Web Browser

One Startup’s Quest to Take on Chrome and Reinvent the Web Browser

Web Browser tabs are a neglected aspect. People think of them when they’re too numerous and their computers continue to buckle due to the weight of Chrome. The developers who create tabs—the engineers and designers who work in Chrome, Firefox, Brave, and more—haven’t made much of a difference to their functionality. The web has changed dramatically, in earth-shaking ways, in the past two decades However, tabs haven’t changed much since they became an element of browsers in the late 1990s.

Josh Miller, however, has ambitious ideas for tabs in browsers. Miller is the CEO of a brand new company known as The Browser Company, and Miller wants to completely transform the way people view browsers. The way he sees it, browsers are operating systems, and he loves to imagine what “iOS for the web” could be like. What if your browser was able to provide you with a customised news feed based on the websites you visit? What if each web app behaved like a native application, and the browser was just a launcher for the app? What would happen if you could drag an image from one app to the next and it did the job? What would happen if the web browser could be shared, synced, and a multi-user experience? It wouldn’t be anything like the basic, passive windows connecting to the web that browsers currently offer. That’s precisely the purpose.

The Browser Company (which everyone on the team calls Browser) is among several companies that are changing the way they think about every aspect of the stack of browsers. Mighty has created a new version of Chrome which runs on powerful server hardware and streams the browser’s content through the web. Brave is implementing the capability to support decentralised protocols such as IPFS and is also exploring the use of cryptocurrency as a brand new model of business for publishers. Synth is constructing a brand new bookmark system that functions as a more general web-based inbox. Sidekick provides a vertical application launcher that makes tabs easier to manage. “A change is coming,” stated Mozilla Chief Executive Officer Mitchell Baker. “The question is just the time frame and what’s actually required to make it happen.”

They’ve got a variety of thoughts, but they have an opinion that the browser is able to be more than that. “We don’t need a new web browser,” Miller stated. “We need a new successor to the web browser.”

How to out-Chromate Chrome

Miller and co-founder Hursh Agrawal founded The Browser Company together in the year 2019. They had previously worked together before, establishing Branch in 2011 and selling the company in 2014 to Facebook at the end of 2014. In the end, both quit Facebook to pursue other endeavors: Agrawal founded and worked at several companies. Miller was director of product for the Obama White House before joining Thrive Capital as an investor.A screenshot of an email from Josh Miller to Hursh Agrawal

When he was in the White House, Chief Digital Officer (and Miller’s boss) Jason Goldman said something Miller was unable to forget. “Platforms have all the leverage,” is the way Miller recalls the quote. And if you care about the future of the internet, or the way we use our computers, or want to improve any of the things that are broken about technology … you can’t really just build an application. “Platforms, whether it’s iOS or Windows or Android or Mac OS, that’s where all the control is.”

Then, in Thrive, Miller noticed something more. Companies such as Figma, Notion, Airtable, and Superhuman were not either desktop or mobile and were instead building strong, collaborative applications using web technologies. They’re “native apps,” in most cases, were wrapped around their web applications with an icon for the home screen.

Miller realised that the next platform was right before his eyes, and that was the open web. The infrastructure was in place and the applications were excellent, but there were no technology giants who were capable of imposing rules or obtaining massive commissions. The only thing that was missing was an instrument to connect the various components together in a user-friendly manner and create a web more than its components.

There’s no doubt that there’s a reason why the tool isn’t available. Most internet users are using two browsers: one installed on their device and one called Google Chrome. Chrome has a majority share of the market for browsers and is growing, while the other browsers have one-digit shares and many remain in decline. A lot of users are unhappy with Google’s slow performance and huge data collection. However, Chrome has won the market share of browsers. Other browsers use the engine that runs Chrome, Chromium, and replicate its interface as it’s what everybody knows.

In a way, Chrome was designed to be the exact future that the browser envisions. Sundar Pichai published an article on his blog in 2008 announcing the release of Chrome. “What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that’s what we set out to build.”A screenshot of an early version of Google Chrome

However, Google made a crucial choice in its Chrome design process. It created Chrome to be able to get away from the path. “To most people, it isn’t the browser that matters,” Pichai wrote in the year 2008. “It’s only a tool to run the important stuff—the pages, sites, and applications that make up the web.” In the event that Google introduced Chrome OS, it merely integrated the browser into an easy-to-use desktop OS. However, Google created a nearly perfect model of what Netscape had envisioned 20 years ago. However, it didn’t invent any aspect of the technology.

