Google knows everything. Our addresses, our phone numbers, our workplaces, the routes we like to drive, the places we like to shop at, the things we like to buy, the videos we like to watch…
And we’ve opted into all of that. Oftentimes without really knowing.
Creepy huh? This used to scare me. It doesn’t as much these days, but it’s still weird to think about sometimes.
What frustrates me now is the pervasive presence of Google Chrome, the web browser.
Chrome is the world’s most popular browser by a significant margin. It sends a ton of browsing data to Google. Google makes a lot of money using this data in all kinds of ways. They have a large budget to funnel back into the browser. As a result, it’s a good piece of software. It’s the most HTML 5- compliant browser, and due to its aggressive use of your hardware resources, quite fast for demanding web applications.
That last point shows a crack in Chrome’s armor; it’s not perfect, it’s just dominant. Chrome is a power hungry beast. It will use every available resource your computer has to throw at it. This can be fine on desktop systems. But on laptops, where power, battery, and performance are finite resources, Chrome’s approach isn’t always the best. Google has made it more efficient over the last several updates, but it’s still good at sapping a battery dry in the name of speed.
Every six or eight months, I stop using Chrome and download the latest versions of all the other competing browsers, to see how they’ve improved. I whittle them down to the best alternative, use that for a few days…and then slowly make my way back to just using Chrome. I am desperate to break this cycle.
Microsoft Edge is dramatically better than it started out. It has a lot of features I don’t really need though, like the ability to draw goofy things on web pages and send them to your friends. Firefox, the old stalwart, is also solid. Their commitments to the open web, privacy, and fast memory management are quite commendable. But it’s not quite as fast as Chrome, or as standards-compliant.
I’m mostly a Mac user these days, so I’ve been spending a lot of time with Safari. I really like it. It’s quick, well-integrated into the OS, and largely well-optimized. It makes very efficient use of the battery on my MacBook, and only ramps up power use when it really needs to. But it’s not very complaint with the latest web standards. It struggles with certain demanding HTML 5 tasks. I don’t really use a ton of heavy HTML 5 sites, but sometimes you just need to play Wolfenstein 3D in your browser. It also randomly hangs on certain sites I go to for no apparent reason. It’s the closest I’ve come to finding a viable alternative, though it’s not quite there.
If you’re a big Netflix user on your computer and you don’t want to use the Windows 10 app, you’ve got to use Edge (or Safari on a Mac). Netflix has, for some reason, limited video playback to 720p resolution on other browsers, including Chrome. I’m not sure if they’re trying to pressure Google into doing something on the backend, as I don’t think there’s any reason Netflix can’t allow full res playback on non- Microsoft or Apple browsers. Maybe it’s a weird DRM thing?
There are some other browsers out there. Opera is still a thing. But it uses the same rendering engine that Chrome does. Vivaldi is interesting, and packed with lots of features that I wouldn’t use… just like Edge. But it also runs on Chrome’s rendering engine.
Also, even if I managed to escape their browser, I’d still be using tons of Google’s web sites.
I pay for a YouTube Red subscription. YouTube Red is great and makes YouTube worth using again. The ability to fly from video to video without ads, knowing that I’m directly supporting creators I love, is absolutely worth it. But I’m also giving data to Google.
My main email address for business stuff is a gmail address I’ve had since I got into the old beta eons ago. I think gmail is a good platform, but I’m also giving data to Google.
You don’t have to search with Google any more, if you don’t want to. Other search engines are also good. For all the crap they get, Bing and Yahoo are actually both good. If you’re truly data-conscious, you can use DuckDuckGo, which promises not to harvest all of your data.
I hope that one day, other web browsers are truly competitive, feature-for-feature and perfomance-wise, with Chrome. It’s a tall order, given how many resources Google can pour into the browser. The two other big corporate heavyweights, Microsoft and Apple, have made great strides and they both might actually get there. Firefox is also holding strong, especially impressive given their small size/resources.
Having completed my latest round of the “browser roulette,” I’m going to stick with Safari for a while. And hope I don’t just go back to Chrome because some obscure site doesn’t work correctly.
What’s your favorite browser? Tell me in the replies! Or you can tweet me! I always forget to do the thing where I ask for engagement, so now I’m doing it. Thanks for reading.