Why I Figure You Should Write Your Own Web Browser


It’s getting about time we should all write our own web browsers again. We’ve been through this before. There was a time in the 90s when anybody could write their own web browser, and they did. I know this sounds intimidating, but back then it was easy. All a web browser had to do was show HTML, which is just text with lots of ampersands. This is easy to produce.

A couple years later web browsers got Java. This required us to put a little grey box in the middle of the screen which read “Loading applet”, and then nothing would happen. About this time we added in Javascript. This required web browsers to include a little status bar at the bottom which reported “Javacript has encountered an error and crashed”. These were good times. The only thing a web browser really had to do was give us a way to turn off blinking text. Once blinking text was turned off everyone was happy, except for the inventor of blinking text, Haply “Hal” Blinken.

Anyway it was fun when everybody was writing a web browser, because we all had ideas about background images. I started out writing “very funny ideas”, and then decided “funny” wasn’t adding anything to the sentence. But then I left it as “we all had very ideas about background images”. This is true, but I couldn’t leave it like that or you’d think I made a mistake. But ask people. It was so. Anyway, we went from everybody having their own weird little web browser to everybody using Netscape or Internet Explorer and that was it. This winnowing-down process took about twelve days. Then we cut it down to just Internet Explorer. That took another eight years.

Like a decade ago this got changing again, and everybody started making new web browsers. This was fun because of the new innovation where web sites stopped showing you a menu bar. You could turn it back on, if you could find where the thing that used to be the menu bar went. But suddenly all kinds of companies were excited to stop showing things and maybe get themselves a brand. So if you wanted a web browser that wouldn’t tell you what web site you were looking at, but would have Garfield’s face watching you.

By then web browsers had to do more complicated stuff, like give you the option to turn off pop-up windows. The browser then warned you this might stop windows from popping up. Users agreed to accept this risk. This allowed every web site to ask you for permission to be the exception, which you denied, right before they opened a window anyway. Also around this time we got tabs. This solved the problem where we used to have 62 web browser windows open waiting to be read. Now we could have two web browser windows open, each with 86 tabs, some of them playing the Median Hits of 2007.

With all this potential we got like 800 new web browsers, which over the course of two weeks settled down to Firefox, Chrome, and Microsoft’s Thing You Use To Download Firefox Or Chrome. That’s been stable for about a decade now so I figure it’s time for a new explosion of web browser options. Last time the diversity of web browsers was fed by the need to remove menu bars and give people the option to turn off pop-up windows. Now we have many new things people can choose they don’t want to do.

For example, web sites now ask permission to send you notifications. You know, in case this oral history about the making of Barry Levinson’s Toys has a hot bit of news. (It would be embarrassing to be in the last 35 million of people on the planet to know the latest about the “Happy Workers” song.) So we could have an option to turn that off. There’s also those videos that start playing automatically, and don’t stop until you’ve scrolled the window so the video is hidden, which makes the video bubble up and float into the middle of the window. We need an option to turn that off, and also to bap the people responsible for that with some funny bludgeon-y thing. (You won’t see that part after “with” if I have a better idea before deadline.)

There are many ways we could set things up so they should be better but aren’t. Let’s get to work!

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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