Rise of the nerd browser

Mark Lyndersay -
Mark Lyndersay -



IN A BOLD move, Josh Miller created a company and introduced Arc, a new web browser, into a market that might be charitably described as congested.

In December 2022, Statcounter noted that the market share of the top five browsers was led by Chrome at 64.8 per cent, Safari at 18.29 per cent, Microsoft Edge with 4.23 per cent, Samsung's Internet browser at 3.05 per cent and Firefox holding 3.01 per cent.

Chrome, introduced in 2008 by Google, became the dominant browser in 2013 with a compelling mix of speed, elegant design and code footprint and web integration.

It's hard to make those claims for the software today. Chrome is a hot mess of vulnerabilities, ad tracking and spawns memory hogging "helper apps" with each new page you open.

Its closest competitors depend on device incumbency to defend their turf.

Safari is the default browser on Apple's mobile devices and the company insists that rival browsers use the browser's WebKit as the underlying rendering engine on its mobile hardware.

Microsoft Edge and Samsung Internet ship on new devices from those companies and are usually the first port of call for users.

Vivaldi and SigmaOS are other new browser alternatives that add interesting features and nuances to the browsing experience.

Arc rather boldly strikes out into new ground. Actually, it takes a wild voop to the boundary. It's definitely not like any browser you've used before.

Arc puts every control in a sidebar, which is surprising at first, but quickly makes sense on the horizontal screen of a traditional computer monitor.

At first, this seems odd, but when the browser is open on a widescreen monitor and split-view is activated, it's possible to view multiple webpages, up to four of them, side by side simultaneously.

This might be a narrow use case, but researchers viewing multiple sources of information will find it enormously appealing. I'm sold on it for just that innovation.

SigmaOS also has a side bar and split-view but both are more confusingly implemented. The sidebar on SigmaOS only rewards users that work extensively with the web apps you can park there and the split-screen option is more of a sidebar than a usable space

Vivaldi piles its features in its sidebar, but they will appeal to a broader subset of users, offering a user space to take notes, access to a calendar and webmail, translation tools and access to Vivaldi's Mastodon instance.

Arc definitely isn't the only recent web browser that makes more aggressive use of a sidebar, but it's the first to move every web feature and control there.

While Vivaldi allows a user to move the tab bar to four different locations, Arc dispenses with the concept of tabs entirely and moves the entire top bar of the browser to the sidebar.

At the very top you'll find the URL entry bar and then you're left to consider the software's complete rethinking of tabbed webpages and bookmarks.

At the top are "pinned pages," which are actually active but hidden webpages, then separated by a line are current pages, which close and archive if unused after a time designated by the user. The default is 12 hours, and the result is equivalent to a traditional bookmark.

I imported a staggering number of bookmarked pages into a fresh install of Arc then quickly realised that it's possible to spend a ridiculous amount of time scrolling up and down the sidebar if you don't take the time to organise collections of URLs into relevant folders.

The status of these pages can be quite confusing at first. Several times I thought I closed the pages only to realise that they were still there in the sidebar.

SigmaOS, Vivaldi and Arc each offer compelling reasons to at least audition a different way of doing things on the internet, but they demand time to set up and use.

Arc is in limited beta release with a waiting list (I have five invites available). Both SigmaOS and Arc are currently only available for the Macintosh, though both are expected to have Windows versions available soon.

Be warned, all three of these browsers demand more attention than more popular browsers. They are quirky, require some setup to be truly useful and may not suit casual users.

Rather than win a massive group of converts, expect the best features of these browsers to leak into the mainstream.

For now, these are nerd browsers, expressly designed for power users who spend lots of time working with webpages and will find these new features genuinely useful.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there


"Rise of the nerd browser"

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