Web browsers need to stop trying to be everything to everyone


iStockphoto/Getty Images

I’ve been using Firefox for decades. This does not mean that I used it non-stop during this period. In fact, there have been many instances where I’ve skipped the open source browser in favor of another. Some of these instances were simply due to a browser adding functionality that I wanted to use.

For example, Opera’s Workspaces feature was a game-changer for managing an ever-growing collection of tabs that would otherwise have been daunting.

Seriously, Opera’s Workspaces feature is so good.

However, there are some features that have been added to the Opera browser that not only don’t quite match up with workspaces, but also make me wonder why they’re there in the first place.

The same is true with other browsers that take a kitchen sink approach. Instead of a web browser being a web browser, they become crypto wallets, media players, email clients, online calendar services, task managers, to-do lists, calendar reminders, RSS readers, alarms, translation tools, gaming platforms, theme generators, and more.

Also: Microsoft moves forward with Edge Workspaces browser-based collaboration feature

It seems almost every week that a new feature is added to another browser to make it more, more, more.

There is a problem with this approach. The further a web browser moves away from just a web browser, the more it suffers from bloat. The more bloat a browser suffers from, the less usable it is.

This is exactly what happened to Firefox, and it went south very quickly. Firefox went from being a light, fast, lightweight web browser to a full toolkit of features, most of which, in my opinion, were absolutely useless. (That was a few years ago, I recommend it in its current version.)

There used to be an Experiments feature that allowed participating users to test every new feature that developers launched on the browser. I participated in this experiment and ended up shaking my head in shock more often than not at some of the ideas that were offered.

Sure, some of the experiences were pretty cool, but they still didn’t belong in a browser.

Let’s be clear: a web browser’s job is to make visiting websites easy, reliable, secure and simple. Since most of us use a web browser for the majority of what we do on our desktops and laptops, this idea needs to be brought to the fore and web browser developers need to take it into account.

Also: No browser is perfect. What a user should do

Fun can be fun until it’s not

Do not mistake yourself. I appreciate it when a company (or development team) releases a cool new feature for a web browser. I like to see what developers can do.

But again, the fact is that when you add too many features to such a crucial tool, you run the risk of that tool becoming unusable.

Consider this: As of this writing, I have 32 tabs open in my web browser, each consuming system resources.

Now imagine I’m using a web browser that wants to be everything to me as a user. Email client, calendar, task manager, to-do list, project manager… all the things I would normally do in a tab anyway.

Instead, the developers decided to integrate these features into the web browser as small applications that can be used. Now I may still have 32 tabs open, but I also have a bunch of built-in apps running.

Also: How to Recover Lost or Closed Tabs Using the Firefox History Tool

This browser monopolizes my system resources even more.

Sure, these features can be fun at first, but eventually my system resources could be used up to the point where my desktop becomes unresponsive. Everyone has experienced this once or twice.

It’s not funny.

Overwhelm is not productive

The other problem is that too many features can quickly become overwhelming. Imagine you’ve opened a recently updated version of your web browser, only to find that a bunch of new features have been added. You have your workflow, which is absolutely blinded by all these new options and tools.

It can quickly become overwhelming. And given that so many people shun change as if it were the Grim Reaper coming for their soul, adding too many features can be a recipe for losing users.

I’m not saying developers shouldn’t consider innovation a big part of their web browser projects. Rather the opposite. However, perhaps developers could allow users to turn features on and off in their browser, so they can use only what they need and everything else is hidden and doesn’t consume system resources.

To this end, web browser developers should focus their efforts on:

  • UI and UX
  • Security
  • Efficiency
  • Reliability
  • Page rendering accuracy
  • The rapidity
  • Tab management

If a feature does not fall into one of the above categories, it should be considered optional and disabled or hidden from users on first run.

It shouldn’t be that difficult. A web browser is used to view web pages securely and efficiently. Do this correctly and you have a winning product. If you’re wrong, you’ve created a monster that will prevent users from doing what they need to do effectively.

For those who might be curious about which web browsers nail this aspect, here is my shortlist:

  • firefox (a web browser that’s been there and done it).
  • Chromium (the only version of Chrome I will use).
  • Web GNOME — aka Epiphany — (a GNOME-based web browser for Linux).
  • Safari (the only browser I use on MacOS).
  • pale moon (a great option for Linux and Windows).
  • Comodo Ice Dragon (keeps security at the top of the list).

Use one of the browsers above and you’ll enjoy a streamlined, efficient, and lightning-fast experience.


Comments are closed.