I recently decided that it was time to take a break from Google Chrome — a browser I’ve spent 15 years using as my gateway to the information superhighway. Aside from becoming increasingly frustrated by its memory-hogging habits, I was curious about whether the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.
I’m happy to report my efforts weren’t in vain. There are decidedly greener pastures out there — especially if you have specific desires in mind. In my last article, I harped on about some interesting features in other browsers. But all that glitters isn’t gold, and I did find that, while looking greener, some of that grass was (at times) littered with the sloppy droppings of the neighbor's cat.
In defense of Google Chrome
Google Chrome was my browser of choice for over a decade for a reason. In my last article, I was quick to point out the ways in which I felt it was failing me. But, as I decided to move on from Chrome (and after checking out a lot of the alternatives), I am reminded of what makes this browser so special.
There are plenty of reasons that Chrome is the most widely used browser on the internet, be it an expansive extension library, its developer-friendly tools, cross-platform availability, or snappy page loading.
Chrome is impressively intuitive and well laid out — something that not every browser can wear as a badge of pride. It’s a get-up-and-go type of browser that keeps things fairly minimalistic on the UI front and covers a lot of what users need and want fairly well. It’s a great all-around solution to browsing the web. If you’re happy with Chrome, I’m happy for you.
Filing the Google Chrome void
Having used Chrome for so long, I’d stopped even looking at what other browsers had to offer. The last week and change have been an eye-opener of sorts. Sometimes a browser would leave me feeling as if I’d just escaped from a nightmare where Google’s Big Brother-like watchful eye peers into my very soul, and awoken into a world of total freedom, released from my ad-based oppression.
Other times it was like being strapped to a chair with speculums prying open my eyelids as I was forced to endure tortuous page-loading speeds, sluggish performance, poor design decisions, and having to watch my every last bit and byte of data handed over without consideration.
Among the browsers I’ve been checking out, here are some of the better ones I encountered, as well as the best use cases for each:
The majority of the time, it was business as usual, albeit under a different banner than what I’d previously worked under. In large part (but not entirely), that’s thanks to Google’s Chromium, the foundation of many modern browsers — including its namesake Chrome. To many, these browsers are little more than re-skins of Chrome, and I say to that many: please stop emailing me to tell me you think so — it’s boring.
Awash in a sea of Chrome clones?
Chromium-based browsers aren’t so much re-skins of Chrome as they are the multiversal equivalents of it. Oh look, here’s Brave browser — hailing from a universe where Google gives a hoot about your data autonomy.
Over there, that’s Opera GX. That’s the Chrome that could have been if Google cared about helping users who don’t want most of their RAM funneled into a dormant Reddit tab. And, look to your right, there’s the hilariously named Coc Coc, the variant of Chrome that would’ve happened if the Googleplex took flight and settled in Vietnam.
Chromium is a fantastic open-source platform, one that allows developers to quickly build upon and innovate. Of course, it’s still Google’s project and, while it allows these browsers to take advantage of the tool’s impressive features, it does afford Google a lot of power over the direction of the internet — especially when it comes to web and browser standards.
For that reason, many suggest steering clear of Chromium browsers altogether. If you really want to get under the thumb of Google, this is by far and large the best way to do so. Among the browsers I’ve been testing, here are some of the best non-Chromium options available:
Personally, unless there’s a sharp and sudden shift in the winds, I don’t see Google’s internet influence dipping by any considerable measure in the near future — but I do see it growing in size.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that there are viable Chromium alternatives available. However, it seems increasingly likely that we’re heading toward a homogenized landscape, one where Google holds all of the cards.
In other words, don’t feel pressured to abandon Chromium entirely when looking for a new home for your homepage. There’s a valiant notion behind it all, but at the end of the day, you should pick what works best for you.
Avoiding Chromium browsers simply “because Google” is akin to refusing to drink water anymore because you heard it's the primary ingredient in tsunamis. Sometimes a good tool is a good tool, no matter how poorly you feel about its creator.
For all I care, the guy who invented the monkey wrench could be a total rotter. That doesn’t mean I’m going to start attacking my plumbing with a screwdriver in retaliation.
After I gave up Chrome, here’s where I ended up
My choices aren’t exactly based on strict, laboratory-tested benchmarks. It all came down to features, general performance, customization, and privacy/security. Something each of these three browsers has to offer in varying measures.
Firefox, while the only one of my dwindled shortlist not based on the Chromium skeleton, is the ideal Chrome replacement in many ways, it can practically slip right into the boots of Google’s browser and get you on your way in an instant.
In terms of sheer performance, I’ve found Microsoft’s Edge to be less RAM-hungry than Chrome tends to be. Which, given they’re both based on Chromium, and Edge’s expanded feature set is quite impressive. However, Edge is barely better (if not worse) when it comes to how it treats your data, with every search and surf being siphoned away into Microsoft’s data banks for processing.
Firefox, Vivaldi, and Opera all offered comfortable levels of performance and impressive privacy functions to boot. Was their performance leaps and bounds ahead of Chrome’s offerings? Not particularly. But I didn’t notice things clogging up as much as I might’ve previously. However, there could be some placebo effect going on there. But the same can’t be said for Opera GX, whose built-in resource management allowed me to fine-tune exactly what was allocated.
While browsers like Brave, TOR, and Epic all offer considerable levels of privacy and security. Their overall experience just wasn’t catching on with me. Plus, I don’t need any of my devices to feel like a vault. I’m happy with the basics.
Cut out the cookies, block a few ads here and there, nothing fancy. It’s a bonus that Opera offers a completely free VPN, but seeing as I already own a subscription to one of our best VPNs — this isn’t a deal breaker for Firefox and Vivaldi in not offering the same.
In terms of customization, all three browsers have their strengths, but this is where Vivaldi flexes like few browsers can. The Chromium-based web explorer has a plethora of customization options that will make anyone who loves the sight of sliders, check boxes, and color wheels jump for joy. Better still, it's simple and fairly intuitive — with some incredibly tailored results possible in minutes.
Firefox is similarly equipped to deliver excellent customization, but not with the same depth as Vivaldi. Sadly, Opera’s options are more narrow but not at all missing. However, the browser's contextual tabbing and organization go some way to making up for it.
Picking between those three options is no easy task. But as I said before, Firefox is the browser that seems to just slip right into place the easiest. I might hop between all three browsers mentioned in my shortlist for a while and see how my mind changes over time. But for now, I’m content with giving Mozilla’s cutesy Canidae its moment in the spotlight.
Is it the perfect browser? I’m not sure such a thing exists. But it’s good enough that I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much by making the switch. If anything, I might be gaining from doing so — with more control over my data, better customization, new add-ons to explore, and hopefully better performance in the long run.
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Rael Hornby, potentially influenced by far too many LucasArts titles at an early age, once thought he’d grow up to be a mighty pirate. However, after several interventions with close friends and family members, you’re now much more likely to see his name attached to the bylines of tech articles. While not maintaining a double life as an aspiring writer by day and indie game dev by night, you’ll find him sat in a corner somewhere muttering to himself about microtransactions or hunting down promising indie games on Twitter.