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Four radical Chrome alternatives to reboot your web browser

Meet the upstarts trying to rethink the browser—and the web along with it.

Four radical Chrome alternatives to reboot your web browser
[Source Images: Google]

If you need evidence that people are fed up with Google Chrome, just look at the new breed of web browsers that are popping up to replace it.

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These aren’t mere Chrome copycats. Instead, newcomers such as Arc, SigmaOS, and Sidekick are rethinking the fundamentals of browsing, with radically different interfaces for organizing your tabs and getting work done.

They’re also rethinking the web’s ad-driven business models along the way. Unlike other alternative browsers such as Vivaldi and Firefox, these browsers aren’t relying on search engine deals, sponsored bookmarks, or other forms of advertising to make money, and they all feature ad and tracker blocking as table-stakes features.

Why now? With the shift toward remote work, we’re spending more time than ever using web browsers on our personal computers and laptops, but traditional browsers are ill-equipped to handle the kind of powerful web apps and deep research tools that modern office work requires. Yet major browsers such as Chrome don’t have much motivation to shake up their interfaces or disrupt their own tried-and-true business models.

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That’s created an opening for a wave of browser upstarts, which are trying to appeal to users who want something different.

“The way most browser companies make money is they monetize your search and attention,” says Dmitry Pushkarev, the CEO and cofounder of Sidekick. “They have very little incentive to invest in features and tools that make you more relaxed, more productive, less chaotic.”

Here’s a look at some of the most promising new browsers that have launched recently:

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SigmaOS: Tabs as tasks

SigmaOS reimagines your tabs as a kind of to-do list, with a vertical tab layout as the only option. Instead of closing web pages, you can either mark them as “done” or snooze them for later.

SigmaOS also eschews multiple browser windows in favor of “Workspaces,” which are groups of tabs that you can switch between through a sidebar menu. (The browser does offer a split-screen view if you need to view two pages at the same time.) Keyboard shortcuts play a major role as well, with the backslash key bringing up a universal search bar for open tabs, workspaces, your browsing history, and web search.

The resulting experience does present a learning curve for new users, but with practice, the idea is that you can get into a kind of rhythm, flowing through each Workspace until there’s nothing left on your to-do list.

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Mahyad Ghassemi, SigmaOS’s founder and CEO, says the browser is gaining traction among startup operators, content creators, and student researchers, though he doesn’t reveal user numbers.

“Those are people that need to multitask the most, and do a lot of different work at the same time, but can’t afford losing focus or time,” Ghassemi says.

Platforms: MacOS. An iOS version “may or may not” be on the roadmap.

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Business model: An $8 per month “Personal Pro” plan unlocks unlimited workspaces, cross-device syncing, and an ad blocker.

Sidekick: All about apps

Sidekick starts with the bones of Google’s Chromium open-source browser and adds a layer of productivity features on top.

A persistent sidebar, for instance, lets you switch between web apps such as Gmail, Notion, Dropbox, and Trello, and you can expand the sidebar further to organize open tabs into groups, or “sessions.” Meanwhile, a universal search bar lets you quickly sift through all your apps, web pages, and online documents from one place.

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But some of Sidekick’s smartest ideas are also the easiest to miss: There’s a button to mute all browser notifications and unread badges, a Ctrl-Tab shortcut for toggling between recent tabs, and a menu bar button that opens two pages in a split view.

Pushkarev says Sidekick hides some of its complexities at the outset, so as not to scare off new users who are accustomed to Chrome. Despite all the extra features, Sidekick still feels lightweight thanks to built-in ad blocking and a recent overhaul to its underlying code.

For now, Sidekick is relying primarily on word of mouth for growth and has tens of thousands of users, but Pushkarev says 7% of them are paid subscribers. He believes Sidekick can build a strong subscription business by making the browser less stressful for knowledge workers.

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“I don’t expect that Sidekick will replace Chrome, and that’s never been the goal,” he says. “What we hope to achieve is to change for the better the 1-2% of users . . . who depend on the browser to get their work done.”

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux

Business model: A $12 per month “Pro” plan removes sidebar app limits and adds extra features, such as custom apps and split-screen view.

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Arc: An ambitious rethink

Among all the attempts to reimagine the web browser, Arc feels the most polished. Nearly all of its functionality is crammed into a left sidebar menu, where you’ll find the address bar, navigation buttons, and a vertical tab list. But while it looks nothing like Chrome, it’s full of friendly little touches that make the fresh design feel approachable.

[Image: Arc]
Start playing music on a site like Spotify, for instance, and a mini-player will appear at the bottom of the sidebar. Switch tabs while playing a video, and a picture-in-picture mode will pop up automatically. Hover your cursor over your tabs for Gmail or Google Calendar, and you’ll see a tiny preview of any unread messages or upcoming events. Drag a tab onto the current webpage, and it’ll open up in a split-screen view.

Arc is the product of a startup called The Browser Company, which has raised more than $13 million in venture capital according to Protocol, and only recently stopped binding its beta testers to a non-disclosure agreement.

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That means I can say Arc is the neo-browser I’ve most enjoyed using so far, but it’s also the biggest wild card. It doesn’t yet have a business model, and it’s been engaging in a lot of oddball experiments on top of the core browser, such as shareable web scrapbooks called Easels and a webpage modification tool called Boosts. It’s hard to shake the feeling that The Browser Company could pivot or sell once its VC backers start looking for a return on their sizeable investments.

[Image: Arc]
Platforms: Mac for now, with Windows to come.

Business model: Still unclear.

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Orion: Better for everyone

If all these alternative browsers seem a bit too extreme, Orion might be the reboot you’re looking for.

Orion isn’t drastically different from Apple’s Safari browser on the surface, retaining familiar features such as the customizable toolbar and helpful tab overview button. Still, it uses vertical tabs instead of horizontal ones—a nod to power users who’ve seen the light on tab management—and takes an even stronger stance toward privacy, blocking all ads and trackers by default and gathering no telemetry from users.

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Creator Vlad Prelovac insisted on using Apple’s Webkit rendering engine for Orion, noting that its MacOS optimizations make it faster and far more battery efficient than Chrome and Chromium-based browsers. But he also wanted to support Chrome and Firefox extensions, so he’s spent the past few years porting in the necessary APIs to make that possible.

Prelovac’s mission isn’t merely to build a better all-purpose browser than Chrome or Safari, but to rewrite the underlying contract of the web. Orion is funded by optional subscriptions, which don’t unlock any new features but promise a bigger say over the browser’s future direction.

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Prelovac’s company, Kagi, also develops a private search engine by the same name, also with a subscription model, and users can optionally set it as their default search engine in Orion. The Kagi search engine has “thousands” of subscribers, Prelovac says, and Orion has attracted more than 100 donors since launching in public beta a month ago. These models, he says, helps ensure that Kagi’s goals are completely in line with those of its users.

“It’s part of a new wave, where people are saying to no to the current state of the web, which is completely ad-driven,” he says.

Platforms: MacOS and iOS

Business model: Optional monthly or annual donations

Check out Jared’s Advisorator newsletter to learn about new tech tips and tools every week.

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