“Tabs are still tabs, bookmarks are still bookmarks, and history is still history,” Agrawal stated. In 20 years, the UI hasn’t really changed, [yet] we spend eight hours a day in front of it, and it’s necessary to get work done. When Miller and Miller began brainstorming ideas for their new venture in the year 2019, they didn’t have a clear idea of what they would do to alter everything. They were nevertheless convinced that since the market for browsers was extremely vast and open to innovative ideas, it was worth even a more indirect way to find the solutions. “Nobody thinks they need a new browser,” stated John Lilly, a former CEO of Mozilla and an investor in The Browser Company. “And so you have to do a different thing.”

After months of prototyping and brainstorming, Browser decided the first approach to beating Chrome was to design an easier browser to use. They named it Arc. Agrawal took a decision in the beginning not to rebuild the entire browser stack and built Arc on Chromium just like the rest of us. Chromium works. The team behind the browser spent their time thinking of ways to tackle issues such as tab overload, that all-too-common feeling of not being able to locate anything in the vast array of tiny icons high up on the display.

It’s an idea Nate Parrott, a designer on the team, has been contemplating for quite a while. “Before I met Josh,” he explained, “I had this fascination with browsers, because it’s the window through which you experience so much of the web, and yet it feels like no one is working on web browsers.” In addition to his work at Snap, he was also developing a web browser that incorporated some innovative interaction ideas. “A big one for me was that I wanted to get rid of the distinction between open and closed tabs,” the developer said. “I wanted to encourage tab-hoarding behavior, where you can open as many tabs as you want and organise them so you’re not constantly overwhelmed seeing them all at the same time.”

Parrott shared his ideas with The Browser Company. One of the most obvious features is that it is a combination of tabs and bookmarks. By clicking on an icon on the sidebar will open the app, similar to the other apps on iOS as well as Android. When users move to another place, it isn’t necessary to close the window; it will remain on the sidelines until needed again. Arc regulates its background performance to ensure it doesn’t consume excessive memory. In lieu of opening Gmail in a tab, users can simply … start Gmail.

Build, build, construct.

There’s more to be done in Arc, but I’m not able to provide much information about the details. The more than 100 people who have signed up are all sworn to secrecy, and Miller is obviously concerned about the possibility of its concepts being copied quickly by larger players. The only thing that’s been made public are tweets by Miller, who has shown the browser has almost none of the Chrome features, which makes web applications in Arc look and feel just like desktop applications. Another tweet shows the capability to change the names of tabs. However, the primary objective is to make the use of the web browser a bit more enjoyable in any way the team can think of.

The features mentioned above are the result of endless prototyping in the company. This is their primary strategy for product development Create an idea, test it, and discover what happens. The process of making that happen was the job of Agrawal for the first few months of the company’s existence. The team he and his colleagues created utilised the existing infrastructure on the internet that ranges from Chromium to encryption and multiplayer technology, in addition to “building the plumbing up into a world where you can iterate and build features in a day, or two hours, rather than months,” Agrawal said. Even so, the team is trying to keep ahead of the developers of the product and ensure that the foundations are strong prior to building on top of them.A Zoom screenshot of the Browser Company team

The process is a long process and costs quite a bit, as well as an enormous amount of confidence in the concept. However, Browser believes that it’s worth it in the end. “Big companies tend to have the resources to be able to invest in things that aren’t features, like developer tools,” said Victoria Kirst, a software engineer at Browser who in an earlier time was an engineer for the Chrome team. But if you do it right—which a lot of big companies don’t—you can be nimble, which is exactly what you want at a startup.

In the future, Agrawal said, browsers will also be able to donate some of their work towards the free web. “Arc can just be one example app on all of this plumbing that we’ve created,” Agrawal said, “that pushes the web forward as we have new surfaces that our developers can actually iterate on.”

The future’s Web Browser

Beyond that, the future is undetermined. Miller has a lot of ideas, but is always keen to define those ideas with the words “too early” or that they’re simply an assumption. The entire team working at The Browser Company swears there’s no master plan or much of a road map. The only things they have are lots of concepts, a basis upon which they can build rapidly, and also a great desire to create prototypes. “You can’t just think really hard and design the best web browser,” Parrott stated. “You have to feel it and put it in front of people and get them to react to it.”

