Nov. 2, 2021
At this point the browser flame wars have been going on for three decades. If software freedom and privacy matter to you, even a small amount, then why are you still using Chrome?
The fact is that using any version of Chrome, whether the official Google version or a Chromium fork, continues to solidify the dominance Google has over the open web. Yes, there is an open-source version of Chrome that is theoretically de-coupled from Google. But, you could say the same for Android and the AOSP project. The project may be open-source, however the direction and priorities are clearly set by Google. Just look at the differences between official Chrome and Chromium, including the recent enforcement of using Google sync features with Chromium.
Aside from Google’s involvement with Chromium and the blink rendering engine, a monolithic approach to browsers is bad for the open web. Considering that Vivaldi, Brave, and Microsoft Edge are all using the same technology, the monoculture in the browser ecosystem is troubling to say the least. If we want an open web, we need diversity in browsers and with the diminishing users on Firefox, the only hedge is Safari. Trusting the internet to mega corporations who’s primary mission is to please shareholders is a catastrophe waiting to happen.
So when you evaluate the browser ecosystem, you have these choices:
- Chrome, which comes with all the Google privacy implications while having enough market-share to affect the global web with each browser decision.
- Brave, still based on blink and being beholden to whatever the Brave company deems acceptable, including making their own search engine default and choosing which ads they will show you.
- Edge, a Chromium browser developed and managed by Microsoft. Hard pass.
- Vivaldi, the same as Brave but better.
- Firefox. A non-blink based browser, run by a non-profit organization that has always been built as a competitor to browser monopolies.
In no way am I saying that Firefox and Mozilla are without faults. But, Mozilla’s ambitions are much different than Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Whatever problems you have with Firefox, look at it in context with the other browsers.
The three major operating systems you find on computers sold at major retailers - Windows, MacOS, and Chrome OS - all come with a corporate created and managed web browser. All three block you from removing their browser and load the operating system full of nags to link your browser with their cloud services. Combining all your files, messaging, and web history, in addition to how you use your computer, is unbelievably invasive. The fact that this is considered to be the better user experience is also laughable. Just look at how Windows 11 will make it nearly impossible to set an alternative browser as default. And that doesn’t even set it as default for everything. If you accidentally search for something in the menu or click on any links in Microsoft services, it will still open Edge.
Over the last two years I’ve bounced back and forth between Vivaldi and Firefox. Although Vivaldi has a ton of productivity features I love (and tweeted my love several times), I keep coming back to Firefox for two reasons:
- Multi-account containers
- Better extensions
Firefox Multi-Account containers are the best thing to happen to my tech life.— 🌴🌴Dominic 🌴🌴 (@domcorriveau) October 25, 2021
Single-handedly the best feature in any browser is multi-account containers. Being able to be logged into multiple accounts, not just in the browser but in multiple tabs, has been the biggest growth in browser productivity in a decade. Then, layer on Firefox extensions for multi-account containers, this feature is irreplaceable. It is actually astonishing that no other browser has implemented something similar.
For example, I have at least 6 different containers for various accounts I use. One for my personal email, work, a couple other people I do marketing for, plus I use the Temporary Containers add-on for throw away sites and services I don’t need to keep cookies set in the browser. Coupled with Temporary Containers I also use addons to put Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn into their own dedicated containers for additional privacy. I know they’re not perfect and some data still leaks through, but why make it easier for any of them.
Last is I use Simple Tab Groups to bundle tab sets depending on what I’m doing, just as I do with workspaces on my desktop. When paired with multi-account containers, Simple Tab Groups can also assign a container to a tab group and automatically move tabs around to the right bundle in the right container. The video below is how I use Simple Tab Groups and my undying love for them.
This is all why I say the extensions are just better in Firefox, which doesn’t include extensions that Google blocks from the Chrome Store such as YouTube adblockers, downloaders, and background players. You know, because they have a business interest in showing you as many ads as possible and thwart any attempts to block ads on their services. Whereas Firefox is indifferent to the sites capitalist agenda.
I know the last thing people want is to have to make a political decision in literally everything they do in life. I know I don’t want to. But, if you are a Linux desktop user, install custom ROMs on your Android mobile device, or run a custom firmware on your router, an open-source browser run by an open-source company should be your browser. The reason you choose to run a custom OS or firmware is because you prefer freedom and autonomy. You want to control your experience and have the freedom to tailor your experience to your needs, not a corporate policy.
It makes zero sense to me why someone who chooses a Linux desktop would be okay with constant Google pop-ups, interstitials, and banners nagging them around every corner to integrate Google spying into their web experience. It boggles my mind that someone who chose to break out of the Windows/MacOS duopoly then dives head-first into the browser monopoly.
Firefox is good and can be better if the developers who spend all their time in Chrome put the same effort into a real open-source browser.
I am also well aware that I just published a blog yesterday about CloudReady, an easy-to-install Chrome OS on old hardware, and was enthralled by it.
My plea here for Firefox over Chrome is all about the right tool for the job. When Mozilla has a full operating system built around their browser, I will whole-heartedly endorse it. For now Chrome OS is the right tool for the job, depending on the circumstances. This is why I’ve been watching projects like Ubuntu Web closely, hoping that the combination of the Ubuntu desktop, Firefox, and the /e/ Foundation can make a viable competitor for those with a FOSS mentality. Until then, there are still jobs to be done and sometimes that job needs to be done with Chrome.
My hope is that those that care about freedom, privacy, and the open web will choose Firefox. The people that call themselves enthusiasts will lead the change. The rest will come later.