I’ve thought about these questions for over a year and narrowed my feelings of browser diversity down to two major value propositions:
- Browser diversity keeps the Web deliberately slow
- Browser diversity fosters consensus and cooperation over corporate rule
Monday, September 7th, 2020
Tuesday, July 28th, 2020
I’ve been using Duck Duck Go for ages so I didn’t realise quite how much of a walled garden Google search has become.
41% of the first page of Google search results is taken up by Google products.
Note the fear with which publishers talk about Google (anonymously). It’s the same fear that app developers exhibit when talking about Apple (anonymously).
Ain’t centralisation something?
Wednesday, July 15th, 2020
Google could have approached the “be better on mobile” problem, search optimization and revenue sharing any number of ways, obviously, but the one they’ve chosen and built out is the one that guarantees that either you let them middleman all of your traffic or they cut off your oxygen.
There’s also this observation, which is spot-on:
Google has managed to structure this surveillance-and-value-extraction machine entirely out of people who are convinced that they, personally, are doing good for the world. The stuff they’re working on isn’t that bad – we’ve got such beautiful intentions!
Friday, June 26th, 2020
I feel for BaseCamp, I do. But give up on the native app path. Make sure your existing web interface is a good progressive web app and you can end-run around Apple.
Monday, June 15th, 2020
Myself and Stuart had a chat with Brian about browser engine diversity.
Here’s the audio file if you’d like to huffduff it.
Tuesday, May 26th, 2020
You see, diversity of rendering engines isn’t actually in itself the point. What’s really important is diversity of influence: who has the ability to make decisions which shape the web in particular ways, and do they make those decisions for good reasons or not so good?
Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020
Universal access is at the heart of the World Wide Web. It’s also something I value when I’m building anything on the web. Whatever I’m building, I want you to be able to visit using whatever browser or device that you choose.
Applying the principle of progressive enhancement makes this emminently doable. As long as I build in a layered way, everyone gets access to the barebones HTML, even if they can’t experience newer features. Crucially, as long as I’m doing some feature detection, those newer features don’t harm older browsers.
But there’s one area where maintaining backward compatibility might well have an adverse effect on modern browsers: security.
I don’t just mean whether or not you’re serving sites over HTTPS. Even if you’re using TLS—Transport Layer Security—not all security is created equal.
Take a look at Mozilla’s very handy SSL Configuration Generator. You get to choose from three options:
- Modern. Services with clients that support TLS 1.3 and don’t need backward compatibility.
- Intermediate. General-purpose servers with a variety of clients, recommended for almost all systems.
- Old. Compatible with a number of very old clients, and should be used only as a last resort.
Because I value universal access, I should really go for the “old” setting. That ensures my site is accessible all the way back to Android 2.3 and Safari 1. But if I do that, I will be supporting TLS 1.0. That’s not good. My site is potentially vulnerable.
Alright then, I’ll go for “intermediate”—that’s the recommended level anyway. Now I’m no longer providing TLS 1.0 support. But that means some older browsers can no longer access my site.
This is exactly the situation I found myself in with The Session. I had a score of A+ from SSL Labs. I was feeling downright smug. Then I got emails from actual users. One had picked up an old Samsung tablet second hand. Another was using an older version of Safari. Neither could access the site.
Sure enough, if you cut off TLS 1.0, you cut off Safari below version six.
Alright, then. Can’t they just upgrade? Well …no. Apple has tied Safari to OS X. If you can’t upgrade your operating system, you can’t upgrade your browser. So if you’re using OS X Mountain Lion, you’re stuck with an insecure version of Safari.
Fortunately, you can use a different browser. It’s possible to install, say, Firefox 37 which supports TLS 1.2.
On desktop, that is. If you’re using an older iPhone or iPad and you can’t upgrade to a recent version of iOS, you’re screwed.
This isn’t an edge case. This is exactly the kind of usage that iPads excel at: you got the device a few years back just to do some web browsing and not much else. It still seems to work fine, and you have no incentive to buy a brand new iPad. And nor should you have to.
In that situation, you’re stuck using an insecure browser.
As a site owner, I can either make security my top priority, which means you’ll no longer be able to access my site. Or I can provide you access, which makes my site less secure for everyone. (That’s what I’ve done on The Session and now my score is capped at B.)
What I can’t do is tell you to install a different browser, because you literally can’t. Sure, technically you can install something called Firefox from the App Store, or you can install something called Chrome. But neither have anything to do with their desktop counterparts. They’re differently skinned versions of Safari.
Apple refuses to allow browsers with any other rendering engine to be installed. Their reasoning?
Thursday, February 6th, 2020
Like Brad, I switched to Firefox for web browsing and Duck Duck Go for searching quite a while back. I highly recommend it.
Monday, January 27th, 2020
Dan responds to an extremely worrying sentiment from Alex:
The sentiment about “engine diversity” points to a growing mindset among (primarily) Google employees that are involved with the Chromium project that puts an emphasis on getting new features into Chromium as a much higher priority than working with other implementations.
Needless to say, I agree with this:
Proponents of a “move fast and break things” approach to the web tend to defend their approach as defending the web from the dominance of native applications. I absolutely think that situation would be worse right now if it weren’t for the pressure for wide review that multiple implementations has put on the web.
The web’s key differentiator is that it is a part of the commons and that it is multi-stakeholder in nature.
Monday, January 20th, 2020
It’s official. Microsoft’s Edge browser is running on the Blink rendering engine and it’s available now.
Just over a year ago, I wrote about my feelings on this decision:
I’m sure the decision makes sound business sense for Microsoft, but it’s not good for the health of the web.
The importance of browser engine diversity is beautifully illustrated (literally) in Rachel’s The Ecological Impact of Browser Diversity.
