How to choose a browser for everyday use?

- Introduction -
- Firefox based browsers -
- Mozilla Firefox -
- GNU IceCat -
- LibreWolf -
- Waterfox -
- Summary -
- Chrome based browsers -
- Google Chrome -
- Iridium Browser -
- Ungoogled-Chromium -
- Brave Browser -
- Dissenter Browser -
- Opera -
- Vivaldi -
- Summary -
- The Alternative -
- Pale Moon -
- Summary -

Introduction

Let's start with the basics. What is the point of a web browser? Originally, it was to be able to read HTML documents, but since then, the Web has changed massively, and modern browsers need to satisfy more demands. The basic terminal browser - links, w3m, Lynx, elinks - can still be used today to display websites only in text. Actually, elinks supports features that are somehow missing in "modern" web browsers (such as editing cookies, custom stylesheets or keybinding), but in the end, they can all be got back through addons. Maximum of 256 colors, no images, little or no Javascript support, limited CSS support, no loading of non-HTML content such as videos (but can load externally), and no addons make these unsuitable for modern day browsing.

I could mention many other browsers here. Surf is a graphical web browser that has image and Javascript support, but no tabs or an actual user interface. Midori has everything you'd expect from a modern web browser and even includes in-built functionality to replace some of the common addons, but it's not enough. Otter Browser is a promising project with a very nice UI, but has no addon support (so far, though it's planned). Qutebrowser is a keyboard controlled browser that recently added per-domain settings, but they are inferior to uMatrix. Many of its features can be replaced by, again, addons.

One advantage of these niche browsers is that they don't spy on you, but what I've learned from trying probably all of them is that, in the end, addons are essential - especially uMatrix is irreplaceable. So, for a day-to-day browser, you have only two options: Firefox based and Chrome based. Since they all support the same addons (with slight exception in Pale Moon), we will have to use some other criteria to judge these browsers. These consist of usability, privacy, customizability, philosophy, respect for the user, looks, and speed. Let's analyze them one by one:

Firefox based browsers

Mozilla Firefox

There is a long history of anti-user decisions with this one - it's so big I've wrote a massive article about it and other Mozilla's sins. Briefly, they include removing configuration options, having anti-privacy default search engines, lying about being privacy-based, removing addon compatibility, disrespecting contributors, shoving you targeted advertisements, enforcing usage of certain other software, and many, many others (read the article!). Add to that the slow speed and shitty UI and you have a browser you're never going to want to use.

GNU IceCat

Firefox fork from the Free Software Foundation - with a huge focus on freetardism. This means no Flash Player compatibility as well as an annoying LibreJS addon included by default. Older versions had some spyware in there, but 60.2 removed all of it as far as I can see. Some privacy addons are included by default, but you should still use uMatrix - though newbies might like having some privacy built-in. Though it is made by more ethical people, this browser still suffers from many of Firefox' ills - like the shitty UI, slow speed, lack of configuration, deprecated addons etc. All in all, IceCat fixes many Firefox issues but leaves more of them in - and it can't be otherwise since they are fully dependent on Mozilla's decisions in the end.

LibreWolf

LibreWolf is to Firefox what Ungoogled-Chromium is to Chrome. The first version (Librefox) was considered just an "enhanced" Firefox - until it was killed by Mozilla. Some community members revived it as an independent project this time. LibreWolf aims to fix many of the issues vanilla FF has - it will be compilted with no telemetry, Pocket or pulseaudio requirements. All included search engines will be private by default (no big G) and no unsolicited requests will be made. I am very hopeful for this one, but for now it is just starting development - though it is quite lively. I heavily recommend you join LibreWolf to see how an open source project should be run - the community actually has a say and the dev responds to everything quickly. Watch this space for updates!

Waterfox

Another browser pretending to care about your privacy (archive) - We’re obsessed with protecting your privacy. That’s why we’ve made Waterfox Private Browsing more powerful than the others., when in fact Waterfox does nothing whatsoever to protect it and actually spies on you almost as much as Firefox (archive) (it made 109 unsolicited requests upon my run of it). The more powerful private browsing mode is a sham as well - anyone caring about their privacy will not rely on this but install essential privacy addons, so his deceptive claims are designed to lure in newbies only. Though it has XUL addons support unlike vanilla Firefox, it has all the other flaws and does not even bother to remove much of the spyware. Therefore this slimy dev and his "creation" can be safely ignored.

