Brave vs. Arc

I decided to revisit two of the more interesting Chromium-based browsers, Brave—the privacy first browser that I was somehow convinced was based on Gecko and not Chromium—and The Browser Company’s Arc browser, which basically offers an alternative to the tab UI in Chrome.

First off, immediately upon launch Brave somehow generated not one but two notifications. Strike 1. Then it tries to convince me to buy their VPN. When I click on the VPN widget it asks if I have already paid for a VPN (which I have) but turns out this option is for people who have bought their VPN. Strike 2. Then I click on the third glowing icon and it tells me I should set up my Web3 and crypto wallets. Strike 3. Brave seems to be not so much “privacy” focused as “loony crypto-boi” focused. Aside from that, it’s Chrome in a slimy wrapper. Buh-bye.

I think when I first heard about Arc it was invitation only, but now you can just download it and try it. The thing I don’t like about it is that it seems infected by the “search fields are actually buttons that launch UI stuff” disease I’ve started seeing a lot of on technical websites. This violates the principle of least surprise and Togg’s admonition “things that behave differently should look different”.

This is from the website. When you click on the search "field" way over on the left, it launches a dialog and steals focus.

The way this idea is implemented on a lot of websites antagonizes Fitts’s Law (i.e. makes people do more pointing at non-edge objects than they should have to) by having a widget appear in the center of the screen. The image above is from the website. When you click on the search “field” way over on the left, it launches a dialog and steals focus.

Arc avoids the Fitts’s Law problem by popping a mini-version of its dialog over the field when you click on it, but if you type command-L (which would normally focus the address field in a browser) you get the dialog in the center, essentially a larger version of the dialog.

Setting this aside and the fact that Arc feels curiously sluggish to me (I’m using it on my ancient trashcan 2013 Mac Pro which generally feels just as fast as much more modern Macs) I think their approach to tabs has merit, but I haven’t gotten used to it yet, and combined with not having full/seamless access to Chrome’s password it’s just kind of inconvenient to use.

Arc has a simple big win in that if moves the address bar, bookmarks bar, and tabs to the left and stacks tabs vertically. This is just how things should be (especially on wide-screen devices). It led me to play around with Safari to see how close I can get to this layout in Safari (pretty close but you can’t get rid of the tabs).

In general, I think that if you just put tabs in a hierarchical menu on the left, allowed groups to be created and manipulated in the obvious ways, and made them closable, bookmarkable, and pinnable, you could pretty easily capture more usability benefits than Arc offers with less of the friction.

So, after a little experimentation it’s back to Chrome and Safari. Sorry guys, I appreciate the effort.