But I was chatting to Amber the other day, and I mentioned how I can see the theoretical justification for Microsoft’s decision …even if I don’t quite buy it myself.
Picture, if you will, something I’ll call the bar of unity. It’s a measurement of how much collaboration is happening between browser makers.
In the early days of the web, the bar of unity was very low indeed. The two main browser vendors—Microsoft and Netscape—not only weren’t collaborating, they were actively splintering the languages of the web. One of them would invent a new HTML element, and the other would invent a completely different element to do the same thing (remember
There wasn’t enough collaboration. Our collective anger at this situation led directly to the creation of The Web Standards Project.
Eventually, those companies did start collaborating on standards at the W3C. The bar of unity was raised.
This has been the situation for most of the web’s history. Different browser makers agreed on standards, but went their own separate ways on implementation. That’s where they drew the line.
Now that line is being redrawn. The bar of unity is being raised. Now, a number of separate browser makers—Google, Samsung, Microsoft—not only collaborate on standards but also on implementation, sharing a codebase.
The bar of unity isn’t right at the top. Browsers can still differentiate in their user interfaces. Edge, for example, can—and does—offer very sensible defaults for blocking trackers. That’s much harder for Chrome to do, given that Google are amongst the worst offenders.
So these browsers are still competing, but the competition is no longer happening at the level of the rendering engine.
I can see how this looks like a positive development. In fact, from this point of view, Mozilla are getting in the way of progress by having a separate codebase (yes, this is a genuinely-held opinion by some people).
On the face of it, more unity sounds good. It sounds like more collaboration. More cooperation.
But then I think of situations where complete unity isn’t necessarily a good thing. Take political systems, for example. If you have hundreds of different political parties, that’s not ideal. But if you only have one political party, that’s very bad indeed!
There’s a sweet spot somewhere in between where there’s a base of level of agreement and cooperation, but there’s also plenty of room for disagreement and opposition. Right now, the browser landscape is just about still in that sweet spot. It’s like a two-party system where one party has a crushing majority. Checks and balances exist, but they’re in peril.
Firefox is one of the last remaining representatives offering an alternative. The least we can do is support it.
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
A good overview of the unfair playing field of web browsers, dominated by the monopolistic practices by Google and Apple.
Mozilla is no longer fighting for market share of its browser: it is fighting for the future of the web.
Saturday, August 24th, 2019
Reinventing the web the long way around, in a way that gives Google even more control of it. No thanks.
Friday, August 23rd, 2019
How Robin really feels about Google AMP:
Here’s my hot take on this: fuck the algorithm, fuck the impressions, and fuck the king. I would rather trade those benefits and burn my website to the ground than be under the boot and heel and of some giant, uncaring corporation.
Wednesday, May 29th, 2019
Andrew looks at AMP from a technical, UX, and commercial perspective. It looks pretty bad in all three areas. And the common thread is the coercion being applied to publishers.
But casting the web aside and pushing a new proprietary content format (which is optional, but see coercion) seems like an extraordinarily heavy handed way to address it. It’s like saying I see you have a graze on your knee so let’s chop off and replace your whole leg. Instead, we could use the carrot of a premium search result position (as AMP has done) and make it only possible to be there if your site is fast.
He’s absolutely right about how it sounds when the AMP team proudly talk about how many publishers are adopting their framework, as if the framework were actually standing on its own merits instead of being used to blackmail publishers:
It is utterly bizarre to me, akin to a street robber that has convinced himself that people just randomly like giving him their money and has managed to forget the fact that he’s holding a gun to their head.
Wednesday, May 15th, 2019
I completely agree with every single one of Terence’s recommendations here. The difference is that, in my case, they’re just hot takes, whereas he has actually joined the AMP Advisory Committee, joined their meetings, and listened to the concerns of actual publishers.
- AMP isn’t loved by publishers
- AMP is not accessible
- No user research
- AMP spreads fake news
- Signed Exchanges are not the answer
There’s also a very worrying anti-competitive move by Google Search in only showing AMP results to users of Google Chrome.
I’ve been emailing with Paul from the AMP team and I’ve told him that I honestly think that AMP’s goal should be to make itself redundant …the opposite of the direction it’s going in.
As I said in the meeting - if it were up to me, I’d go “Well, AMP was an interesting experiment. Now it is time to shut it down and take the lessons learned back through a proper standards process.”
I suspect that is unlikely to happen. Google shows no sign of dropping AMP. Mind you, I thought that about Google+ and Inbox, so who knows!
Friday, April 12th, 2019
What happens when you’re AMP pages are slower than your regular pages …but you’re forced to use AMP anyway if you want to appear in the top stories carousel.
AMP isn’t about speed. It’s about control.
The elephant in the room here is pre-rendering: that’s why Google aren’t using page speed alone as a determining factor for what goes in the carousel.
Friday, December 7th, 2018
When one company decides which ideas are worth supporting and which aren’t, which access problems matter and which don’t, it stifles innovation, crushes competition, and opens the door to excluding people from digital experiences.
So how do we fight this? We, who are not powerful? We do it by doubling down on cross-browser testing. By baking it into the requirements on every project, large or small. By making sure our colleagues, bosses, and clients know what we’re doing and why.
Wednesday, December 5th, 2018
When’s the last time you can remember that a framework was given preferential treatment like AMP has been given? You could argue that it’s a format, like RSS, but no one has ever tried to convince developers to build their entire site in RSS.
I’m with Tim on his nervousness about Google’s ever-increasing power in the world of web standards.
Monocultures don’t benefit anyone.
Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
I’m heartened to see that Google’s moving to make the AMP format more open. But this new governance model doesn’t change the underlying, more fundamental issues: specifically, Google’s use of its market dominance to broaden AMP’s adoption, and to influence the direction of a more decentralized and open web.