down in the design requirements.

    1. You can change a vast amount of the UI appearance and functionality on Firefox if you really care enough to look for the right options to make it work the way you want. But the defaults are always going to move towards whatever seems to be best or standard at the time…

      Though I’m sure not everything you possibly desire exists, as quite frankly some of your desires to me make no sense at all, and I expect that would be the same for many folks so there is no desire to make it happen.

      And it is no surprise that many are unaware of Firefox, but they would be even if they advertised – the general population don’t know or care what the tool is called, its that icon that lets them do the internet stuff they wanted and it came with the OS… Only a few folk are interested or technically minded enough to know alternatives exist at all, and no advertisement is going to fix that as the normal people just don’t care. If they did Meta would have died long ago, Apple would have had to open the wall or die themselves, Linux would be the only mainstream Desktop OS as it has been at the just plain works for normal users out the box stage for ages and saves them a fortune buying hardware that will work with the ever growing bloat of Windoze – for most folks as long as it works…

      1. Our organization has rules about not passing information to foreign entities due to GDPR rules in public organizations, so we don’t use Edge or Chrome by default. Our organization defaults to Firefox.

        Likewise, I use FF on all my personal machines and phones. Always have.

    2. I think Mozilla has reached that weird point many non-profits fall into where their leadership positions have become a warehouse for fail-sons. It’s the economic version of paying for an officer’s commission so you can lead walking charges against fortified machine gun nests.

      1. My theory is that “Ark Fleet Ship B” people simply won and people who could do stuff mostly left Mozilla.

        So instead of implementing e.g. Web Bluetooth they did countless UI redesigns (a.k.a. discussing color before inventing the wheel or researching consumer expectations of fire) because that’s the only thing they are good at.

  6. In the 90’s people were still willing to go to a store and buy software. When was the last time anyone even considered paying (even a token amount) for something they believe is just part of the computer these days?

    1. i would love a comeback in physical software. problem is in today’s landscape paid software will still spy on you, still farm personal information, and still require phone-home drm, require an external account, and be distributed on a cloud platform that can be withdrawn at any time. but going back to an anonymous cash on the barrel purchase would be pretty cool. i still own all my 90s games, where as some ’00s games cannot be played anymore. idk if i want to pay for a product and still be the product (like what ms is doing with windows).

      the amount of power tech companies want to exert over their users is absurd, and the typical lazy foo user is too ignorant to notice what’s going on. next thing you know you are paying $20 a month to use your web browser (that’s locked down and doesn’t allow adblockers).

      1. “i would love a comeback in physical software.”

        I second that.

        Also, computer magazines with cover CDs/DVDs still exist.
        Same goes for book stores.

        And film fans still buy UHD Blu Rays, which provide best quality.

        Being able to life offline isn’t backwards, it’s a matter of preference and independence.

        Streaming is nothing special these days, it has nothing to do with cutting edge technology.

    2. Not a willing or unwilling to buy. The business model of selling software like a book died. The only survives are XYZ-as-a-service. No more ownership. The stability of revenue, generated by services, is just too good.

      Even the software you can buy is littered with monetization now. There is nothing you can do about it as long as these models generate stable revenue streams. Might be able to pay extra to opt out, but it’ll be at a premium.

    3. When I started earning money for a regular paying job, I saw that paying $50 for a piece of software that you’d use for years to come was really nothing. If I’m paying that much for a bottle of scotch that lasts me a month, the software is really much better value.

      The problem was that all the software I really wanted cost $5000 for a single seat license for one computer. Then few years later the same companies started asking $500 a year subscriptions, which is essentially the same thing. Too much for too little.

      Today, there are some alternatives that do price themselves in the $50-100 range for an unlimited license, and I’m seriously considering. Rather, I will pay, it’s just a matter of bothering to learn the new software and change my workflow at some point in the coming months. On the other hand, the companies that offer subscription only – hard pass.

      1. I am with you on being more than willing to pay a reasonable price for useful software. I am an a good place financially and for the last 5+ years have adopted a “voluntary subscription” model where I consistently donate to FOSS projects like KiCAD and FreeCAD that I value and want to support.

  7. they all suffer from feature creep. this is why i started using chrome because firefox was getting ungainly, then a few years later chrome is in the same situation and google has mutated into some kind of monstrosity. not sure what i want to use now.

      1. In Firefox you can press Shift to disable JavaScript events which can prevent e.g. right-clicking to save images, or anything else limited by JS events. Although I use Chrome from day to day, I always have FF ready to save a National Geographic photo of the day, or anything else that someone’s trying to stop me from getting to using JS.

