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The dangers of the unibrow(ser)

rhymes profile image rhymes ・3 min read

At the beginning of December, Microsoft announced their wish to re-engineer Edge on top of Chromium, effectively abandoning EdgeHTML.

A discussion ensued on DEV from the following post:

Many other discussions were held on Twitter and various corners of the web.

Words were said, tears were shed. I've seen people cheering, people stamping their feet, people mourning the shrinking of the landscape, people sighing with relief knowing the day they won't have to "support Edge" is nigh. Countless arguments have been made and pros and cons of innovation and competition (see the link at the end of this post for a great analysis).

All in all, my opinion is unchanged: I'm not sure it is a great news. We'll see. I can't do much about it aside from keep using Firefox :-D

A slight sense of unease started forming in my gut though. I've read people blasting the news citing alleged control and oversight that Google seems to have on the Chromium project (many opensource projects that are spun from a company do retain some sort of guidance from their own original creators).

This sense of unease was rekindled yesterday when I read this news linked at the bottom of a newsletter I receive everyday: Future Chrome update may kill some ad-blocking extensions.

The title mentions Chrome but the news is indeed about Chromium. Apparently, in an understandable effort to strengthen security, Google is trying to change the way extensions are made, with the side effect of blocking all ad-block extensions.

According to the original news on The Register UK Google through Chromium is planning to block the rewriting of requests (the basis for adblocking) among other things.

You can understand my distrust towards this "very Googley" idea. Google already has a conflict of interest in the matter (they are an ad company first and foremost) so discouraging ad-blockers would add to that conflict. As the article mentions:

Don't forget, Google and other internet advertising networks apparently pay Adblock Plus to whitelist their online adverts. Meanwhile, Google has bunged its own basic ad blocking into its browser.

and again:

Several other developers commenting on the proposed change expressed dismay, with some speculating that Google is using privacy as a pretext for putting the interests of its ad business over those of browser users.

which is precisely where my mind went to when I read the news.

I appreciate the need to get a grip on malicious extensions, but isn't it better to institute a review policy like mobile apps are subjected to instead of outright blocking these APIs? Just an idea.

Fortunately there's a silver lining, the process is very much in progress and all this ruckus could be for nothing, but I think it deserves our attention nonetheless.

I will leave you with an interesting (and long) article whose title speaks for itself: The State of Web Browsers: Late 2018 edition (TLDR; it's a clusterfudge).

I would love to hear your nuanced thoughts on the news (or the matter at large). I likely have missed something. I recognise I'm biased on the matter but, all things considered, I think it's a bit justified.

Thanks for reading!

Posted on by:

rhymes profile

rhymes

@rhymes

Software developer @ Forem

Discussion

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When it comes to ad blocking and privacy features I'm really glad that Brave exists and has approached ad blocking on a browser level which makes them immune in this case. That definitely does not take away that it is a Chromium-based browser, at least their focus is on cherry picking changes. I'm rooting for Firefox (I'm a biased Rust lover tbh) but I'm afraid that the general public still sees it as a 'quirky alternative' rather than a privacy first browser. It would really be a bummer for innovation if one company with a large open source project rules the web. The change in rules concerning autoplay/audio early last year already shows how small decisions like this can have a big impact.

 

I've been gradually trying to use Firefox more and more even though I still feel so used to Chrome, it's tough.

I'm very hopeful that they can stay viable and maybe increase marketshare. Privacy, performance, and really being a browser-first company. They have it all going for them, except it's tough to compete with such a monster of a company in Google.

 

I switched to Firefox a while back, it did take a while to get used to it again but it's my primary browser now. Ever since they released Quantum (in FF57) performance has been pretty solid.

 

My experience with Brave has been great. Since they switched to Chromium it's been even better.

 

Thanks for your reply Imani! I've to admit I've only tested Brave briefly before they switched to Chromium but I liked the idea, what is the situation with extensions?

I'm rooting for Firefox (I'm a biased Rust lover tbh) but I'm afraid that the general public still sees it as a 'quirky alternative' rather than a privacy first browser.

Yeah, the article I linked at the end talks about this too. It's also true that Mozilla has no significant power to "suggest" user to install their browser. Chrome is everywhere on desktop, suggested by google.com, the default on billions of devices and so on.

It would really be a bummer for innovation if one company with a large open source project rules the web.

It's due to happen eventually, unless something unforeseen happens, the hope is that the W3C committee won't be steered by Google only :)

 

I've been using Brave on mobile for a couple of years now and it's great. I had it installed on Desktop when it was Electron based, but barely used it as my work revolves around web development and extensions and dev tooling (aside from Chromium Dev Tools) were not available.

Since they've moved to Chromium, it's my default browser at work and home. I have all the tooling I had on Chrome (extensions/extended dev tooling).

I'm still pretty new to brave, how did you enable dark mode?! It looks really nice :D

Just navigate to brave://settings or just choose settings from the hamburger menu on the top right of the window. From there, choose your Brave colours.

 

I switched to brave last September and to be honest, it pretty much feels like Chrome with a (heavy) build in add-blocker. Like Nick, I haven't had any problems with anything that I used in chrome (JSON Viewer, React dev tools, Vue dev tools etc.). You can go to the chrome webstore and install any extension that you like :)

Other than that I have faith that sooner or later (or a whole lot later) something will break the status quo, just like when IE was at the top. I'm just not sure if it's an existing browser or one in the making by some team somewhere.