Summary

Firefox is absolutely terrible and its forks have not much to be proud of either, as we can see. Though some of them do remove (some or all of) the spyware problems, they ignore all the others or even add some of their own, like IceCat's removal of Flash or Librefox' dependency on config files. Let's see if the Chrome forks have something better to offer:

Chrome based browsers

Google Chrome

A massive platform dedicated entirely to data collection (archive)...but at least it doesn't pretend to be something else, unlike Firefox. Shitty "modern" UI (like Firefox), lack of customizability (no in-built proxy settings, even?), little in-built features, slow, dependent on the evil Google company...Avoid like the plague.

Iridium Browser

Advertising itself as A BROWSER SECURING YOUR PRIVACY. THAT’S IT., it actually fulfills the claim...except for one small issue (archive). Google SafeBrowsing is turned on by default, which means it will make connections to Google every so often - but you can easily turn that off. Iridium has a very small development team and hasn't been updated in a long time (since November 2018 - more than 3 months as of writing this). This was my browser of choice for a long time (until I found the next one), but it doesn't do much aside from increasing privacy. In fact it is identical to Chrome aside from the above and fully dependent on Google's decisions, so I don't recommend it anymore.

Ungoogled-chromium

A 100% de-googled Chrome fork, it even disables connections to the Chrome Web Store, as well as disallows changing settings which would send data to Google. Active and frequently updated. Used it even longer than Iridium, but it also does nothing except the privacy-related changes. It does not free you from Google's chains in the end.

Brave Browser

This browser has made waves thanks to its built-in privacy protections - such as AdBlock, HTTPS everywhere and script blocking - but in the end, they are outclassed by uMatrix. More than that - after checking them out, I can confidently say the Shields are pretty useless - the vast majority of trackers are left alone; in fact, sometimes it seems that a site can have hundreds of them, and yet none of them will be blocked by the Shields. Script blocking option simply blocks JavaScript fully - it's just NoScript revisited. Brave used to be able to install Chrome extensions only from source, but now does it the same as the other Chrome based browsers. Despite those, it not only spies on you (archive) but is actively working against your privacy by whitelisting Facebook and Twitter trackers. Brave has been soliciting donations in the name of other people without their consent!

Here is a thread discussing the issue. It seems the real point of this browser is their opt-in Brave Payments program, which allows you to pay sites by viewing Brave ads instead of third-party ones. Maybe it's a kind-hearted idea, but in my opinion, the capitalist ad-run Internet has no business existing anymore. Brave runs a deceptive shill campaign trying to justify all the crap they are doing. Somewhat better UI and more customizability (such as a massive amount of search engines included by default) are this browser's main saving graces. Should be avoided unless you really like the Brave Payments program for some reason.

Dissenter Browser

This Brave fork was whipped out in literally a few days in response to the recent wave of censorship from Twitter, Facebook, Mozilla etc. Its claim to fame is being integrated with the Dissenter extension (banned from Firefox's and Chrome's extension stores (archive)) which allows you to comment on any article from any website, bypassing their censorship policies. Quite handy. To use it, however, you need to sign up for their social network, which requires ReCaptcha (devs have dismissed the issue (archive)). Then, to post a comment, you of course have to share the site you're on with Dissenter, which, if used extensively, could build quite a profile of your browsing history. Who's to say they won't run away with all that data then? Their privacy policy (archive), consisting of one fucking sentence says literally nothing about what they collect and share, so you might assume it's everything with whoever. As for the browser, it contains the usual Brave shit like Shields, whitelisted trackers and safebrowsing. In addition to those - whenever you open a new tab, Dissenter will connect to a bunch of news sites and youtube, as well as clearbit to download their icons; fortunately, this can be disabled. Their site is also cloudflared, which means all your history and comments will be shared with the evil tech giant (archive), MITMing from the shadows. All in all, this browser is just a fad riding on the current anti-censorship climate. In fact, I'd say it's very likely a honeypot designed to collect the browsing and comment history from as many people as possible and share them with the great centralizer (Cloudflare), to help eventually create an Internet that is fully controlled by the elites. The idea is nice (and I hope someone worthy repeats it) but the execution could not have been worse. Run the fuck away faster than you would from an angry, rabid dog! Speaking of dogs, the Spyware Watchdog has an in-depth review of some other issues with Dissenter.

