January 15th, 2020 was the day Microsoft Edge went Chromium. A drop in browser engine diversity. There is a strong argument to be made that’s not good for an ecosystem. Looked at another way, perhaps not so bad:
Perhaps diversity has just moved scope. Rather than the browser engines themselves representing diversity, maybe forks of the engnies we have left can compete against each other. Maybe starting from a strong foundation is a good place to start innovating.
It’s awesome when browsers compete on features that are great for users but don’t affect web standards. Great password managers, user protection features, clever bookmarking ideas, reader modes, clean integrations with payment APIs, free VPNs, etc.
That’s sort of the road that Opera went down when they went Chromium, then they turned into a payday loan company. (WTF, right?!) The layoffs at Mozilla don’t seem dire, but don’t signal anything particularly good either.
I’d say it’s also significant that Microsoft’s deprecated engines were not open source while Chromium is. While it may be in Google’s hands, open source is still a good thing and opens the door to outside involvement, which had done great things, like bringing us CSS grid.
Jeremy Keith, paraphrasing Amber Wilson:
The bar of unity is being raised. Now, a number of separate browser makers—Google, Samsung, Microsoft—not only collaborate on standards but also on implementation, sharing a codebase.
So these browsers are still competing, but the competition is no longer happening at the level of the rendering engine.
Jeremy isn’t convinced though. We’re down to essentially a two-party political system, but with one side having a crushing majority.
Checks and balances exist, but they’re in peril.
Just as the world is pouring one out for dying browsers, a new totally-from-scratch browser comes out of nowhere: Flow. PPK has an interview with the creator, Piers Wombwell. It’s not open source. You can’t even download it. But it exists! If I was a betting man I would have lost a lot of money on a bet that nobody would ever seriously try to take on building another browser from scratch.
I’m not even sure what I think about all this. Part of me thinks about Walmart. I feel like I’ve spent the last 25 years listening to everyone around me be so mad about Walmart. They open up on the outskirts of an old town and sell their cheap shoes and cheap bikes and the nice little shoestore and long-standing bike store downtown go out of business. The face of business just kind of changed. The face of browsers has changed too, and I don’t have the energy to be mad about it for another 25 years. That’s not to excuse companies that have done and do foul crap, it’s more to say all this is complicated and tiring.