bbblog by bbbhltz


technology, education, other sundries

On Browsers and Tournaments

Technology 100DaysToOffload

Over the course of the past few weeks I have been spamming Mastodon with a thing called the #TournamentOfBrowsers2021. You probably didn’t see it and that is OK. It was just for fun. It has ended, and now I want to talk about it.

How it came about

I was waiting for my students to show up for class. It was an oral evaluation day and I had my trusty notepad out. My notepad has dotted paper. We have all been in that situation where for some reason we draw a geometric shapes for no reason. I drew a rectangle. Below it, I drew another. And another. Then, just beside that column I started doing another but instead of 8 I drew 4. Then I did another column of 2. Then 1. I looked at it and thought it resembled a tournament bracket.

I thought to myself, “self, can I ‘draw’ this in a text editor, like Mousepad or Nano, and convert it using ditaa?” So I did just that.

Now I had a PNG file of a tournament bracket and I thought again, “that was a waste of 5 minutes, but maybe I’ll use it someday.”

“Someday” was later that day. I had joined Mastodon about a week prior to that, and it looked like a nice distraction. I combined the two. Despite having barely any followers I launched a series of polls.

Here is the original bracket:

Figure 1: Tournament Round 1

What Happened and What I Did Wrong

Firefox won. No surprises there.

Figure 2: Tournament Results

There won’t be any scholarly articles based on this work, that’s for cure. It did, however, let me see a flaw in my design. I’m not talking about the unfair match-ups, or the omission of other browsers, I’m talking about the inclusion of Firefox and Chrome. They did not need to be in this tournament.

Why not?

I posted this tournament on Mastodon, in particular, Fosstodon. Fosstodon is a server for people interested in Free and Open-Source Software. Chrome didn’t have a chance. Firefox had too much of a chance. Firefox is one of the faces of the FOSS movement along with everything GNU/Linux, LibreOffice, and a few others. The presence of Firefox, which is the go-to easy-to-install browser that can be “hardened” for security and privacy, fudged the results. It was like tilting a pinball machine.

On a personal level, I am neither for nor against Firefox. I use Firefox, so I cannot be a hypocrite about this sort of thing.

Wait.

This is the Internet.

Of course, I can be a hypocrite!

Firefox is a good browser. It is especially good if you don’t have a Google account and don’t like the other default option, Chrome. Good, good, good. Firefox is not the least evil browser out there either. It is a big piece of software with a lot of hidden options under the hood. Other browsers in the tournament, LibreWolf in particular, take advantage of those options and if you can, you should try out LibreWolf. I haven’t done so yet (see, hypocrite). Firefox also comes with other things included that, if you don’t use them, are a waste. Take Pocket as an example. I use Pocket, I know I should move on to a different service, but right now I use it. When (and if) I stop using Pocket I will need to access the about:config page of Firefox and delete it. That seems like an option that shouldn’t be hidden, but Mozilla does what Mozilla does. There are other stories about Firefox that might turn people off, but I will let it rest for now because I am not informed enough to answer it and I didn’t bookmark any of the anti-Firefox articles that I have read recently.

Now, taking out Chrome and Firefox leaves us with a decent set of browsers.

The No-Firefox Hypothetical Conjecture Theory

Since:

  • LibreWolf, which we’ve mentioned, should have had a fair chance, but it isn’t really included in distributions and requires building in some cases. The user base wasn’t present to upvote that browser.
  • The family of Chromium-like browsers (Vivaldi, Brave, Falkon, Ungoogled Chromium, Iridium) may have had a good chance, but their cousin, Chrome, doesn’t exactly leave them in a winning position.
  • The other Firefox forks seemed popular. The Pale Moon crew, I know they’re out there, has a good browser. Pale Moon, though, is not always as up-to-date in terms of security flaws and the like. SeaMonkey and Waterfox were given little love and there was no fair match-up for them.
  • Min is a fairly recent addition to the browser list. It sells itself a minimum, lightweight, secure browser. It is Electron-based, and I, for one, don’t bother with Electron apps. I might not be alone.

That leaves qutebrowser.

qutebrowser is a favourite among YouTubers, Vim users, /r/unixporn posters, and anyone who strives for that “minimal” desktop environment. qutebrowser is not a big browser, but has some customization options. There is an active fanbase and user base. It is actively maintained, and the dev is present on some social media to answer questions.

I would like to put forward the idea, the notion, the possibility, that had Firefox not been present in such a tournament, qutebrowser would have won or been second place again. Furthermore, I would stake money on the idea that if we were to carry out a similar poll/tournament among FOSS users in which the contestants/browsers were randomly matched and then used a weighted ranking system to decide the winner, qutebrowser may have won the tournament this time.

What do I know, though? I am biased. And hypocritical.

Click this link and try out qutebrowser today:

qutebrowser install instructions