Tomorrow, 14th November 2017, Firefox releases their new browser version, Quantum. Among other great additions, it has a huge reduction in memory usage compared to its old rival Chrome. A great achievement for sure, but who cares?
The browser race has all but gone. Fizzled out. They all do basically the same thing. No one browser has any huge must-have feature that would entice us to switch. From the feature point of view, the incentives to change is becoming increasingly harder to justify.
That isn’t the reason though why the browser race has lost interest.
User lock-in is the reason.
Our online lives are viewed through our browser. URL’s are steadily becoming the telephone numbers of the modern era – no one bothers remembering them, but instead we are increasingly reliant on our bookmarks to keep the link. I think I would be completely off-the-grid if my contacts was ever lost; my bookmarks are starting to get to that state too. What of the passwords to access the sites behind the bookmarks? Yup most of us rely on the browser to manage and store those for us too.
In addition to our bookmarks, we have our collection of extensions that we’ve added to our browser toolbar. From notification apps (GMail, LinkedIn, Innoreader) to can’t live with out apps (password managers) this rich ecosystem enhances the browsing experience.
Then we have to throw in multiple devices there. I don’t want to have manually sync bookmarks/apps/history across my desktop, tablet, phone and Chromebook. I expect them all to just work together in a beautiful symphony of digital harmony.
And this is why the browser war is now null’n’void – profiles.
Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Safari, and Edge all have their version of the profile. Login from multiple devices to sync up your world. Just sit down at anyone’s browser, login and your world comes with you. This is the dream Internet sold to us.
Chrome does this particularly well, bringing everything with it and then allowing me to remove it as quickly. I can sit down at any Chrome browser or Chromebook, login, have my world come up (and then when I am done, delete it again if I am on a shared or friends device). Firefox does this pretty well as well, but not as good in my opinion as Google.
When new versions of other browsers drop, I don’t care anymore. My life is invested too much in Google to be bothered to migrate on the off-chance I may like the new browser. Most users will be in the same boat, with their loyalty laying with the browser ecosystem they have invested the most in.
It is the same reason we can’t move away from most of the services we invest in. Whether it is music (Amazon, Google, iTunes etc.), photos (Google, Amazon, Flickr etc.) movies or documents it is increasingly harder to migrate our data. Particularly data that has only been licensed to us; you can’t export your iTunes movies to .mp4 and use them how you see fit for example.
The browsers are now in the same place. Google/Apple/Microsoft/Firefox have us by the short and cURLies. We can’t interchange our browser profiles. We’re locked in.
We’ve once again traded ownership for convenience.
We’re each living our own online version of the classic Peter Cook and Dudley Moore movie, Bedazzled. Except we’re not trading our souls to the devil, but our privacy and personal data and the devil here is the corporations that yield more power than Governments.
Maybe it is not all progress eh?