The Browser Monopoly by Blair Reeves (Blair Reeves)

There is really only one Big Tech monopoly that I actively worry about. It’s not Amazon, Facebook or Apple, though they are all extremely dominant in their respective fields and do act in anti-competitive ways that merit regulatory remedy. Rather, the tech monopoly that I wonder about is arguably one of the more mundane parts of the modern internet experience: your web browser, and its most likely source – Google.

Zeldman warned us about this last year.

Wade Roush writing in Xconomy.com

Think about it. Some morning in the not-too-distant future, you could be awakened by the alarm on your Google-designed phone (Motorola’s Moto X) running a Google operating system (Android). You could ride to work in a Google-powered robot car guided by Google-owned GPS maps (Waze). At your office you’ll log onto your Google (Chrome OS) laptop running a Google (Chrome) browser. You’ll spend your day analyzing documents and spreadsheets saved on Google’s cloud service (Drive) and stay in touch with your co-workers and friends using Google’s e-mail system (Gmail) and social network (Google+).

The virtual personal assistant on your phone will stand ready to help you with any question instantaneously (Google Now), and if you miss a call from somebody while it’s doing that, they can leave a message on your Google answering service (Voice). At lunch you’ll choose a place to eat using Google’s restaurant guide (Zagat), make a reservation and get directions by talking to your wearable display (Glass), and pay using your smartphone (Wallet).

When you get home at night, your house’s HVAC system will adjust itself to your presence using its Google-powered thermostat (Nest) and you’ll cook dinner under the watchful eye of your Google-powered smoke alarm (also Nest). You’ll eat in front of your Google-powered television (Chromecast) watching shows hosted or licensed by Google (YouTube, Google Play). Before dozing off you’ll pop a Google-funded pill to optimize your metabolism (Calico) and use your tablet (Android) to read a few pages of the latest mystery novel (Google Play again).

And throughout the day, of course, everything you read, watch, search for, and talk about will be tracked by Google’s algorithms—the better to show you the targeted ads that generate the high click-through rates that bring in the advertising dollars that subsidize everything else about Google’s business.

No Orwellian future unless Google develops an attitude of control by surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the history.

I'm uncomfortable with anyone company having access to and analyzing this much information on my daily life. Good thing I still get to choose how and when I participate. As long as alternative choices remain available, we have nothing to worry about.

Overview

I've been a long time fan of Google Chrome. It's the default browser on my office computer (Windows XP) and until recently the default browser on all my Macs. But that may be about to change.

What do I like about Chrome?

I mostly like the browser extensions but also Chrome sync. I have the Shareaholic extension for the quick sharing web sites to Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Another extension provides a one-click saving of long-read articles to Pocket, and one more shortens web site addresses using the Google URL shortener. There is a bunch more extension1, but all are for improving my browsing experience. It’s to find new extension via the Chrome Web Store.

One of the other features of Google Chrome that I also love is the cloud sync. Using my Google (Gmail) account username and password I can sync all my browsing history, open tabs, extension, themes, saved password2, apps, etc. What does that mean? It means I can use Chrome on my office computer, on my iMac, on my iPad[3], on my wife's MacBook etc. with the same settings and content. I can start my day off on my iMac with several tabs open to the latest news head off to work and continue with where I left off. I can go home and have access to all the sites I was viewing before I left. It's incredible to watch Chrome build itself for the first time on an account where I've not previously set things up.

Google Chrome is also fast. Faster than Firefox. Faster than Internet Explorer. Faster than Safari. At least until OS X 10.8 was released.

What's new in Safari?

Safari had nothing like this until recently. I installed OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) earlier this week and with it came a new version of Safari. Apple added some new features that make sharing more accessible and a limited sort of cloud sync called iCloud Tabs.

iCloud Tabs shows the web pages you have open on all your other devices, so you can see all your pages on your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Mac, and pick up browsing wherever you left off. Safari now saves web pages — not just links — in your Reading List. So you can get caught up on any device, even when you can’t connect to the Internet.

The iCloud Tab feature won't be feature complete until after iOS 6 ships later this fall, but it offers the same functionality as Chrome. I could start a browsing session in Mobile Safari and continue that session later in desktop Safari on my iMac.

Speed. Safari on Mountain Lion launches and renders pages faster than the earlier version and, gasp, faster than Google Chrome. That’s how it feels to me. I haven’t done any testing to prove my case.

But what about sharing?