      2. ive actually been considering a return. but i may also be transitioning away from windows as well. been using it under debian bookworm on my shop computer (which i just broke trying to upgrade gpu drivers). this is the precursor for my daily driver. most stuff works but i need to get to where i can do normal maintenance without breaking things.

        1. I’ve been using FF from windows XP forwards, and never saw a reason not to use it. It has always worked at least adequately. At points there were some problems like Youtube crashing with hardware acceleration, but that’s like 10 years in the past.

      3. I switched back to Firefox after like fifteen years away on Chrome. It’s now capable of doing almost everything special I used to like about Chrome, and it doesn’t have that ad nonsense. Win-win. The mobile app is excellent too, since I can now run Ublock, Dark Reader and Privacy Badger on my phone.

    1. In the case of Microsoft Edge, they even have a feature that makes it reinstall itself (even AFTER altering your registry) and remind you that Edge should *really* be your preferred browser.

  8. I’m not sure how best to combat Chrome’s huge marketshare and encourage people to use other browsers. But we definitely need to do something!

    I’m running into more and more sites that only function properly in Chrome. It harkens back to the bad old days of Internet Explorer-dominance.

    1. If the recent outrage at Youtube ads didn’t drive a large number of people to somewhat-more-adblocker-friendly Firefox, I’m not sure what will.

      I’m oversimplifying but Firefox became popular because IE and Netscape 4 were bad. But when Google is throwing vast amounts of money at Chrome, and IE is roughly comparable to Chrome (because it’s basically Chrome), and the problems with Chrome are things that are difficult for normal people to understand like “monocultures are bad” and “bloated software is bad” (not that Firefox isn’t bloated either but I still think it’s a bit less so) and “letting an advertising company dictate standards that can be used to supply targeted ads is bad” then I’m not sure how anything changes… unless Google/Alphabet shareholders decide they’re paying too much to develop a web browser and fire enough people that Chrome lays dormant like IE did.

      1. There’s probably some highfalutin philosophy treatise in there about how software building abstractions on top of abstractions leads to the problems that manifest being themselves more complex and abstract.

    2. Well one thing that would help is if the two biggest? OS distributors didn’t ship a chrome based browser – Windows moving to chrome base for their browser and Android obviously staying with Google means a vast number of people just get given something Chrome based, and may well install Chrome on their PC as then its the ‘same’ as the one they use on their phone…

      Though I’ve to yet to run into a webpage that doesn’t just work on Firefox, though there are far far far too many that rely on JS to an insane degree.

  9. I want to like Firefox, and I’ve used it quite a bit over the years. But in everyday use, I find it buggier and slower than Chrome-variant browsers like Vivaldi and Opera, the latter of which is my current daily driver. The relative slowness of Firefox is borne out in benchmark tests. What am I missing?

  10. I’ve been using Firefox for so many years and I’m not objective, but maybe it’s not the browser that’s bloated but the websites.
    Always more JS for questionable functionalities, perhaps it’s the system as a whole that needs to be rethought?

    1. I’ve always used Firefox on Windows and Linux as well. I’ve never found it slow, or not doing what I want it to do. So when I hear comments on how bad it is … I just go ‘huh?’ . Works fast here. Even the ‘snap’ version. Only thing that would drive me away is if adblocker addons get axed. I can’t stand the ‘in your face’ ads and popups. If they’d just put ads to the side and would be ‘static’ (no animation/video) I’d be fine with that… Like a newspaper… But no…

      1. As for youtube ‘warning about adblocker installed’, I can still ‘x’ out of the warning and continue. If they actually start blocking … then I guess youtube usage will go way down as no way will I put up with ads. Youtube is NOT a ‘critical’ resource to me.

        1. I’ve pretty much stopped going to ad-tube. I got the ad block-warning couple months ago, but it didn’t have any 3 strikes counter. I used to go there daily, now pretty much only when there is an exact thing i’d like to see. For example, this week, twice for specific videos. I have not gotten the warning anymore though, but what ever, i can live without.

  11. We’re *still* running into the symptoms of the previous monoculture, back when quite a few enterprise IT planners decided that IE+IIS+ASP would rule forever, hence the situation where you run into a requirement to interact with some site that will only work with IE.

    1. If I recall correctly, all traffic runs over the O/S (sockets implementation). In Android, you generally use a Java API to gain access to the underlying functionality of the O/S.

      So, Google potentially knows every connection made and piece of data sent. Even encrypted data is decrypted within the O/S / hardware.

      Just saying. Utopia it is not.

