November/December 2019

The Digital Toolkit

The State of the Web Browser, 2019

Tom Mighell

Of all the utilities in a lawyer’s digital toolkit, the one we perhaps take for granted the most is the humble web browser. In some ways a web browser is a lot like a car, the vehicle that gets us onto the roadways of the internet. But, unlike real automobiles, most of us don’t really care what kind of browser we use; as long as it gets the job done and lets us work online, we don’t need anything fancy with bells or whistles. But, in doing so, are you missing out on browsers with more power or functionality? In this edition of The Digital Toolkit, I’ll discuss the current state of the web browser, declare my favorite and tell you about some browsers you probably don’t know about.

Google Chrome.

I won’t wait around to announce my favorite; if you read this column enough, you know my preference for Google products. The Chrome browser is generally considered to be the most powerful browser available, for two reasons. First, if you make use of Google services like Gmail, Google Docs or even Google Maps, working with them in Chrome is a seamless experience—they all work together so well. Second, Chrome is infinitely expandable. There are thousands of add-ins available in the Chrome web store that allow you to do so much more in the browser. For example, I can instantly:

  • Fill in passwords with LastPass.
  • Save an article to Pocket to read later.
  • Save a web page to Evernote or OneNote.
  • Save all of my open tabs to a single web page for browsing later using OneTab.

Clicking a button on my browser toolbar for each of these actions can do all this. The convenience and efficiency are extraordinary.

On the other hand, Chrome is a huge hog of your computer resources. The longer you leave Chrome open, and the more tabs that are open, the slower your computer will become. I find I need to quit Chrome at least once a day to get my computer back to a normal speed. The other drawback to Chrome is that Google is capturing information about your browsing history and keeping it forever. The good news is that you are now better able to control that, and you can browse privately or delete your browsing history entirely.

Firefox.

The Firefox browser is a close second for me, and I would probably use it all the time if I didn’t live in Google’s world. Unlike Chrome, Firefox is very light on system resources. While historically it has not been as fast as Chrome or other browsers, the introduction of Firefox Quantum last year brought its speeds up to par with Chrome.

Firefox also has a comparable library of extensions, making it simple to improve the functionality of your browser. And Firefox has a much better reputation when it comes to privacy; because the browser is developed by a nonprofit (the Mozilla Foundation), there is less incentive to sell your data as Google might have. The browser also includes support for password-free logins and automatic blocking of ad trackers.

Internet Explorer.

I’d wager that most of you use Internet Explorer, the default browser that comes preinstalled on all Windows computers. It’s perfectly serviceable—it’s the trustworthy Chevy you might use to get you around town—but it really doesn’t offer much in terms of features. It’s not resource intensive, and the design is clean, but it’s not as powerful as the other browsers and has poor support for add-ins and extensions. If a Chevy is all you need, then Internet Explorer will work just fine. But I hope you’ll take a spin in some of these more powerful vehicles as well, just to see what’s out there.

Safari.

If you are a Mac user, this may be the only browser you ever use. Like Internet Explorer, Safari is a good Chevy for the Mac user. It’s sufficiently powerful, and it has some pretty good privacy features. For example, its enhanced “anti-fingerprinting” protections make it harder for advertisers to track your browsing activity. Apple will also introduce Sign In with Apple (which may be out by the time this column publishes), which will assign you a random email address you can use in Safari to autoforward emails from third parties to your real email address.

However, at this time Safari only supports 30 extensions, so it’s not very powerful when compared against Chrome and Firefox. In fact, most industry tests of major web browsers do not even include Safari.

Microsoft Edge.

If you have a Windows computer, you likely have Microsoft trying to steer you to a new browser option, called Edge. This is Microsoft’s next-generation browser, designed primarily for the mobile user. It’s a sleek, slimmed-down version of Internet Explorer, and I like it a lot better than its predecessor. But, as currently developed, it’s not much of a browser; it’s not very powerful, and its support for extensions is limited. But Microsoft is currently overhauling Edge and, by the end of 2019, we may see a very different browser.

Opera.

The Opera browser may be new to a lot of you, but it has been around for a long time. Its best feature is Opera Turbo, which compresses web traffic and makes for a better browsing experience if your internet connection is poor. Opera also has an integrated ad blocker and a battery-saving mode that uses fewer resources than other browsers. Opera has limited extensions, which makes it, at best, a good companion browser to the others.

Vivaldi.

No two Vivaldi users have the same experience. When you set up Vivaldi, you’re guided through a process that lets you lay out your browser in a way that makes sense for you, choosing where tabs and toolbars are located. Extension and plug-in support are lacking, which ultimately makes Vivaldi a less powerful browser option.

Brave.

A new, open-source browser, Brave is privacy oriented; it blocks all ads and tracking technologies. Unlike the other browsers, Brave servers cannot see your browsing data, which means they cannot sell it. The developers recently introduced a new opt-in ad service, which actually pays you if you choose to watch a small number of ads at regular intervals. The downside to using Brave is the complete lack of plug-ins—because they can also be privacy and security risks, they are disabled by default.

What browser do you currently use? Does anything you read here tempt you to try out another browser? If not, why do you like what you’re using now? Let’s continue the conversation online. Send me a tweet @TomMighell or an email at tmighell+dt@gmail.com. I’ll compile all your comments and post them on the Law Technology Today blog (lawtechnologytoday.org).

Tom Mighell

Tom Mighell is vice president of Delivery Services at Contoural, Inc. and has served as chair of both the ABA Law Practice Division and ABA TECHSHOW. tmighell@gmail.com