Apple added a global social sharing feature to the core of OS X 10.8. You’ll find the Share button throughout OS X Mountain Lion including the Finder, Mail and Safari.

It’s the new, easy way to share right from the app you’re using. Share photos, videos, and other files with Mail, Messages, and AirDrop. Send links from Safari. And with a few clicks, post straight to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or Vimeo when the moment strikes.

Facebook support will be added later this fall3 with an OS update. While the sharing options are not as comprehensive as Shareaholic — the lack of sharing to Google+ is a severe limitation for me — the inclusion of the two major one will satisfy most. Given how acrimonious the relationship is between Google and Apple I won't hold my breath on Google+ integration any time soon.

Safari Extensions

Chrome and Safari are based on WebKit so it's no surprise they both support extension. Google Chrome is in the lead here with the Chrome Web Store. There is an extension for just anything. Browsing the Chrome Web Store can be quite addicting. I only need a few extensions to make my browsing experience better.

Here's a list of the extension I have in Safari:

Read It Later - Revision 1 Studios

I do a lot of reading on my iPad. My favorite iOS app is Flipboard. It takes my Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Flickr, Tumblr and Google Reader streams and format and creates a visually stunning and fluid magazine. I think Flipboard is the perfect magazine app. Dump all the other apps you are using and use Flipboard. However, for longer form articles, I prefer to save to the Pocket service. I have the Pocket app for iOS and for OS X I use the Read Later app. Often I'll come across a link on Google+ for an article. If the article is short, I'll read it now, but it's longer than the time I have available having a way to save the link to my Pocket list is helpful. Fortunately, there is a Read It Later extension from Revision 1 Studios for doing just that.

Embedly

This extension makes using Twitter in the browser more fun. With one click Embed.ly displays the content embedded in Twitter links — images, web sites, video, etc. — directly in your Twitter feed. Instead of clicking a link or image to open a new browser window, you can view your Twitter feed item in the same window; highly recommended.

Make It Short

Make It Short a URL shortener extension. You can set it up to use your URL shortener service of choice. The popular ones are all included — bit.ly, j.mp, Google (goo.gl), CloudApp (cl.ly), is.gd, and TinyURL.com.

Flash to HTML 5

As you know, I hate Flash. It slows down my computer and is an easily exploited vector for malware. I've removed it from all my Macs. Good riddance. However, I still want to enjoy watching video on the web, and because of my recent addiction to Google+ I come across a lot of embedded YouTube videos. I'll let the developer explain this extension.

FlashToHTML5 replaces the CPU and memory hogging YouTube Flash Player with a HTML5 player. Not only will it look nicer, but you will also notice that your computer will run cooler and faster. If you use a laptop, you will also notice that the battery life of a fully charged battery will increase.

Nuff said.

1 Password

I have 1Password installed everywhere — Mac, iPad, iPhone. 1Password offereds one click access to all my web password, most of which are randomly generated complex passwords. 1Password can create an encrypted folder on a Dropbox account for easy syncing across all your devices.

Incognito

Don't like Facebook, Twitter, Google and others tracking your web surfing habits? Incognito can help.

Incognito protects your privacy by blocking Google Adsense and Google Analytics on non-Google pages. Also, it allows you to optionally block Facebook and Twitter content on third-party websites as well as embedded YouTube movies outside of the YouTube website.

Subscribe to Feed

One of the most apparent changes in Safari 6.0 is the removal of the RSS subscription button. This button made it easy to subscribe to an RSS or Atom feed for a blog, or any other site that offers such a feed. I use Google Reader as my backend feed aggregator for Flipboard, and on OS X I use the Reeder app. I'm not sure what the heck Apple was thinking, but I need my feeds. I found this excellent extension, Subscribe to Feed, from Daniel Jalkut, the founder of Red Sweater Software, LLC. That bring backs feed subscription functionality to Safari. With one click it launches Reeder and imports the feed.

The End

Taken all together, these extensions provide enough of the experience I have when using Chrome. It's not all there yet. I still need the ability to share to Google+. I've hung out on Google+ a lot more lately and not being able to post a link or respond to notifications quickly is a bummer. For now, I'm keeping Google Chrome installed, but over the next few months, I'll be using Safari as my default browser.

What is your favourite browser on OS X, and why? Are you using Google Chrome, Safari or Firefox or something else? Let loose in the comment section below.


  1. List of browser plugins ?

  2. I do not recommend this. ?

  3. I think Facebook sharing will be integrated into iOS 6 similarly to Twitter. ?