22 votes

The End of Indie Web Browsers: You Can (Not) Compete

14 comments

  1. [13]
    ThatFanficGuy
    Link
    From what I understand, the issue here is the sole fact of proprietary DRM? I would be perfectly fine with using an open-source browser adequate to my needs if it doesn't have EMEs included. I...

    From what I understand, the issue here is the sole fact of proprietary DRM?

    I would be perfectly fine with using an open-source browser adequate to my needs if it doesn't have EMEs included. I don't watch Netflix, or Hulu, and I rarely, if ever, play encrypted content these modules are for. I mostly browse the Web by reading and writing, and I can probably use a side app if I ever need to watch YouTube.

    4 votes
    1. [5]
      dblohm7
      Link Parent
      (For those of you who don't already know, I'm a Mozilla employee) In the context of the blog post, and in the context of "browser" meaning a packaged application consisting of a new front-end atop...

      From what I understand, the issue here is the sole fact of proprietary DRM?

      (For those of you who don't already know, I'm a Mozilla employee)

      In the context of the blog post, and in the context of "browser" meaning a packaged application consisting of a new front-end atop an existing web engine, I believe so. OTOH, when it comes to browser engines, the problems definitely go beyond DRM.

      IMHO we're at the stage in browser engine development (and in the overall evolution of the web) where it is not likely possible to write a 100% greenfield implementation of a web engine; it is definitely not possible with a small indie team.

      The large companies that make browsers (particularly Google) keep introducing so many new features to the web platform so quickly that it's tough for smaller organizations like Mozilla (and Mozilla is still large compared to any hypothetical indie organization) to keep up with the new stuff, much less start from scratch.

      If you look at the existing engines out there, all of them have a lineage that stretches back to the nineties.

      "What about Servo?" you might wonder. I'm glad you asked!

      • Servo is not 100% greenfield; it still relies on Gecko's SpiderMonkey engine for JavaScript.
      • Servo does not have 20+ years of evolution and bug fixes, so while it might look great for web content that is 100% standards-compliant, it will still have compatibility quirks compared to the existing entrants.

      The web has become so WebKit/Blink-centric that even Gecko now has to emulate non-standard quirks from those engines. So now, not only do you have to spend an enormous amount of time tweaking your engine just to work like the leading incumbents (even when they're "wrong"), you still have to play catch-up with the new DOM APIs or what have you. It's a firehose that never stops. That's really hard to achieve when you have an existing engine to work off of, much less when you're building from scratch.

      32 votes
      1. Akir
        Link Parent
        I can't tell you how great it is that there is someone who actually has relavent experience to explain why I'm so skeptical about the modern web. I'm even more worried about how the w3c has been...

        I can't tell you how great it is that there is someone who actually has relavent experience to explain why I'm so skeptical about the modern web.

        I'm even more worried about how the w3c has been basically overthrown from web standards by WHATWG, which is basically controlled by a cabal of giant tech corporation with a seat set aside for Mozilla.

        11 votes
      2. [2]
        ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        I see. So it's not just about the fact that applying for DRM rights is a restrictive process that can take years, it's also the fact that Google's near-monopoly on the Web development would see...

        I see. So it's not just about the fact that applying for DRM rights is a restrictive process that can take years, it's also the fact that Google's near-monopoly on the Web development would see indie browsers struggling because of its pace and nearsightedness.

        Which... is a big thing, I agree.

        Since you are a Mozilla employ, I want to ask you: aside from switching to Firefox, what would you advise to do to topple Google's position as a guiding force of the Web?

        5 votes
        1. dblohm7
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          That's a difficult question to answer. Keep in mind that I do not have the definitive answer to this issue; I'm still just a guy who happens to work on this kind of stuff on a full-time basis. To...

          aside from switching to Firefox, what would you advise to do to topple Google's position as a guiding force of the Web?

          That's a difficult question to answer. Keep in mind that I do not have the definitive answer to this issue; I'm still just a guy who happens to work on this kind of stuff on a full-time basis.

          To a certain extent, I would say it depends on your role.

          As a user, avoid "Chrome-only" websites, or at least try to put pressure on those sites to support a standards-based web.

          As a developer, do what you can to push back on the monoculture. Only use web APIs that are (a) standardized; and (b) have standardized implementations that are widely available in all the major engines. It's not enough to just satisfy one or the other; you really need to satisfy both criteria, otherwise you're probably still just supporting Chrome. Educate yourself and your colleagues about the problems caused by monoculture and learn about the problems that there were in the bad old days of IE6.