  12. Another option that I think merits some consideration is PaleMoon. It’s forked back from before Firefox moved to Chrome. It kept the old XPI addon architecture. I use it fairly regularly and it’s pretty nice.

        1. From the FF FAQ:
          Is Firefox Chromium based?

          Firefox is not based on Chromium (the open source browser project at the core of Google Chrome). In fact, we’re one of the last major browsers that isn’t. Firefox runs on our Quantum browser engine built specifically for Firefox, so we can ensure your data is handled respectfully and kept private.

          1. Apologies! You are correct. I confused/conflated the origins of the multi process version some how during my dive into limiting “connections” a while back (due to very limited speed internet connection of ~200Kbps). I have used FF (on windows mostly) since the early ’00s

    1. PM is interesting. It provides old-school UI (think XP days), flexible customization of the menu/tabbar and standard controls. I started using it when FF insisted that the tabs should not be on top.

      But they decided to eschew e10s (multitasking) so the UI tends to hang when loading websites — that means you can’t even scroll until the whole page is loaded.

  13. The reason Brave isn’t mentioned (or Vivaldi etc. etc.) is that they all use the same underlying engine as Chrome. So for the purposes of this discussion about the ownership and evolution of the web and the standards that create it – they are the same browser (engine.)

    1. But I think that’s a mistake. The fact is that lots of browsers use Chrome under the hood is absolutely not the same thing as Internet Explorer’s monopoly. The reason for that is that chromium (the engine) is open source, and there is a vibrant community of opensource devs stripping the evil Google components out and taking the very good underlying engine and keeping it running. Yes it is disturbing that most people just use Chrome, but at the end of the day, there are very good, cleaned up versions of that engine that are available and they are 98% standards compliant.

      1. It is a huge problem, since a lot of programs include Chrome or Chromium as a based for making electron apps, or use it in Qt-based apps. Since the font rendering of Chrome is worse than Firefox/DirectWrite for non-high DPI/retina resolution screens and they have no intention to fix this issue, this is a major drawback.

  14. As an IT person who specializes in legacy systems this is bollocks. Innovation yay, but standardization is far more important to long term stability of IT systems. To compare IT to the car industry, we’re still back at the beginning where we reinvent processes and methods all the time but with technologies that exponentially complicate themselves. Until we reach another eureka moment like that which spawned Chrome, the Web really doesn’t need the innovation that the mess of multiculture brings anymore. That need has moved on to newer horizons.

  15. Just curious, anyone aware of a web browser that runs on something like an ESP32 or STM32?
    It does not have to be “full featured”. The goal is only to make a local remote control with a touch screen TFT screen. So if it can handle text (in one or two fonts) a single type of pictures, and generate requests upon button presses it’s already a usable start.

  16. What I do miss is room for experimenting, like there was in the 90s.
    Web standards are fine, but they shouldn’t be the limit.
    Otherwise, creativity and development is being hindered.
    I’m all in for more diversity on the browser market.

    We need fresh ideas and new concepts again.
    The iPhone and the mobile web have dine so much harm to the world wide web, dumbed it down to a meaningless platform of content consumption.
    It’s time “to think different” again.

  17. RANT WARNING

    Browsers were once considered a “thin client”. In contrast to a “fat client”, which were unmanageable on large corporate installations, Browsers were considered “the bees knees”, lightweight. No need to roll out every week.

    Nowadays, you need to download 250MB every update (patch) basically just to read a news article (Text plus shitty nonsensical stock image). And you need to update about once per week. WTF!!!

    I generally ban images in the Browser. I don’t get webp or gifs flashing and violating the UI space and generally spoiling my day, like popups used to. Designers who place 4MB images in websites don’t help especially in rural areas as the bandwidth gets eaten up quickly. Just turn the crap off.

    Also, Browsers are often not fit for purpose. For example. Take a website like ebay, amazon or aliexpress. You have sellers who screw you over. But you can’t protect yourself from falling afoul of their tricks a 2nd time. You cannot blend their offers out leaving the rest in place. I’ve thought of writing add-ins instead. Now I just ignore the big websites and buy from online mom&pop stores instead. They have more to lose and treat you right.

    Videos. I haven’t watched a video in a Browser for years. I disabled the feature. Basically, I have a number of PIs in the background and they download the videos for me, for offline watching. At 4x speed on three monitors simultaneously. (Joke). I only have two monitors and Gnome can display only 8 videos at once when tiled. :-)

    Cookies from Google and Facebook that track the color of your underpants every time you venture on the Internet. No thank you. I’ve banned DNS resolution for their domains for the most part.

