The composer, the musical, and the fox

The Vivaldi browser is an interesting project. It hearkens back to the early days of Opera Browser, when they still used the Presto rendering engine. Opera used to pack in a lot of features, like RSS reader, email, chat, and the first browser to use tabs instead of having to open a new window for each page opened.

My college roommate turned me on to Opera. Back then, you had a limited amount of uses before you had to pay to unlock the full version of the software.

One day, I was going to buy it for my own use. I loved the program. It was fast and I liked the idea of having one program that did so many things well. Right about that time, Opera went fully free to use, and I was ecstatic.

It wasn’t all puppies and rainbows though. I remember how not every page was optimized for Opera. I had to keep other browsers around, in case pages didn’t render properly (I remember something called Mozilla… I wonder whatever happened to them…).

I remember how tabs and the address bar were at the bottom of the screen and how it felt cool and a little elite to have such a different interface than most people used.

But, like all good things, this came to an end. Opera evolved, got a new rendering engine, dropped features, add some new ones, and changed hands. I still use it, I still like it, though I keep my eyes open for signs of data misuse. Manjaro, my current Linux distribution of choice, still has it in it’s software repo, so I trust it isn’t too insecure. I boost it with privacy extensions and avoid their VPN/proxy servers.

Their mobile browser is hard to beat though, for speed, ad blocking, and ability to connect to Facebook’s messenger site (he said in the same breath, after talking about privacy extensions, aware of the irony…).

Vivaldi tries to bring back some of the same magic that Opera once had. It adds a lot of features to the browser that are usually only duplicated with extensions. Many browsers have a reader mode (get with the program Opera!), but this also has tab stacking (combining several tabs into one group), the ability to dive deep into your browsing history, side panels for opening web pages, tab tiling for viewing multiple pages at once, etc…

Vivaldi has a strong social media and blog presence, providing a lot of information and insight about how the program is developed, showcasing interesting new features (want to change the color of your browser tabs or lights in your room or on your keyboard or mouse?..), and providing frequent snapshots of new versions. This is all cool and keeps the community energized.

Is it, then, the perfect browser for me? Well… not quiet.

If have mixed feelings about the Chromium engine that Vivaldi is built on. I remember the old days of the web, when Internet Explorer (IE) was king, and web standards didn’t feel like the standard. I remember when sites were built around IE and not the other way around. I’ve read about the security of IE and how it didn’t always keep up with holes and flaws (though there were less people trying and the stakes weren’t quite as high with personal data as they are today, I believe).

I’m concerned with one engine having too much sway over how the internet is viewed and accessed. I’m concerned with the sheer clout that Google has over the web and that they are more interested in our data instead of our privacy. I’m worried that Google has so much control over Chromium that they can dictate how the web will work. A few months ago, they said they’d change APIs and that would alter how ad blockers work. Is this a swipe at ad blockers themselves, which can reduce how much data is absorbed, or is there valid security concerns with how things run now? I’m not well-versed enough in computer and internet security and software to know for sure, but it is curious.

I also notice that Chromium-based browsers don’t render fonts nearly as well as Firefox does. Text looks fuzzier in Vivaldi. It’s harder to read, so I find myself using Firefox more. Firefox also has the ability to keep sites like Facebook in a container, so it can’t interact with other sites and suck up even more information about my browsing habits and interests. This is a nice feature, one that is important to me, that other browsers don’t currently have.

This brings me to mobile browsing. As I said earlier, Opera does the basics well. It runs fast on my Android phone (I wish there were more mobile operating system alternatives available…), blocks ads, and lets me utilize features on Facebook’s site that other browsers can’t or won’t. Firefox Focus works well if I don’t care about saving my results, but it’s really bare bones. Firefox Mobile lets me add extensions to protect my privacy, but it’s slow and not as responsive as other browsers. Vivaldi…

We’ve been waiting a while for Vivaldi’s mobile offering. I’d have loved to see some screen shots posted to see how the project is progressing. I understand wanting to do the project right before releasing it to the public, especially a piece of software as important security-wise as a browser, but it’s been in development and been promised for years now. It’ll be nice when it’s finally released. I’m a little disappointed to hear that it won’t be able to block advertising. I don’t have a lot of mobile data when I’m away from my home’s Wi-Fi and I know there are ads out there that are less scrupulous about skimming data. I hope there are some decent privacy options embedded in Vivaldi Mobile. I also hope I’ll be able to access FB messenger via the website, otherwise I might be sticking with Opera.

The other thing I’ve been waiting on is Vivaldi’s email client. I miss having Opera with a built-in client, like the old days. It was convenient to have one program running, and I liked how I could check all of my inboxes with one window. I hope it has RSS capabilities as well, as I find those handy for reading web comics and blogs. I also wish we could have seen some screenshots during development, to get an idea of how it has evolved.

It’s hard not to be a little disappointed with how long it has taken Vivaldi to develop and release these features. I know we’re essentially getting these for free and really have no right to complain. It’s more like that feeling you got, as a kid, of waiting for Christmas to come. There will be presents in the future, but it’s just so far off… At least with Christmas, you knew the date it would get here.

Do I believe that Vivaldi is interested in protecting user security and privacy? Absolutely. Is it 100% perfect? No browser is. Will I still also use Firefox and Opera? Yup. I like Opera because it’s fast and seems to be interested in privacy and security (though I’m keeping one eye open for news otherwise). Mozilla’s focus seems to be on privacy, despite some boneheaded mistakes (just look up their Mr. Robot kerfuffle and the recent security certificate issue, part two).

I would like it if Vivaldi could improve their font rendering to be crisper, less smudgy. I would like it if pages remembered where they were when I closed the browser (this seems to be a somewhat unique problem for me). I wish it wasn’t based on Chromium. But I still really like it and will continue to use it. But I’ll keep using other browsers two. I just have to accept that about myself.

TLDR (I’m half tempted to put this at the top from now on…)

I really like Vivaldi. I love the old school Opera feel. BUT, I’m getting antsy waiting for the rest of the toys (mobile browsing and email client) to finally get here. I’m still going to spend a lot of time with Firefox (for that font crispness I don’t get from Chromium and for the privacy settings).

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