To be fair all I know about W3C is that they are the root of all standards on the web. I have no idea who is involved in the committee at all, definitely something I'm going to Google later :P

I switched to brave last September and to be honest, it pretty much feels like Chrome with a (heavy) build in add-blocker. Like Nick, I haven't had any problems with anything that I used in chrome (JSON Viewer, React dev tools, Vue dev tools etc.). You can go to the chrome webstore and install any extension that you like :)

This is really cool. I'll probably keep it as a second browser to test (instead of Chrome ;))

I'll give it a whirl this weekend, thanks!

I envision a slogan: "Brave, Chrome without Google listening in" :P

 

I'll have to check out Brave. I have heard a few people talk about it. I'll try it on as my non-work browser.

 

I think anyone reading the article would think that way.
Not defending google here tho. They started adding chrome specific apis a long time back which greatly hampers the competition.
Also about open source projects by big companies, it doesn't have to be seen as being "in control" of that company, examples like golang and vscode have remained as open source and as awesome as ever.
But chromium is a whole new beast, Google has its leashes. It is open source for the sake of it and its very questionable ad blocker is coming (it blocks ads "which don't interfere with ux" so it won't block google's ads but for any other site stay alert).

I still don't like the idea that Microsoft adopted chromium, they could have as much easily gone with Firefox's engine which lags a bit behind but is still very capable, in that process they could have improved the project and created a better competition.
In all of this I'm uncertain about ChakraCore's future which is a great project in itself.
Also the future of Firefox still worries me.

 

I still don't like the idea that Microsoft adopted chromium, they could have as much easily gone with Firefox's engine which lags a bit behind but is still very capable, in that process they could have improved the project and created a better competition.

That is what I hoped too, they would have helped creating a duopoly. They would have had the capital to push forward Firefox's development, fix its long standing embedding issues and maybe even provide a solid alternative to Electron.

Electron, according to many, and the biggest ecosystem around it and around Chromium is one of the main reasons Microsoft chose otherwise.

The good news is that they might be able to slow Google's questionable decisions about what goes in and doesn't go in Chromium's source code (or fork it altogether)

 

We'll have to wait and see what the future holds.
This may turn out to be a big event in browser wars, or just a small ripple.

 

I kind of see it in other way.

In my opinion, Microsoft will play the nice guy with developers with good marketing about the open source movement it's doing. Steady and slowly if google/chrome devs start puting some blockers to the Microsoft's open source nice guy, this is where Microsoft will play the victim saying that google/chrome devs are trying to block the Microsoft's effort for an open and embracing web.

--- from here on is just speculation for the funz of course ---

Since it's been long rumored (not official/confirmed of course) that google products like youtube purposedly broke other browsers like firefox and edge,
now that you can't break the competition since it's using the same tools as you do, what's the way to fight them?

I think this chromium based edge, will actually give Microsoft more power on the web

 

I really can't comment of what MS might or might not do in the future.

The gist of my "preoccupation" is related to the shrinking of the browser's engine landscape. MS is definitely going to make Chromium better, see for example:

I'm happy for that. I still think it would have been great if they had chose Servo/Firefox helping to establish at least two great different browser engines that could evolve indipendently and help foster a more "varied" web.

Developers have already started building Chrome only websites, this is not going to be solved by having the two major desktop browsers share the same engine:

Anyhow, the only thing I can do is keep Firefox as my default browser, which I'm liking very much to be honest :)

I'm sure there were tons of discussions and technical decisions that brought to that decision. I'm just talking about my personal wishes :-)

 

Oh yes I get your point though, I really hated this transition I really used edge as my daily driver (I still do on my machine) I just don't think it was merely a technical decision to choose chromium over servo

 

Firefox is still available, I think Google is becoming next Microsoft and we don't want to live by anyone's rules. Microsoft once again started making something extra and not useful features rather than completing HTML5 correctly and that is the reason people stopped using it.

 

Thought you might be interested in this @rhymes , "Google backtracks on Chrome modifications that would have crippled ad blockers", zdnet.com/article/google-backtrack...

 

Hours after the Ghostery team published its study and benchmark results, the Chrome team backtracked on their planned modifications.

This sounds somewhat on the spectrum between weird and bad, they backtracked because they mischaracterized the performance impact? It would be weird if it were just a mistaken assumption (wrong measurement on their part) and bad if they lied about the reason why they wanted to remove the feature.

🤔

 

You'll like this news @rhymes

 
 

Just read this like 9 mo ths later. From what i remember googles thing didnt block ad blockers (pun unintended). What are you thoughts atm?

 

Of course Google is doing tbis in self interest not for benefit of the consumer duh. Everything they do is like that.

 

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/disney/images/6/68/Frida.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20180303002557

Unibrow-ser is a bad idea but it's good for us, so I won't complain.

I hope that Safari will kick the bucket.

tips: it's a good movie.

 

I hope that Safari will kick the bucket.

Safari is playing catch up with the other browsers though, both on desktop and mobile.

tips: it's a good movie.

Coco is a great movie!