There must be something about the business model for web browsers that escaped my attention. Not only do Mac users have more browser choices than ever (which tells me there must be a money trail in there somewhere), but almost every browser I’ve used this year– an even dozen– are just plain good. Different. But good.
The mainline browsers are fewer in number and come with famous names. Internet Explorer from Microsoft. Google’s Chrome. Mozilla’s Firefox. Apple’s Safari for Mac and iOS. Those four browsers make up well over 90-percent of all the browser usage in the world. Somebody must be making some money somewhere.
The praises of Safari and Chrome have been sung to the high heavens, just as browser aficionados lament Firefox’s declining marketshare while applauding Internet Explorer’s fall from prominence. Here’s the quick and dirty tale of three relatively newer browsers with features that engage the point of diminishing returns very quickly.
First, Safari. Or, rather, Safari Developer Preview which is available for everyone. This is the Safari that Mac users may or may not be using in a few months. Does this look familiar?
Apple gets to show of some of their newer browser technologies and developer tools but to a few million Mac users (who can help track down bugs). SDP works with iCloud, and even runs at the same time as Safari so you can compare versions. I like the HTML5 video playing on AirPlay.
One of the oldest browsers on the Mac or anywhere else is Opera, now at version 127.92.347 or something like that. I’ve lost count of all the version numbers. To say Opera is a mature browser is to say that the requirements to become a presidential candidate in the U.S. are, 1) money, and 2) a heady mixture of bravado and hubris mixed with a Don Rickles Insult Book.
Despite Opera’s history and a hundred million or so users, overall marketshare has not changed much thanks to the big four. Still, Opera wants to carve away new users one at a time with some clever features like free VPN access and now a feature which may give you up to 50-percent more battery life when compared with the resource hog known as Chrome.
See? It’s science. Opera doesn’t use as much juice so you should be able to browse longer without a charge. Isn’t that a good enough reason to switch?
Opera also has a developer version which blocks advertising and claims to be the fastest browser on the planet.
Finally, for Mac folk who want more power, there’s Vivaldi which is billed as a browser for our friends; specifically those who love to customize options that are not easily customized on more popular browsers. Like all the major browsers, Vivaldi is free, which brings me back to the business model.
How do all these browsers get developed, published, and distributed if they’re basically free?
What I’ve heard and read is that the model for browser revenue is rather simple. Google is willing to share advertising revenue with certain browser makers as their users browse the web and click on ads in Google search engine results. How much money is in that model I don’t know, but someone has to be making money somewhere.
The reality is this. There isn’t much difference between browsers anymore; despite a legion of add-ons for the major browsers, and upstarts that layer on features the more popular browsers don’t already have. Opera’s free VPN service sounds good, but may not tip the scale of users to try then continue to use the newer versions.
Truly, we live in the Golden Age of Browsers these days, but one feature I would like, and Opera is moving in the right direction with somewhat limited VPN service, is privacy and anonymity. I do not want Google to know who I am or what I’m viewing at any given moment in time. Fix that and I might switch.