It's no secret that Chrome has been the 800-pound gorilla among web browsers for some time. Its global share of the browser market is currently over 60 percent, according to a new story by Bloomberg fretting that Chrome's maker, Google, might be abusing its market power to quash competing browsers.
Such complaints against tech's biggest companies are becoming more common these days across a number of product categories, so we shouldn't exactly be surprised by any kefluffle over Chrome.
That said, I think there may also be a silver lining to the current lop-sided browser market that Bloomberg didn't mention: The smaller players, in their desperation to draw users' attention away from Chrome, have gotten pretty aggressive about pushing new features, some of them quite groundbreaking.
In particular, several have been adding built-in crypto wallets or privacy protections that are quite un-Googley. (Is that a word? You know what I meant.) I've blogged previously about Brave, which is built around Basic Attention Token and aims to re-engineer how creators get compensated for digital content. In the last month or so, I've also been experimenting with Opera, which now offers a built-in wallet for Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies, and Vivaldi, which has added encrypted syncing of user information across devices.
On the crypto front in particular, the approach of Brave and Opera is diametrically the opposite that of Chrome and the "larger" browser players like Safari and Firefox. The little guys are essentially on offense, trying to see what cool blockchain-based stuff they can give to users. By contrast, the bigger players' crypto-related anouncements have primarily been defensive, focusing on measures to block unscrupulous crypto miners from hijacking users' browser bandwidth without telling them.
That has been a very real problem in the crypto space, don't get me wrong. But this tends to be true of any new technology – the real-world usage patterns include both instances of abuse and instances of exciting, user-beneficial innovation.
It's fitting that the likes of Brave, Opera, and Vilvaldi are emphasizing the latter right now as market underdogs. I may do a more detailed review of these browsers later, but for now, I'm just glad they're out there offering users a different choice – and very different visions of what the web should be as a whole.
It's way more likely that the web will someday be fixed by one of these scrappy upstarts than a behemoth company that's benefited mightily from the broken, over-centralized status quo.
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash.