I’ve been using Firefox for decades. That doesn’t mean I’ve used it nonstop for that period. In fact, there have been plenty of instances where I’ve shrugged off the open-source browser in favor of another. Some of those instances were simply because one browser added a feature that I wanted to make use of.
Case in point, Opera’s Workspaces feature has been an absolute game-changer for managing a constantly growing collection of tabs that would have been otherwise daunting.
Seriously, Opera’s Workspaces feature is that good.
However, some features have been added to the Opera browser that not only don’t match up to all that is Workspaces, but also make me question why they are there in the first place.
The same thing holds 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, schedule reminders, RSS readers, alarms, translation tools, gaming platforms, theme generators, and more.
It seems almost weekly a new feature is added to yet another browser to make it more, more, more.
There’s a problem with that approach. The further a web browser gets from being just a web browser, the more bloat it suffers. The more a browser suffers from bloat, the less usable it is.
This very thing happened to Firefox, and it went very south very quickly. Firefox went from a lean, fast, lightweight web browser to an entire toolkit of features, most of which, in my opinion, were absolutely useless. (This was some years ago; I do recommend it in its current iteration.)
There was once an Experiments feature that allowed participating users to test-drive every new feature the developers threw at the browser. I participated in that experiment and wound up shaking my head in shock more often than not at some of the ideas that were proposed.
Sure, some of the experiments were pretty cool, but they still had no place in a browser.
Let me be clear: The job of a web browser is to make viewing websites easy, reliable, secure, and simple. Given that most of us use a web browser for the majority of what we do on our desktops and laptops, that idea needs to take front and center, and web browser developers need to take heed.
Fun can be fun until it’s not
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy it when a company (or development team) releases a cool new feature for a web browser. I love seeing what developers can do.
But again, the thing is, 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 of which consumes 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 of the things I would normally probably do within a tab anyway.
Instead, the developers decided to bake those features into the web browser as small applications that can be used. Now, I might still have 32 tabs open, but I also have a bunch of built-in apps running.
That browser is now hogging even more of my system resources.
Sure, those features might be fun at first, but eventually my system resources could get used up to the point where my desktop becomes unresponsive. Everyone has experienced that a time or two.
That’s not fun.
Overwhelming is not productive
The other issue is that too many features can quickly become overwhelming. Imagine you’ve opened a recently upgraded version of your web browser, only to find out a bunch of new features have been slapped on. You have your workflow, which is absolutely blindsided by all of these new options and tools.
That can get overwhelming fast. And given how so many people shun change like it’s the Grim Reaper coming for their soul, adding too many features can be a recipe for losing users.
I’m not saying that developers shouldn’t consider innovation a big part of their web browser projects. Quite the opposite. However, maybe it might be possible for developers to allow users to enable and disable features in their browser, so they can use only what they need and have everything else hidden away from sight and not consuming system resources.
To that end, web browser developers should focus their efforts on:
- UI and UX
- Page rendering accuracy
- Tab management
If a feature doesn’t belong to one of the above categories, it should be considered optional and be disabled or hidden by users during the first run.
It shouldn’t be that hard. A web browser is used to view web pages securely and efficiently. Get that right and you’ve got a winning product. Get it wrong and you’ve created a monster that will get in the way of users doing what they need to do effectively.
For those who might be curious as to which web browsers are nailing this aspect, here’s my shortlist:
- Firefox (a web browser that’s been there and done that).
- Chromium (the only version of Chrome I’ll use).
- GNOME Web — 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 any one of the above browsers and you’ll enjoy a stripped-down, efficient, and lightning-fast experience.