Google World

Consumer software is a moving target and any advice I might offer is obsolete three days later.

On the tail of my advice to switch from Chrome-based browsers to Mozilla-based, I now read some of the less public chatter and see that the larger Mozilla community is just a short way from coming apart. On the one hand, the Mozilla Project offers precious little support to the derivatives. They are taking the Firefox browser in bad directions. Despite all their happy talk about supporting innovation and consumer needs, they have turned to the dark side. They plan on trashing just about everything that has endeared them to users who are tired of secretive manipulations from the greedy. Their upcoming release 57 will break compatibility with all those nifty extensions and add-ons, replacing the API with something that removes so many features that many extension developers have given up. Those extensions, by the way, are the primary means to blocking the worst of websites’ efforts to seize control of browsers. The new API seems carefully designed to cripple user protections.

In short, Mozilla and its Firefox browser is selling souls to Babylon. The derivatives struggle to take things back in the right direction. Seamonkey is just a tiny handful of developers striving to maintain independence in favor of giving the user full power over how things work. And with the recent shift of Firefox code to bad ends, they are scrambling to hang onto what has built up such a very large following. Seamonkey may be a statistical niche product, but that is a pretty big niche in terms of raw numbers.

Pale Moon is harder to explain. That project has forked the rendering engine from Gecko to something called Goanna. But the project is run by folks who sometimes take the same elitist approach as Mozilla — completely deaf to user input — just a different flavor of elitism. And it seems they can’t keep their own distribution channels working; the Ubuntu repo is now blocked from updates (as in “forbidden 403” code from the SUSE-owned server). This is also another small project that isn’t quite sure how they’ll go forward when the Firefox code-base goes completely off the rails in the coming release 57.

Meanwhile, there has been some small mitigation of the terrors coming out of the Google Chrome browser camp. It turns out that the Open Source branch product Chromium is trying to avoid the worst compromises Google has made with advertisers. And while Opera once promised to put all those user-pampering features back into their derivative browser, nothing — zero — of those promised enhancements has yet to appear. And their browser still fails most Captcha input tests; it’s been like that since before the shift to Blink. I don’t fault the developers, but the Chinese owners who bought out the company some years ago. This is a commercial product that uses an Open Source browser engine, and you can’t discern anything about their real intentions.

Vivaldi might turn out okay some day, but it’s trying too hard to be trendy and their flat graphical design sucks. It took months before commonly used Chrome extensions worked at all. Folks, there was a very good and valid reason for the original faux 3D rendering that appeared early in the days of graphical user interface (circa 1990): It offers far better cues to users’ eyes as to where things are and what is going on. It’s not just a fashion issue; it’s something hard-wired into human perception. But at least Vivaldi browser is fighting for user protection from corporate greed.

Slimjet would still be one of the best browsers based on Chrome’s Blink engine were it not for such a consistently buggy product. Because it’s another closed and secretive project, I can’t guess what’s going on with the development, but the past year has shown me they don’t get how Linux works, and they may not give a damn. Every time I went back and tested it, the thing crashed and refused to run, offering no useful feedback. It’s probably just fine on Windows, but I’m not running Windows just to test it.

Meanwhile, I do find that some websites, particularly ones involving banking and insurance (where certain legal requirements demand a specific interaction between site and browser) don’t work too well with Mozilla or derivatives, especially on Linux. Firefox and friends don’t send back to the server the right signals to verify that you saw some legal notice, for example. I still have to use Chromium for that stuff. And is anybody surprised that Mozilla browsers don’t work well on Google sites, which I have to use for my G Suite connection to this blog?

Folks, I don’t like how Google is becoming the de facto Borg displacing the virtual monopoly position Microsoft once held on the Net, but it’s nearly impossible to avoid. The next six months could potentially see the end of the Mozilla line of resistance, with Mozilla surrendering wholly, but lacking the wisdom to actually be competitive, while leaving all the derivatives floundering from lack of support. The other independent projects are even more hopeless, though I still use a few minimalist “crippled” browsers like Links2, Dillo and Lynx.

This is part and parcel of how, starting with Millennials, ordinary consumers don’t even own a desktop or laptop; it’s all cellphones and a smattering of tablets. And in terms of common consumer use, Google’s Android is the Borg. Unless the competitors match Android feature for feature and on price, they will be marginalized in the market as everyone starts making their customer accommodations Android-centric. There’s no escaping this, so it’s probably best to seek the safest path to adapt to the new ruling regime.

I suppose this realization is part of what put me on edge for bad things this week. At the same time, I’m utterly convinced that we ain’t seen nothing yet. I’m thinking it will be a confluence of things.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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2 Responses to Google World

  1. Daniel A. says:

    To be fair, Firefox’s old extension API was powerful but it’s also entirely outdated. Given today’s needs for increased security, the API had to be restricted. It also holds back their ability to improve performance as there are too many API hooks in too many places.

    The new extension API, called WebExtensions, means most extensions written for Google Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, and even Microsoft Edge will work on Firefox. This is much better for extension developers as they don’t need to spend time reinventing their extension for all completely different APIs.

    It’s a shame about loosing the old extensions for Firefox. However, many of them could easily be ported to WebExtension (and thus work on other browsers too), but the extension developers haven’t bothered updating their extensions for years and years. Old programs can’t be expected to run forever without receiving any updates.

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  2. Ed Hurst says:

    I’ve read that Daniel, but the extensions developers also complain that WebExtensions seems carefully crafted to block the best privacy guards in some of those old extensions. In other words: No, the some of those extensions cannot be ported. To me, this is part of the much wider and very real conspiracy to surrender to the political pressure and money of commercial interests seeking control of browsers.

    Edit: I note that NoScript is not available for Blink browsers (using WebExtensions) because it lacks the necessary hooks to be effective in blocking some page elements. The NoScript developer wrote something to that effect, but I can’t find the reference. I believe very much in the “my browser, my computer, my rules” ethic. I realize that means webmasters have an equal right to refuse access to anyone, but they are the ones soliciting traffic in the first place, so their position is weaker.

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