Opera

Used to use a custom engine and was highly praised by the users, but after switching to Blink (Chrome engine) it dropped most of its features and left waves of dissatisfied users. A few years later it was bought by a Chinese company which put the final nail in its coffin. Forget about its bullshit marketing talk such as Now with a built-in ad blocker, battery saver and free VPN. Opera heavily spies on you (archive), including on your whole browsing history. Integrated by default with spyware platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp (owned by FB), and Telegram (apparently insecure according to the cryptographers). The VPN is very likely a Chinese honeypot and uMatrix outclasses all adblockers. Though it has some nice features like mouse gestures and automatic currency conversion, there's not much reason to use nuOpera over the other Chrome forks. Avoid.

Vivaldi

Made by old Opera developers dissatisfied with the direction it was heading in. Probably the most feature-full browser out of the box, however it also unashamedly spies on you (archive) (for example, through the Matomo analytics platform). Developers deny its privacy issues and disrespect the users who point them out. The sheer amount of features (mouse gestures, screenshots, web panels, notes...) and massive amounts of customizability (in regards to tabs, bookmarks, keyboard shortcuts that no other browser has...) makes Vivaldi a decent choice though.

Summary

The situation with Chrome forks is better than Firefox ones - there's more of them and they are more commonly updated. We've got more variety in terms of features, included addons, looks, philosophies, etc. But something seems to be missing. The ones with more features introduce their own problems such as custom spyware, false advertising, lack of ethics, even less speed, or crashes. The ones removing all the spyware don't introduce anything new. And they all still rely on the Blink engine (and thus Google). Is that it? Are we really stuck with Vivaldi, Ungoogled-Chromium, Librefox or IceCat?

The Alternative

Fortunately, there is a browser out there that not only avoids the issues of all the others, but goes above and beyond them in terms of features, speed, customizability, UI, and philosophy. Not only that, but it breaks the duopoly of Google and Mozilla. It's the true rebel's browser. Now, let me say I've got this one completely wrong earlier - since I was mostly focusing on the amount of spyware (with zero being ideal and anything more being terrible), and uMatrix (the most important addon) was not yet supported. But I saw the light, and realized we've truly had a gem right under our noses for all this time. Without further ado, I present you...

Pale Moon

A fork of an older Firefox version, has since way diverged and uses its own engine - unlike all the other browsers listed above. UI is native and will take your GTK2 theme. If you've read my bad design article, Pale Moon completely avoids the crammed or empty menus issue which plagues modern software. It has a great, old-school design like Geany or Claws Mail. The in-built customizability goes way beyond any other browser (except perhaps Vivaldi), and you can shoot it even further with the Pale Moon Commander extension which adds the advanced preferences menu. Pale Moon supports XUL addons (deprecated by Mozilla) as well as its own exclusive addons. The Moon Tester Tool even allows installing extensions meant for newer or older browser versions - and you might just discover that they work anyway. See? When Pale Moon says customizability, it means it. Though WebExtensions addons are not supported, the vast majority of them have replacements (while FF will never again support the old ones). Another way to customize Pale Moon is through themes, which you can make yourself or use the many available ones from their website. The browser is much, much faster than almost any other while keeping all the functionality. Don't worry about the FUD being spread by Firefox fanboys that Pale Moon is allegedly insecure - they were unable to provide a shred of proof (archive) when given the chance to. In fact, Firefox is way less secure due to including stuff like DRM, WebRTC and a PDF reader. For a more direct comparison - Pale Moon was not affected by the critical vulnerability (archive) recently discovered in Firefox. So...does the praise ever end? Okay, they did some dumb stuff like blocking the AdNauseam extension (but you can install it anyway if you want to) and they still have some spyware included - (most of which is easily removed by changing the startpage) but trust me, those small issues do not overshadow its superiority. You truly can't come close to finding a better browser out there.

Summary

Pale Moon wins! Fatality! Well...IceCat, Vivaldi, and Ungoogled-Chromium are still decent enough and have some stuff over Pale Moon. But PM is the only one which is independent from big corporations, and has all the massive advantages mentioned above. We can wait for Otter or QuteBrowser to gain the essential functionality, but for now, there is no other browser for me than Pale Moon - and I doubt there will be even when those two get extension support. We've won the browser war and can now rejoice!