Stylized line drawing of mark playing the flute

We're Breaking the Web (again)

I was accessing a medical website the other day (using Firefox, my go-to browser since 2013) and I was greeted with this lovely popup.

It seems like you are trying to use Firefox Browser. Do you want to download Google Chrome?

I was immediately reminded of the bad old days when every other website (especially commercial ones) had this on them somewhere:

Best viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer

We're at a point where Google Chrome is currently the default browser for just about everyone. With Chrome having 65% of the browser market, nobody else is even close. The next highest is Safari (primarily from iPhone use) at 19%. Microsoft Edge is 5%, Firefox is 3%.

Let's be perfectly clear, this is not a good thing. The Free Software Foundation (who, yes, has their issues as an organization) has a great breakdown of why Chrome is so terrible from a privacy perspective. There are loads of other articles saying the same things and more.

Multiple times a week, I try to access a website using Firefox and it doesn't work at all. Sometimes I can get it to work by disabling some of Firefox's privacy protections but I often have to pull out Google Chrome just to do what I need.

It's absolutely maddening because we've been here before with Internet Explorer.

Let's start at the beginning.

After numerous free trials of the walled-gardens of AOL and CompuServe, I got access to the open Internet in roughly 1992.

Our provider was Delphi and while it also had a walled-garden aspect to it, it also had general-use FTP, telnet, Usenet, and Gopher.

The web was still in its infancy. There were a handful of places (Delphi) included offering limited text-based web access but I don't think I ever used it, sticking mainly to Gopher. Gopher was awesome and I spent hours going through different Gopher sites all over the world.

It's important to note that, at this point, everything was still text. Gopher didn't have images or any kind of styling. I wouldn't get to experience any kind of formatted HTML until I took a Human Computer Interaction psychology class in college.

At some point around in 1994, I got to start using NCSA Mosaic on various college computers. The next year brought access to Netscape Navigator which felt absolutely space-age in comparison to Mosaic.

From 1998 (IE4) until 2011 (IE9), Internet Explorer was the defacto browser for most people. Some sites didn't work in anything else. Other sites had popups encouraging you to use Internet Explorer. There were even sites that flat-out wouldn't let you access them with anything other than Internet Explorer.

Internet Explorer was terrible. It didn't work well, it was a security nightmare, trying to build websites for it was maddening because they didn't implement any of the standards properly. Talk to any web developer who had to support IE6 - IE8 and they will curl up into a little ball and start weeping.

I think I stuck with Netscape for personal use until the launch of Firefox in 2004. But I started working as a software developer in 1998 and using Internet Explorer was pretty much a requirement in the business world, both using it and developing for it.

I did spend a couple of years using Google Chrome and I loved it at first. It was fast, tidy, rendered websites well, and wasn't quite the spyware monster that it is now.

I don't remember the exact year but, at some point, Chrome started trying to force you to sign into it with a Google account. As someone with multiple Google accounts (personal, work, etc), this quickly became a nightmare and I decided to give Firefox another try.

I was delighted to find how much faster it had gotten, how good the privacy controls were, how nice it was to use for development, and so on. I've been using Firefox ever since and it gets better with each iteration. There are versions for Android and iOS which are both great.

But I fear that we're rapidly approaching a world where it won't be possible to use Firefox (or any of the other smaller browsers like Opera or Brave.

We made so much progress after the decline of Internet Explorer. But now we've picked a new browser to break the web again.