Browser Wars

This article was originally written for the September 2021 edition of Hemispheric News, delivered as part of the Hemispheric Views podcast member bonus program, One Prime Plus

No, this is not an article about the failings of Safari 15. I am sure Apple will get that sorted out, because having no idea about which is the active tab is a problem that will impact millions of users.

This article is about finding and selecting a preferred browser for general daily use. Let me preface this by saying that Safari has a huge advantage mainly because of iOS. Even with the changes to the default browser setting, the convenience of Safari on iOS remains streets ahead and it is a nice, fast browser. I’m yet to find a browser option on iOS that gets close to Safari for satisfaction.

Therefore, I’m focusing on daily use on the Mac. Again, the ecosystem benefits push Safari to the fore. Syncing with iOS is reliable. Authentication is critical. I love the connections it has with the ecosystem biometrics (Touch ID, Apple Watch confirmations, Apple Pay), and the best feature is auto-filling of SMS 2FA tokens.

Let me state that from an ecosystem perspective Safari is the best and only choice.

On a laptop, its energy efficiency is another win. I hate running other browsers because I can almost feel them eating my battery life.

As a browser for using the Internet, though, I feel that Safari is falling behind. I seem to run into the issue of “this website is using significant resources” more often. This morning, I had the problem with my bank website. Online banking - a solved problem for the last decade, now struggles to run in a modern browser?

I realise that problems like this should be put at the feet of the website developers. Yet it’s tiresome swimming upstream. With most of the world using Chromium-based browsers this is the “standard” that developers are coding for.

Another issue I find with Safari is identity management with respect to Microsoft 365 hell. I have three work-mandated M365 identities. Even I forget which site needs which log-in. I can tell you, that none of the browsers handle this well.

Firefox has containers which should do the trick. And they did, until they didn’t. At some point it got stuck in an authentication loop and the only thing I could do was delete all my container settings and start again. The alternative is incognito-mode/private browsing, or using a different browser entirely for each login identity. This is why I still like apps ahead of in-browser access.

Back to browser options, currently installed and in some level of active use, I have Safari, Firefox, Edge and Vivaldi. I don’t have Chrome (eww, Google) and I don’t have Brave (eww, crypto).

The Firefox gecko rendering system feels slow, is energy-inefficient, and not being Chromium has the same incompatibility challenges. It did have Containers, but as mentioned, even that broke. Firefox is the biggest loser.

Vivaldi is Chromium-based, seems fast but is super-weird. Sometimes I like it, but most of the time I feel I am using a browser from 2004.

Edge. A Microsoft product. Even being a Microsoft product it doesn’t have a solution for multiple Microsoft accounts. Yet it is Chromium based. And its UI is almost intelligible. It definitely makes more sense than Chrome. It feels snappy. I like it! Edge wins my award as my secondary browser.

What I want to see is a turbo-boosted Safari. I like Safari. I worry that the development team is focusing in the wrong areas, though. I hope they get it sorted out because not until the past year have I even contemplated secondary browsers - it’s been Safari all day, every day.

Andrew Canion @canion