If you need proof that people are fed up with Google Chrome, check out the new breed of web browsers emerging to replace it.
These aren’t just Chrome copycats. Instead, newcomers like Archery bow, SigmaOSand sidekick rethinking the basics of browsing, using radically different interfaces to organize your tabs and get work done.
Meanwhile, they are also rethinking the web’s ad-driven business models. Unlike other alternative browsers such as Vivaldi and Firefox, these browsers do not rely on search engine deals, sponsored bookmarks, or other forms of advertising to make money, and they all have ad and tracker blocking as their table stakes feature.
Why now? With the shift to remote working, we’re spending more time than ever using web browsers on our PCs and laptops, but traditional browsers are ill-equipped to handle the kinds of powerful web apps and in-depth research tools that modern office work demands. Still, major browsers like Chrome don’t have much motivation to shake up their interfaces or disrupt their own tried and true business models.
That has created an opening for a wave of nascent browsers, trying to attract users who want something different.
“The way most browser companies make money is that they make money from your search and attention,” said Dmitry Pushkarev, the CEO and co-founder of Sidekick. “They have little incentive to invest in features and tools that make you more relaxed, more productive and less chaotic.”
Here’s a rundown of some of the most promising new browsers launched recently:
SigmaOS: Tabs as Tasks
SigmaOS rediscovers your tabs as a sort of to-do list, with a vertical tab layout as the only option. Instead of closing web pages, you can mark them as ‘done’ or snooze them for later.
SigmaOS also eschews multiple browser windows in favor of “Workspaces,” which are groups of tabs that you can switch between via a sidebar menu. (The browser does offer a split-screen view if you want to view two pages at once.) Keyboard shortcuts also play an important role, with the backslash key providing a universal search bar for open tabs, workspaces, your browsing history, and searching the web.
The resulting experience presents a learning curve for new users, but with practice the idea is that you can get into a sort of rhythm that flows through each workspace until there is nothing left on your to-do list.
Mahyad Ghassemi, the founder and CEO of SigmaOS, says the browser is gaining popularity among startup operators, content creators and student researchers, though he doesn’t reveal user numbers.
“These are people who have to multitask the most and do many different tasks at once, but can’t afford to lose focus or time,” Ghassemi says.
Platforms: macOS. An iOS version “whether or not” is on the roadmap.
Business model: An $8 per month “Personal Pro” plan unlocks unlimited workspaces, cross-device syncing, and an ad blocker.
Sidekick: all about apps
sidekick starts with the bones of Google’s Chromium open-source browser and adds a layer of productivity features to it.
For example, a permanent sidebar lets you switch between web apps like Gmail, Notion, Dropbox, and Trello, and you can extend the sidebar further to organize open tabs into groups or “sessions.” Meanwhile, a universal search bar lets you quickly browse all your apps, web pages, and online documents from one place.
But some of Sidekick’s smartest ideas are also the easiest to miss: there’s a button to mute all browser notifications and unread badges, a Ctrl-Tab shortcut to switch between recent tabs, and a menu bar button that opens two pages in split view.
Pushkarev says Sidekick hides some of its complexities at the beginning, so as not to deter new users who are used to Chrome. Despite all the extra features, Sidekick still feels lightweight thanks to built-in ad blocking and a recent revision of the underlying code.
For now, Sidekick mainly relies on word of mouth for growth and has tens of thousands of users, but Pushkarev says 7% of them are paid subscribers. He believes Sidekick can build a strong subscription business by making the browser less stressful for knowledge workers.
“I don’t expect Sidekick to replace Chrome, nor was it its goal,” he says. “What we hope to achieve is to change the 1-2% of users for the better. . . that depend on the browser to get their work done.”
Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux
Business model: A $12 per month “Pro” plan removes app limits in the sidebar and adds additional features such as custom apps and split screen view.
Arc: an ambitious rethink
Of all the attempts to reinvent the web browser, Arc feels the most polished. Almost all of its functionality is crammed into a left sidebar menu, where you’ll find the address bar, navigation buttons, and a vertical tab list. But while it’s nothing like Chrome, it’s full of friendly little touches that make the fresh design approachable.
For example, start playing music on a site like Spotify and a mini player will appear at the bottom of the sidebar. Switch between tabs while playing a video and a picture-in-picture mode will appear automatically. Hover your cursor over your Gmail or Google Calendar tabs and you’ll see a small preview of unread messages or upcoming events. Drag a tab onto the current web page and it will open in a split screen view.
Arc is the product of a startup called The Browser Company, which has raised more than $13 million in venture capital according to protocoland has only recently stopped tying its beta testers to a nondisclosure agreement.
That means I can say that Arc is the neo browser I’ve used the most so far, but it’s also the biggest joker. It doesn’t have a business model yet and it’s been doing a lot of eccentric experiments on top of the core browser, like shareable web scrapbooks called donkeys and a web page editing tool called boosts. It’s hard to shake the feeling that The Browser Company could run or sell once its VC backers start looking for a return on their sizable investments.
Platforms: Mac for now, with Windows to come.
Business model: Still unclear.
Orion: Better for everyone
If all of these alternative browsers seem a bit too extreme, Orion might be the reboot you’re looking for.
Orion isn’t drastically different from Apple’s Safari browser at first glance, while retaining familiar features like the customizable toolbar and handy tab overview button. Still, it uses vertical tabs instead of horizontal ones — a nod to power users who saw the light of tab management — and takes an even stronger stance on privacy, blocks all ads and trackers by default, and doesn’t collect user telemetry.
Creator Vlad Prelovac insisted on using Apple’s Webkit rendering engine for Orion, noting that the macOS optimizations make it faster and much more battery efficient than Chrome and Chromium-based browsers. But he also wanted to support Chrome and Firefox extensions, so in recent years he’s ported the necessary APIs to make that possible.
Prelovac’s mission is not just to build a better all-purpose browser than Chrome or Safari, but to rewrite the web’s underlying contract. Orion is funded by optional subscriptions, which don’t unlock new features, but promise a greater voice over the browser’s future direction.
Prelovac’s company, Kagi, is also developing a private search engine of the same name, using the same pattern model, and users can optionally set it as their default search engine in Orion. The Kagi search engine has “thousands” of donors, Prelovac says, and Orion has attracted more than 100 donors since its launch in public beta a month ago. The pattern model, he says, helps ensure that Kagi’s goals are fully aligned with those of its users.
“It’s part of a new wave of people saying no to the current state of the Internet, which is completely ad-based,” he says.
Platforms: MacOS and iOS
Business model: Optional monthly or annual donations
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