Safari 14

Last week the 10.15.7 update to macOS Catalina came with a nice surprise: Safari 14. I was caught off guard by this since I had assumed we wouldn’t see Safari 14 until Big Sur released later this year. It was also a nice surprise for me since Safari has become my browser of choice, not just on my iPhone and iPad, but also on my MacBook Pro. The big reason for this is that I do my best to avoid any Chromium-based browser. Over the last few years we’ve seen diversity in browsers erode more and more as new browsers are built based on Chromium (e.g. Brave) while others abandon their own engines in favor of using Chromium (e.g. Opera and Edge.) I personally see this homogeneous browsing platform as being pretty bad for the Internet as a whole, as it opens up the possibility for web developers to focus all of their development on Chrome and ignore everything else. This leads to sites that only work on Chrome and that ignore web standards, just like we saw back in the day when much of the web was developed with only Internet Explorer 6 in mind. The difference now is the way the web has evolved into an entire platform. In 2004 the main issue was that sites developed just for IE 6 wouldn’t quite render properly on other browsers. In 2020, there are entire web apps that straight up won’t work on non-Chromium browsers. That’s something I can’t support.

The two major browsers moving forward with different engines are Firefox (with Gecko) and Safari (with WebKit.) I was previously using Firefox on my laptops, but I became extremely concerned recently when Mozilla had massive layoffs and switched their mission to focus on revenue. I certainly understand that Mozilla needs to make money in order to continue making Firefox, but when a group lays off their entire incident response team, I don’t exactly feel warm and fuzzy inside about using the product. I still use it on my Linux installations, but on macOS I switched to Safari.

The pleasant part about switching to Safari is that, for the most part, it’s been a very slick browser that I’ve enjoyed. While Safari 14 doesn’t do anything too Earth-shattering or even different from any other browsers, it does bring Apple’s offering up to parity with some of the major players. For example, Safari will now finally display favicons for websites on tabs. How they’ve made it this far without supporting them I’ll never understand, but it immediately makes a huge difference in quickly finding the tab I want… and I say this as a person who typically doesn’t have more than 10 tabs open at any given time. Tab addicts (you know who you are) will especially appreciate this when Safari starts stacking tabs on top of one another. As another update to tabs, Safari can now preview the content of a page when the mouse is hovered over a tab. This can also be useful for quickly finding the appropriate tab without actually having to switch to anything.

The big change, though, is how Safari communicates with the user about how it has helped protect against invasive tracking. This feature is extremely similar to the Protections Dashboard in Firefox. There’s an icon to the left of the address bar that can be clicked at any given time to see a breakdown of trackers on the current page. Clicking will also allow me to see the specifics of what trackers are being blocked:

For a bigger picture, I can also get an overall view of what’s been blocked in the past 30 days. I can see which sites were attempting to be the most invasive, and similar to the per-site rendering, each can be expanded to show which trackers they had embedded:

Similarly, I can click on the Trackers heading in order to see a list of which trackers appear the most frequently across the sites I’m visiting. I can expand those listings to see which specific sites are hosting that tracker:

I don’t think it should come as a surprise to anyone that Google, Bing, and Facebook appear the most frequently after just a short period of testing. It’s also interesting to see trackers from both Facebook and Snapchat when I don’t use either of those “services”. It really shows you how pervasive they are across the Internet.

While I can already hear the Apple-haters I know railing on the fact that Firefox already has this feature, in my opinion it’s nice to see Apple bringing their browser up to feature parity and offering a more transparent and secure browsing experience to people in a package that also does not leverage Chromium but which does have a support team behind it that’s more than a skeleton crew. Similarly, you still don’t see anything like this today in Chrome or Edge, likely because the companies behind them both appear relatively high up in the tracker list.

Back To Firefox

Back in 2002, Firefox was the new hotness in the world of web browsers. Rising from the ashes of Netscape Navigator, the browser emerged as a true competitor to the horror of Internet Explorer. It offered competition with superior rendering and web compliance without the plethora of security issues plaguing Internet Explorer. While Firefox grew in popularity against Internet Explorer through the mid-2000’s, it eventually started to decline in the face of Google’s Chrome browser which took the browser market by storm with its release in the latter half of 2008. People appreciated the speed and efficiency of Google’s new browser, leaving Firefox to languish.

Over the past decade, however, Firefox has undergone a slow yet steady transformation. Prior to the arrival of Chrome, Firefox was fixed on becoming the browser that could do everything, for better or for worse. At the peak of its decline, Firefox was trying to be your web browser, your RSS reader (for the minority of users who had any clue what RSS was), and your IRC client (for the significantly smaller minority of users who had any clue what the hell IRC was), which overall made the browser require more resources for features that most users didn’t need or want, all the while the browser existed inside of a single, monolithic binary. By comparison, the Chrome browser broke each tab into a separate process so that complications with one tab wouldn’t impact the operation of the others.