One unexpected hit feature that was created by this process was the Notes application. It’s not even an app in reality, but an empty page that pops up for users when they press Ctrl-N on their browsers. The Browser uses Notion for business, while Miller prefers Apple Notes. So the idea of creating a new note-taking application seemed absurd. The application? “It’s actually terrible,” Miller declared. “And yet people are loving it.” It’s a natural and immediate experience and is right in the browser rather than being off in an app window. It’s a great experience for the users.

Everyone on Browser appears to have wild theories about how the browser of the future will evolve. Kirst has an operating system concept called the iOMess operating system, “literally an operating system for messy lives” that could prevent people from looking at pictures of their ex-partners or sending drunken messages. Parrott is contemplating the possibility of a global inbox compiled from the web as well as what a completely distraction-free web browser could look like. Miller is reportedly looking to develop a native uploading service. Miller’s team seems to consider any idea and even try out any prototype.

The danger of this strategy could be that The Browser Company could become an R&D shop with a lot of intriguing ideas but not be able to develop a browser people actually use. The company has plenty of runway to run on: It has recently raised over $13 million from investors that included Jeff Weiner, Eric Yuan, Patrick Collison, Fidji Simo, and others who have a wealth of experience creating web-based software, which puts the value of The Browser Company at $100 million. But, according to Agrawal, “We’re paranoid that we could end up in this world of just having a Bell Labs kind of situation, where you have a lot of interesting stuff, but it’s not monetizable, it’s not sticky, any of that.” This is the reason they’re so committed to speaking to customers on a regular basis to get feedback on everything and make sure that whatever they’re developing is truly valuable. When they don’t, they make changes quickly.

Although Miller could never describe his ideas in this manner, here’s a rough idea of what appears to be his grand vision for the future of web browsers. Anyone can pick any device with a display and sign in to Arc to see their entire computing history—apps, files, sharing lists, and everything else—presented to users. Everything is accessible online and all data is synced. Do you remember that all you need is a URL? Someone might have a collection of apps or links shared with their colleagues or with their kid’s soccer team, and others that remain private. The browser makes each web application better by making it simple to transfer data between them , or take information from the browser’s history and preferences to other applications.

There are two extremely difficult aspects of making this dream a reality for any company that wants to launch a new browser. One comes on mobile. This is the most popular computing platform, and it is a much more difficult platform to stand out from the default choices. Lilly stated that he offers two pieces of advice: focus on building an excellent browser that is functional; and “oh, it’d be great if you could get it on my phone soon. Because I think until they get mobile, I don’t think they have enough surface area to get real adoption. ” In order to create the type of responsive, personal browser that will make the web more user-friendly, it will require users to put an enormous amount of faith in Arc and Browser. Some people would say that it’s absurd to place such faith in Google. However, the majority of users have accepted the deal. Maintaining trust in users isn’t easy.

For Miller and Agrawal, the most difficult thing could be deciding on what not to create. From a user perspective, there’s an endless number of APIs, tools for developers, and mini-apps that the team can consider that would benefit from being made adaptable to the browser. In the future, there will be nearly the same number of business models that could be used by Arc. Miller mentioned search licensing, freemium subscriptions, commercial editions, and advertising as viable options, but then declared it was too early and nobody could say for sure. Using a well-known browser is extremely profitable, as Firefox’s deal with Google is worth over $400 million a year.)

How this will play out is anybody’s speculation. The battle for market share is heating up as well, and the established players are still enjoying the advantage. In the end, it’s an issue of building an enhanced browser, but an entirely different thing to convince billions or millions of users to download and utilise it. It’s the same with Brave, Firefox, Mighty, and all the others. To get their respective browsers, they must convince people to use the one they already have and then find it to be insufficient. It’s a hard bar to get cleared for any business.

But for Google and the other tech companies, the potential seems to be worth the risk. There are more people who utilise web browsers than Facebook or Google, and the majority of our daily lives are conducted within windows as well as tabs. It’s been more than twenty years since someone fundamentally changed the definition of a browser. It’s been a long time since the open web has come back, and so will Chrome, the web browser. If there is a newcomer who could take over Chrome, it could be able to define what the coming two decades of the internet will look like.

Read Also: Russia’s ‘Nonsensical, Impossible Quest’ to Create Its Own Domestic Internet

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