    And shitty scripting languages, that mix javascript into everything like spewing a bucket of vomit over everything. I much prefer clean layering, separation or and strong architectural design.

    Password storage in the browser. When you change browsers the settings are all gone. Had this happen on an update. Never again.

    Why do bookmarks live in the Browser? I’d rather have them in the O/S. So, I keep them in a password application instead. You can double click there. So, I don’t use shitty bookmarks either. Another useless feature.

    Sitting there dragging stupid f**king jigsaw puzzles across the screen to prove I’m not a bot. Jeeeeezzzz! Get a life.

    I use my Browser as a search engine these days. I prefer the control CLI gives you and use the shell more than I should.

    1. “And shitty scripting languages, that mix javascript into everything like spewing a bucket of vomit over everything. I much prefer clean layering, separation or and strong architectural design.”

      Absolutely.

      And I think that situation is kind of hypocritical.
      Because, back in the dark days of Flash, there was Action Script.
      And Action Script and Java Script were not very different.

      The biggest difference was that Flash/Action Script ran in a separate sandbox module (plug-in).

      Now, Java Script is integrated into the browser directly. Is this really such an improvement?

      Why ban Action Script, but let Java Script roam freely?

      Security concerns aside, Java Script is a memory and CPU hog, I think.

      I don’t understand why people build entirely pages upon it.
      Java Script was never meant for that purpose.

      It rather was being designed to allow intelligent websites to be created, if really needed.

      But the current web sites aren’t very intelligent, just bloated. *sigh*

      1. Spot on!

        I’m not a fan of XML but XLST was interesting. Separate your data from your design. A little like CSS + HTML.

        With animations in CSS, there is often no need whatsoever for Javascript on the client.

        For fun, I’ve proxyed some websites through a DIY filter. It basically, knows the structure of the webpage and strips off the bloat. Basically re-writing it.

        When you cache the relevant content overnight and open the browser in the morning, all the crap is gone and you’re left with a sweet “online” (offline) experience.

        But, do you really have to do this for every website? Maybe we should ??? (Mad scientist moment).

        The Internet is too one-way. There is no way of voicing your discontent other than avoiding the website. Glad to see some sites failing because of this. Spewing nonsense woke crap “The Message” doesn’t pay the bills.

        Also, I’d like to support certain sites, but I won’t purchase a User-Id to access their site. Because I don’t want to be tracked. I don’t want them knowing what I like and what I don’t like. There should be a payment capability which allows the site to earn money, protect it’s IP and journalist assets, when simultaneously protecting the user’s privacy rights to absolute anonymity.

        So, If I want to watch Louis Rossmann re-activate a one-time-usage Amazon cock-ring, that’s my sorry business. I don’t want people knowing about this.

        (I’m writing this for a friend.)

    2. The current state of the web and of webrowsers deserves a much bigger rant!

      Websites blocking you from saving images, videos or text that is on your screen for cOpYrIgHt ReAsOns.

      Image hosting websites preventing hot linking.

      Websites with infinite scrolling and/or clickbait suggestions to waste your time.

      Websites that load extremely slowly or crash your browser (sometimes due to a plugin or add blocker they don’t like).

      Webpages with 10k lines of html + js just to display 1 paragraph of text and one image.

      Websites with autoplay of video or, even worse, audio.

      Websites without a working search function.

      Videoplayers that display control buttons and subtitles over the video or rounding the corners if it’s not full screen (obscuring or cutting of large parts of the video for no reason).

      Websites that have menu’s and clickable links on all 4 sides of your screen.

      Websites that constantly change the structure of their URLs so that old links don’t work anymore. Linkrot is a serious issue! Not all websites are archived in time.

      Websites by any government. Slow, buggy and ugly. Sometimes doesn’t work on non-Chromium browsers such as Firefox. Often strict limits on file size and type of attachments. Often no option to save a form if you are half way and automatic clearing of the form if you haven’t typed anything in 1 minute.

      Websites that require CAPTCHAs or a second factor every time you visit them because you use a VPN and they don’t like your IP address.

      Websites that block content/features or use different prices based on your geo location or the country of your bank.

      Websites that have no customer support. Can’t log in? Banned for no reason? Too bad.

      Webpages without menu’s with giant (often animated while you scroll) images and giant text that force your take a step back just to read the text and have you scroll till your fingers are sore just to see the content of the page.
      Usually pages like these have very little information. Look for a device you just bought on the manufacturer’s website and want to download the manual, specs or a driver?
      Well tough luck, all you get is giant images and giant text promoting what you just bought.

