The Thinker

Vivaldi: a pretty cool browser

So I’ve been putting the Vivaldi browser through its paces for the last few days. Until Thursday I had never heard of Vivaldi, but my friend Roger mentioned it at a meeting so I figured it was worth checking out.

It was especially worth checking out because for whatever reason I have browser issues on my Mac. I bought my second Mac a few years ago and pimped it up with the most memory I could get. (Unfortunately I could not get a flash drive for it at the time.) I found Firefox to be too unstable, Safari to be too annoying and so I relied on Chrome instead for my daily web browsing.

Then Chrome seemed to bog down too. It was fine for a few days then slowly degraded. It seems to have the biggest problem with sites that are highly dynamic, i.e. doing lots of things in the background by frequently updating the page’s content. In short, it had issues with Facebook and Tweetdeck, both of which do a lot of this.

It got so unstable and frustrating that I moved Facebook and Tweetdeck access to Firefox, where for mysterious reasons it seemed to perform better. In any event I keep lots of applications open on my computer and I reasonably expect that they should all behave well and work quickly. But MacOS is hardly perfect. It may not crash as often as Windows, but it does crash from time to time, and certain applications close slowly if they close at all.

Like most people I spend most of my time online in my browser, so it has to work right and be nimble. Firefox recently finally got the feature that moved me to Chrome: each Firefox tab is now multi-threaded, at least since Firefox 54. Multi-threading should add overall stability by keeping each tab in an independent environment, but threading also adds additional overhead. I think that’s what’s happening with Chrome. All those threads, probably inefficiently managed, just add complexity and thus cause eventual instability.

So Vivaldi was worth a try. Vivaldi is being developed by some of the original Opera browser developers. Somewhere along the way Opera steered away from its original focus: making a browser that is truly focused on being usable and simple. So these developers started working on Vivaldi. One likely difference: they built Vivaldi on Chromium. Chromium is basically an open source web-kit, made available by Google. Google builds the rest of Chrome on top of this framework.

Judging from the swift response from Vivaldi, it’s these extra features added on top of Chromium that is bogging down Chrome. It’s kind of understandable. Chrome is an entryway to various Google services so it is optimized to present those services like GMail and Google Drive. The Chromium framework though appears to be pretty solid and sleek, which left the Vivaldi team with a good platform that allows it to take advantage of a lot of Chrome’s features. For example, pretty much any Chrome extension will work on Vivaldi, so you can install those crucial add-ons like Adblock and Adblock Plus on Vivaldi too.

Vivaldi though builds in a lot of features that are only available as extensions in Chrome. One I use a lot is making screenshots. It’s quite simple to make a screenshot in Vivaldi by clicking on a small camera icon on the status bar. By default it makes a screenshot of the entire page, but it’s easy to capture just portions of a page if you want. Or you can do it with keyboard commands. There are a lot of keyboard commands built into Vivaldi and I’ve only discovered a few of them.

One of Vivaldi’s most useful features is tab stacking. It’s one of these innovations that you wonder why no one though of it before. It allows a tab to contain a bunch of related pages under it. And the browser’s tab tiling feature allows you to display two or more of the web pages in the tab stack at once on the screen, or various unrelated tabs. Seeing multiple web pages at once on the same monitor is really neat. It’s another feature that you wonder why no one has thought about it before.

There is a lot of customization possible in Vivaldi: where you want to put the bookmarks bar, for example. It can be attached to any side. A side panel that takes you into features like bookmarks, downloads, notes and settings is easily turned on or off, and there is a visual clue at the left side of the status bar. Themes are easily customized and you can do things like set the degree of roundedness you want on a browser tab.

Other things I’ve discovered so far that I like:

  • I can use the backspace key again to go back a page
  • There is a rewind-to-start button to take you back to the first page opened in a browser tab. There is also one to take you to the last page opened in the browser tab.
  • The URL field shows you how much of the page is being loaded by visually putting a progress bar behind the URL. You can also see a count of the objects that were loaded at the same time.
  • You can easily add notes about a page by typing them manually in the side panel or making a snapshot of the part of the page that’s of interest and attaching it to the note. If doing research this is a great feature.
  • Web panels allow you to put a web page into the side panel. It’s a very scrunched version but it’s useful and again helps you look at multiple pages at once.
  • It has a wonderful history feature that let you easily see your browsing history across days, weeks, etc. as well get graphical reports.

The only features I haven’t found so far that I miss:

  • Automatic language detection and translation. This was a compelling reason to use Chrome, as it integrates with Google’s tremendously useful language translation service.
  • You have to go to Google’s Extensions page to install extensions. There is no shortcut but you can easily bookmark that page.

In short I find Chromium very impressive. I’m using it as my principle browser and seeing how it goes. So far the lights are virtually all green and the speed and usability is very impressive. I’m hoping its stability will be better than Chrome’s and it won’t bog down like Chrome.


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