Is it just me or are browsers fun again?
While there are many browsers and vendors out there, there are probably only 4 that matter: Chrome (Google), Firefox (Mozilla), Edge (Microsoft) and Safari (Apple).
Who haven’t I included?
- Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Microsoft is actively transitioning away from it to Edge
- The rest of the pack, as far as I can tell, are nice wrappers around Chromium – and are negligible in their market share anyway
What should we expect in 2016 from the browsers? A lot.
For Google, Chrome is an important piece of the puzzle. It lives in the web and the more control points it has over access to information the better positioned it is.
The ongoing activity of Google in WebRTC is part of the picture, and probably not the biggest one.
Google is the company with the least amount of regard to legacy code that there is. When something requires fixing, Google developers are not afraid to rewrite and refactor large components, and management allows and probably even encourages this behavior – something I haven’t seen anywhere else.
A few examples for recent years:
- Google forked WebKit into Blink, essentially replacing the page rendering inside the browser. The first order of the day after the fork? Spring cleaning – removing code that isn’t necessary for Chrome
- Google switched EVERYTHING from OpenSSL to BoringSSL. OpenSSL seemed to have some vulnerabilities lately, so Googlers took the time to fork it, clean it up – and deploy the new project across Google
- Introducing SPDY and getting HTTP/2 out the door
That said, it seems that Google have been somewhat complacent in the area of speed and size with Chrome. I am sure the Chrome team is aware of it and working hard to fix it, but the results haven’t been encouraging enough. This will change – mostly because of the actions of the other browser vendors.
Mozilla is in transition. From relying on Google as its main benefactor to spreading the risks.
In the past few months though, Mozilla has started trimming down its projects:
- Mozilla plans on splitting Thunderbird, its email client, from Mozilla
- Mozilla stopped developing and selling Firefox OS smartphones – I wonder how will this affect its relationship with Telefonica, TokBox and the Hello project
These changes indicate that Mozilla understood it can’t just try and replicate every cool new Google project and open source it – it will now focus on making Firefox better. This is a much needed focus, with Firefox slipping in market share for quite some time now.
On the browser front, the notable changes Firefox is making are around privacy and the
Edge is new. It is a complete rewrite of what a browser is. It is speedy, clean and with huge potential. It has its own adoption challenges to overcome (mainly people comfortable enough with Chrome and not caring to try out Edge).
- A browser/webapp today is split into two – frontend and backend (we already knew that). More often than not, these days the backend is based on a Node.js framework. Microsoft wants to be a part of that backend, probably to end up licensing Windows 10 on servers
I am sure there’s an engineer at Google already tasked at reviewing the code of Chakra once it gets a public git repository.
Edge is trying to move the envelope. This will challenge Google further with Chrome – always a good thing.
Safari seems second place at Apple. It is working, but not much is said or done about it.
We hear a lot of rumblings about WebRTC in Safari lately. How will this shape into Safari, iOS and Mac is anyone’s guess. The bigger question is will this be the only significant browser change to be introduced by Apple or part of a larger overhaul?
Why is this important?
The web isn’t standing still. It is evolving and changing. Earlier this year, WebAssembly was announced – an effort to speed up the interactive web.
While many believe that apps have won over the web when it comes to development, we need to remember two things:
- There are times when an app won’t do – as Benedict Evans phrases it well in Apps versus to web: “Do people want to put your icon on their home screen?” – and sometimes they just don’t
- Apps are sometimes built using HTML5 – usually because a developer wants a single code base for all platforms or just needs easier access for his service from a browser and mobile apps at the same time
An interesting road ahead of us.