      Websites with cringe-worthy banners and stock photos. Suspiciously diverse and all laughing with bleached teeth.

      Websites with ridiculously long URLs.

      Url shorteners. Sometimes show ads while redirecting you or force you to click things. Can’t see from the URL what it points to. Link rot if URL redirect host is no longer in business or dropped the link.

      Websites with layouts optimized for mobile, but not for desktops.

      Websites with layout for mobile lacking features the desktop version does have.

      Websites that load slowly even if it just has text and you have a super fast internet connection.

      Webstores that only show you the total price after you’ve created an account or only at the final payment step.

      Webstores, such as Amazon/eBay, that have many products, but lack the option to filter for important specs/parameters.

      Webstores, such as Amazon/eBay, that have many sponsored products, non-genuine products and fake reviews.

      Browsers, such as Chrome, dropping support for JPEG XL images because they want to force their own image standard down our throats.

      Browsers banning certain third party plugins from their store and making it hard for you to sideload plugins.

      Browsers sucking up all your system memory when you have many tabs open. Even if the tabs are inactive or just have text and a few images.

      On a positive note. There are websites that follow common sense UX guidelines, load fast, have properly tagged/indexed content, have parametric search for their product database, redirect old URLS to the right place, respect user privacy and work on all devices.

      1. I feel your pain. But there’s more…

        Browsers that leak memory so you have to kill the browser and restart it on a regular basis.

        Browser/website rendering under “after dark” nighttime settings that become unreadable.

  18. This is an odd view of history.
    What realy happened was that you had IE, where it must be noted that lots of companies only expected and supported IE, and then Firefox showed up and was for a good time the choice of the tech-savy and the average non-corporate person but sometimes IE only sites would not work right due to propriety crap until so many people used Firefox and such that they could no longer pull making IE-only sites.
    Then after some time Google got into the game. And people got more and more pulled into it because of viral PR basically with claims that the competiton was using so much RAM and that chrome was so incredibly fast and stuff like that, and then firefox tried to compete and then (I’m pretty sure) google infiltrated the Firefox development team to get it more Chrome-friendly and to degrade it and its future (by things like a complete upheavel of its plug-in system, and taking away more and more control/settings from the user).
    Then the damn web develop IDE packages started to push Chrome-only features and other browsers stopped working right on many sites and the other browsers had to update constantly and becoming more and more user-unfriendly – and not that stable to boot, while simultaneously the new sites suffered from awful paradigms like ‘focus on phones and idiotic (touch-) interfaces’ that makes them worse and worse (for users at least, possibly better and better for snooping orgs).

    Anyway, moving away from personal gripes, that part where you claim that post netscape it was IE then (with a small FF blip) Chrome is not really true, firefox was much bigger and much longer significant than suggested.

  19. Biggest issue with a web browser is that it takes a huge effort to create the engine, but doesn’t bring in any money because the existing web browsers are given away for free. So you might spend a million creating a new web browser engine, but never see one cent back.

    What other incentive can there be, with such a large amount of necessary investment? Power? Honour? What else… Political correctness?

    The practice shows us that if the only incentive to compete with ‘money’ is ‘honour’. The SerenityOS guys are driven by honour, nothing more. They want to see their names listed in the history books. And it looks like they are achieving success with that, having now been picked up by Hackaday. :)

    Imo it shows exactly the big problem with capitalism. If left unchecked, it will always end in monopoly, then the monopoly failing and causing a crash, and then having to rebuild from the ashes and do it all over again. It’s systemic.

    If a monopoly is becoming unavoidable, then governments should regulate to avoid it. Often that means that governments have to appeal to the ‘money’ incentive (especially because appealing to pride, honour and political correctness are considered to be ‘communist’ and therefore unpopular). And so governments have the choice to either just let things crash and sort itself out, or subsidise the creation of competitors. US tends to do the first, EU tends to do the second.

    I would argue that the second option is far more desirable if the technology is of such use to humanity as web browsers are.

  20. There is 3 things I deplore about web browser:
    – Mixed content too strong restrictions: There is now way now to connect a local smart device (ESP32 for exemple) by HTTP or WebSocket from an hosted web app (https). The only exception is localhost, not the local network. This change just killed the possibility for a PWA to connect a DIY device.
    – The PWA (progressive web app) are not highlighted while that is currently the best way to create light, low cost and multiplatform apps.
    – The restrictions made by Apple on Safari to limit the power of web apps and favor native app on their $tore:

    https://www.zdnet.com/article/apple-declined-to-implement-16-web-apis-in-safari-due-to-privacy-concerns/

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