          EDIT: Let me clarify what I mean by supporting both (a) and (b):

          • If you satisfy (a) but not (b), then the API in question is not standardized and only exists in one engine, likely Blink. Check-mate Chrome.
          • If you satisfy (b) but not (a), there are two possible scenarios:
            • An earlier, "beta" revision of the standard was implemented by the engine, but the final release of the standard differs from the engine's implementation. (This is a common thing, as having work-in-progress implementations is part of the standardization process) If this non-standard implementation catches on with web devs, then the standard is irrelevant; the de facto standard becomes whatever the engine whose implementation caught on says it is, bug-for-bug.
            • The other scenario is that some web tech is standardized in WebKit and Blink but not Gecko. WebKit and Blink can probably share similar code because of the fact that Blink is a fork of WebKit. Gecko would need a clean implementation, which will take longer. If everybody runs with that tech before it is ready in Gecko, Chrome wins.
          7 votes
    2. [7]
      Diff
      Link Parent
      Way I'm reading it is the problem is that this DRM is basically required if you want to make a general-purpose web browser, but access to the DRM is guarded by big companies that either don't care...

      Way I'm reading it is the problem is that this DRM is basically required if you want to make a general-purpose web browser, but access to the DRM is guarded by big companies that either don't care or have to be paid to care. The web browser ecosystem has gotten more and more inbred as the years have dragged on, and EME is essentially now enforcing it.

      2 votes
      1. [6]
        ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        Right, but DRM is only required to play encrypted content? Which, from what I understand, is not only not all content, but it's rather restricted to the Big Tech companies – Google, Facebook?,...

        Right, but DRM is only required to play encrypted content? Which, from what I understand, is not only not all content, but it's rather restricted to the Big Tech companies – Google, Facebook?, Netflix, HBO, probably YouTube.

        2 votes
        1. [3]
          VoidOutput
          Link Parent
          For a lot of people, those websites are pretty much all the content they consume on the Internet.

          For a lot of people, those websites are pretty much all the content they consume on the Internet.

          8 votes
          1. ThatFanficGuy
            Link Parent
            Cool. I don't mind. The only I'd said was that I would be perfectly fine with a browser that doesn't feature such content.

            Cool. I don't mind. The only I'd said was that I would be perfectly fine with a browser that doesn't feature such content.

            4 votes
          2. Silbern
            Link Parent
            That hardly means you can't make a "functional browser" though. EME's are only relevant for a handful of streaming websites. While some users of web browsers may only browse a handful of those...

            That hardly means you can't make a "functional browser" though. EME's are only relevant for a handful of streaming websites. While some users of web browsers may only browse a handful of those sites, the purpose of a web browser isn't just to stream them anymore than the purpose of a smartphone is to just make phone calls.

        2. [2]
          Diff
          Link Parent
          AFAIK it's primarily media sites like Spotify, Netflix, HBO, Disney+, that kind of thing. Things that exist solely around streaming media content. Places like Facebook or YouTube have little to no...

          AFAIK it's primarily media sites like Spotify, Netflix, HBO, Disney+, that kind of thing. Things that exist solely around streaming media content. Places like Facebook or YouTube have little to no protection, definitely no DRM.

          Totally get that your use case doesn't cover any of those sites, just making clear that the problem isn't proprietary DRM, as much as it is that the DRM that enables you to create a fully-functional modern browser is entirely in the hands of 2 famously obnoxious companies.

          3 votes
          1. fandegw
            Link Parent
            Yes exactly, for all my daily navigation on the web I use https://github.com/Eloston/ungoogled-chromium at work and at home, and I can navigate to all websites I regularly without problem. For...

            Yes exactly, for all my daily navigation on the web I use https://github.com/Eloston/ungoogled-chromium at work and at home, and I can navigate to all websites I regularly without problem.

            For music you can switch to Deezer for example to not have DRM on their website, I use soundcloud, mixcloud and bandcamp very often too, no problem.
            For videos, vimeo and youtube poses no problem.
            The only websites that uses DRM are the ones too big and too preoccupied by their money like the ones you listed.

            It makes me think of the Denuvo case for games on PC, there is a quite strong niche of people that don't buy any Denuvo protected games (that I kind of partake in), and feels the same thing for this content.

            1 vote