A decade ago, the release of a new desktop web browser, or even a significant new version, was a big a deal. Consumers and reviewers eagerly waited for more speed, and for cool new features like tabbed browsing or address-bar searching.
But those days are gone. The last major new cross-platform desktop browser to debut was Google’s Chrome, in 2008, which now leads the market. Web browsing itself has moved mostly to mobile devices, where the typical user employs the platform’s built-in browser: mobile Chrome on many Android phones and mobile Safari on iPhones and iPads. (Yes, Windows fans, I know Microsoft introduced the new Edge browser last year, but it’s not cross-platform.)
Not only that, but fewer and fewer people fire up their desktop browsers today to use their bookmarks, or to go have a look at a website’s home page and decide what to read or view. They either use apps on their mobile devices, or enter sites “sideways” via a link to a specific page they got from social media. And that web page, article or video often opens right inside Twitter or Facebook on a mobile device. They may never spend much time with a browser’s carefully crafted user experience.
Nevertheless, there’s a new desktop browser launching today. It’s called Vivaldi, and it’s explicitly for power users — people who like to customize their browsers to the greatest extent, who value the longest list of features. It’s from Vivaldi Technologies, a company headed by Jon von Tetzchner, the ex-CEO of Opera, a browser which appeals to a similar audience.
I’ve been testing Vivaldi, which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, and I was impressed by the variety of ways it allows users to tweak their browsing experience. Some of these, like a note-taking panel and a quick way to group similar open tabs, struck me as potentially quite useful.
But I found that, if you use too many of these features, the overall screen gets cluttered, leaving less room for the actual content of the web page. By contrast, competitors like Chrome and Apple’s Safari have actually pared back their visible user interfaces in recent years to devote maximum room to web content.
Vivaldi, an employee-owned company based in Oslo, isn’t shy about the philosophy behind its product: “While other browsers strip down their offerings, Vivaldi adds features and powerful personalization options to help the web’s most demanding users increase their productivity and efficiency.”
The new browser is based on Google’s open-source version of Chrome, called Chromium, and doesn’t claim to be any faster than Chrome, just very different. Like Chrome, it can gain power from extensions. But its aim is to offer so many features you won’t need extensions.
Vivaldi says it’s working on a mobile version of the new browser, and other projects designed to appeal to power users. It makes money by pre-populating bookmarks for sites for which it is an affiliate. For instance, both eBay and Booking.com get prominent visiblity.
I, personally, wouldn’t use Vivaldi as my primary browser. Not only is it more cluttered than I prefer, but in some of my tests it showed that it’s a version 1.0 by displaying performance problems on the 2015 MacBook Pro I used for testing. In one case, a Saturday Night Live video on a Hollywood Reporter page stuttered in Vivaldi but played fine in Safari. In another, it kept losing the cursor in a Messenger conversation on the main Facebook site. So I switched to Chrome and the problems disappeared.
But I do realize that not everyone shares my taste in browsers and there are lots of folks who’d like to tweak away to their hearts’ content. They can download Vivaldi for free at vivaldi.com.