Recently, though, the tables have begun to turn yet again. After achieving dominance in the browser market, Google has started to act like a GOP senator; they’re willing to sacrifice the good of their constituents (users) in favor of their own interests. For example, Google recognizes the impact of adblocking on its own business. As a result, they’ve proposed changes which would cripple adblockers. While they’ve bounced back and forth on this particular change since they first proposed it in January, they’ve continued to flirt with the idea; clearly Google doesn’t see blocking advertisements as a good thing. Chrome’s resource utilization continues to grow.

At the same time, Firefox began a re-architecture of their browser which allowed for separate processes per tab. Since then, Mozilla has continued to refine their experience.

  1. Firefox at 15: Its Rise, Fall, and Privacy-First Renaissance

  2. Give Firefox a Chance for a Faster, Calmer, and Distraction-Free Internet

  3. Compositor improvements in Firefox for macOS that reduce power consumption, speed up page load by as much as 22 percent and reduce resource usage for video by by up to 37 percent

  4. Restricting Notification Permission Prompts in Firefox

  5. Bad News: ‘Unblockable’ web trackers emerge. Good news: Firefox with uBlock Origin can stop it.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and if you want the full details just read all of the articles linked above. The tl;dr is that Firefox now opens a separate process per tab so that each tab can operate independently. Firefox has taken a stance on blocking trackers and other invasive behavior to fingerprint users. Firefox has improved performance on macOS significantly over the past year. Do you fucking hate the pop-up you get from what feels like every website where they want to give you notifications? Firefox is going to block those by default, and users have to actively opt into them. And as ISPs start to act even more shady in an attempt to circumvent user attempts to block tracking, Firefox is the browser empowering you to put the power over that tracking into your own hands.

As time goes by, it becomes more and more clear to me that Firefox is the browser focused on user rights and privacy. While I like the idea of Chromebooks and the simplicity they represent, they continue to become less attractive as I have to look at other options which don’t completely disregard my privacy. I’m feeling as though I’m better off getting a cheap laptop that I install my Linux distribution of choice on and use Firefox over opting for a Chromebook where Google will dictate my privacy choices on my behalf.

ProtonMail Bonus Storage

Brandi and I both love ProtonMail; we like it so much that it got the honor of being a topic in our very first episode! The biggest draws for paying for a ProtonMail Plus account are:

  1. Support for a custom domain (e.g. @unusually.pink)

  2. 5 GB of storage (up from 500 MB)

  3. 5 email aliases

  4. The ability to send up to 1000 messages per day (up from 150)

Some of those are really nice perks! I have 3 different email aliases, one of which comes from a custom domain I added to the account. I don’t personally use a lot of storage… for now. I do my best to keep my inbox empty. Note that I said “inbox”, though, rather than “mailbox.” I do have an archive folder where I throw messages that contain something important that might be useful later… though I’ve been trying my best to stop storing things like that in email and storing them in 1Password instead.

While I have plenty of real-estate left in my inbox, last week ProtonMail made it even more difficult for me to start bumping my head against the storage limit; they gave me additional storage for free! In an email with a subject of “We’re giving you extra storage to say thanks”, they described how they’ve added 10 million users to the service over the past year, and how they’re working on a redesigned ProtonMail interface while also continuing to flesh out ProtonCalendar and ProtonDrive, none of which would have been possible without the support of paid accounts.

As a way to say thanks for your early support, we are giving everyone with an existing paid plan 5GB of extra storage for free. […] Because the bonus is to thank our longtime supporters, it only applies to users who upgraded before Nov. 10, 2019. This bonus storage upgrade is permanent as long as you continue your subscription with us.

To me, this is super awesome. I like being able to support a service like ProtonMail, a service that I’ve come to rely on for my personal email. I’m also eagerly awaiting the arrival of ProtonCalendar and (especially) ProtonDrive, so it’s nice to see that my payments are helping to facilitate the creation of those services, too. While I don’t particularly need the 5 GB of storage right now, it could certainly come in handy later on down the road, especially considering I have no plans on letting my service lapse. I checked out the billing on my account and verified that it was added as a line item to my subscription for a $0 charge.

Also, if you happen to be looking forward to the redesign of ProtonMail, I recently realized you can check it out over at: beta.protonmail.com

The new interface is pretty slick, in my opinion, and I’m excited to see what other great things the future has in store for the service. Keep on encrypting, and stay pink!