Saturday, September 20, 2008

Chrome's Not Enough: Need More Browsers

Who needs another browser? I certainly thought I did not - but that was before I started using Google Chrome. I downloaded Chrome almost immediately after I came to know about its launch earlier this month. It was not that I was dissatisfied with my current browsers, but I was curious. I thought, "Google is such an innovative company - so there must be something interesting and useful in Chrome." Frankly, I wasn't disappointed: installation was quick, and Chrome transferred all the bookmarks from my default browser. I also particularly liked the minimalist approach of Google - the toolbar was not overcrowded. The option of having the most visited websites in thumbnails when opening a new tab also seemed very user friendly. Finally, Chrome is supposed to be more secure and stable than other browsers. Overall, I was happy with what Chrome offered.
In the last couple of weeks, with more usage, however, I have noticed a few small problems. News videos from cnn-ibn and New York Times for example, didn't work several times on Chrome; the problem seemed to be with Chrome, because the same videos were working fine on Firefox - my default browser. Couple of days back, I also had problems publishing on my blog while using Chrome; this was strange because my blog is on which belongs to Google (and yes, the problems immediately disappeared when I switched to Firefox). Anyway, this article is not to highlight problems with Chrome. Chrome is currently on a beta-version - so, some kinks are expected, and I am sure they would be straightened soon. In fact, the two problems that I just described, seem to be on their way out - my blog publishing seems to be working fine on Chrome now, and so do the videos at least from CNN-IBN. Nevertheless, I think more browsers is what we need today. Why do I say that? No, it's not that Chrome has increased my appetite, and thus, I want browsers to offer more. In fact, I would like to have more browsers in the market - each offering less. Currently, the browsers try to do everything; if the browsers themselves cannot do everything, they support several add-ons that make them extremely versatile. Most people see versatility to be a virtue; afterall, who wants to open separate browers for different kinds of work? While versatility reduces the need for having to open several browsers at the same time, it can also be a hinderance.
Today, when the whole internet is at the tip of fingers, people get easily distracted. Hence, versatile browsers that can do everything is not necessarily a good thing. Companies that want their employees to be less distracted would like to install browsers that allow the least amount of distraction for their employees. Similarly, there would be parents who would prefer browers that just support text only, and (say) no videos. Several graduate students and researchers would be happy to have browers that have specific features that are unique to their needs; they may not like to have all encompassing browsers that allows a person to do everything. Let me give a more concrete example: In some ways, it would have been better if Google never rectified the problem of watching news videos on Chrome - that way, I would have had to switch browsers in order to watch news; the extra steps of minimizing one browser window, and opening another to watch videos can actually be a boon, if you prefer lesser distractions. Similarly, having shortcuts to all entertainment websites on the toolbar can be a huge distraction, because you get easily distracted from your work, and start wasting time on useless browsing. It is very tempting to have browsers that give all functionality, but convergence of functionalities can itself become a nuissance when it distracts people from what they aspire to do.
It is very difficult to think of "less" in an age where companies constantly compete on providing more to their customers. Cellphone, for example, are not just a phone anymore, and doubles up as a music player, email checker, internet browser, GPS system, camera, stopwatch, flash light, and more. People usually like to have gadgets that have multiple functionalities, but I think there is also a big population who would like to have only those functionalities that they really need. With respect to browsers, I wish we have more browsers in the market that have very limited functionalities; browsers that do not allow add-ons to increase functionalities; browsers that do not allow bookmarks - or allow only upto (say) three bookmarks; browsers that do not support videos. My wish list should be easy to achieve, because it gives a list of what "not to have" - so it is all about gaining market share by deleting functionalities and reducing clutter. For the customer, bare-minimum browsers would mean lesser distraction, and thus the benefit of being able to spend more time on what one would have liked to do.

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