Still Using That Old-Fashioned Browser? Maybe It's Time for Something New

A new breed of web-first browsers is sweeping the web

  • Arc, Vivaldi, and other browsers are like operating systems for the web
  • They reorganize how you organize the web and fold deep web services right into the browser. 
  • You should really, really trust a third-party browser before you trust it with all your data.
A MacBook sitting on a table with a cup of coffee and a book and with Gmail in the Arc browser displayed on the screen.

Stocksnap / Mockup Photos

Imagine if your computer did nothing more than offer a big window that could run apps and nothing else. That's kind of how web browsers work—or worked until Arc came along to change things.

What if a web browser could be more like a computer's operating system? We spend so much time in the browser that it makes sense to have a fuller-featured, richer environment to do it in. Google went in the other direction with its Chromebooks, which are essentially just computers running a browser. But Arc takes the opposite approach, asking, "What if there was an operating system for the web?"

"I realize calling Arc 'the most transformative app I've used in decades' is a bold statement that requires a lot of support. I won't skimp on words in this article telling you why—it's that important and requires new ways of thinking about how you work on the Web," writes Adam Engst, Arc superfan and veteran Mac journalist, on his TidBITs blog

What Is Arc Browser?

Arc, like rival experimental browser Vivaldi, is built on the Chrome engine and is getting rave reviews. The Verge's David Pierce calls it "the Chrome replacement I've been waiting for." Rather than being a radical rethink of the entire browser, it's a radical rethink of browser organization. That might not sound particularly exciting, but it lets you take control of how you browse the web while letting all those websites and services—Google Docs, for example—do what they do best. 

Another key part of browsers like Arc and Vivaldi is that they open up a lot of normally hidden web features. For example, RSS is a technology that lets websites and blogs deliver new articles to you. Instead of visiting tens or hundreds of websites every day, you can see an inbox-like view of all the new stuff.

Usually, you need a special app to do this, but now these browsers bake it in. Vivaldi, for instance, alerts you when a site offers an RSS feed and lets you follow it. You will then get notifications of new articles. 

Even more interesting are things like notes, which let you highlight a section of a webpage, and then either share a link or save it as a note. This lets you annotate the web and save those highlights as notes you can search. 

"For example, when working on a screenplay, my traditional browser setup was slowing me down with multiple tabs, accounts, and tools to juggle. Arc made all the difference by letting me manage my online workspace and quickly access my favorite apps," Arc user, filmmaker, and photographer Neil Chase told Lifewire via email. 

While Vivaldi offers extreme customization, Arc is more Mac-like (and also only available on the Mac) in that it is more elegantly put together, and many of the design decisions have already been made for you. 

These browsers also let you add email accounts, calendars, add contact lists. Which brings us to the privacy concerns. 

Email in Vivaldi browser
Email in Vivaldi browser.

Can You Trust Your Web Browser?

One significant barrier to switching browsers is privacy and security. Pretty much all your most sensitive data goes through your browser, which requires a lot of trust. If you embrace all the offered features, a browser can access your address book, save and store your passwords, read your email, follow your browsing and shopping habits, and more. 

If you use the browser built into your computer—like Safari, Chrome, or Bing—you can pretty much trust it. After all, you already trust Apple, Microsoft, or Google with your entire computing life. But as soon as you choose another option, you must decide how far that trust will go. 

And because these new browsers are designed to be your operating system for the web, they really do need access to all your data. If you won't embrace their fully-integrated services, then why not just stick with Safari or whatever you use already?

Currently, Arc is available by invite only—you must sign up for the waiting list. Vivaldi is already available and is also compatible with more computers, from Mac and Windows to iOS, Android, and Linux. If nothing else, it's worth grabbing them and taking them for a spin. And the more popular they get, the more likely it is that Chrome and Safari will be forced to copy some of their features. 

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