Arc web browser first impressions: Fresh splash for stagnant internet
The Browser Company’s new web browser, Arc, is trying to take on the standard and provide a fresh way to experience the internet.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been given access to the new web browser, Arc. It’s an interesting proposition in 2022, going into 2023. The world has browsers, whether you have a favorite or not, it’s not something you ever really think about.
Not only using a particular browser over another but the actual fundamentals of a browser. User interfaces, extensions, and the underlying engine that powers it. You wind up settling for something like Chrome, simply because it carries your passwords between devices.
It’s not something you think about, but Arc has brought all this to the forefront. Why were we using Firefox? Why not Opera or Safari?
What is the Arc browser?
Made by The Browser Company, Arc is a new browser that’s built on top of Google’s Chromium engine. It operates pretty much the same as any other browser but opts to focus on you, the user. It is filled with tools to make the work-life balance actually work.
This includes ‘Spaces’ to separate your bookmarks depending on what you’re doing, and ways to ‘capture’ parts of the web for use later. Tabs and menus are off to the side, giving you an almost full-screen experience out of the box.
The future is all Chrome
There’s no escaping Chrome. Google’s web engine is too ingrained into the wider web as the default. Have you ever tried to use Firefox with Google applications? It falters, because it is now the exception.
Even Microsoft has given up on trying to build its own browser. Internet Explorer is dead, with Edge now running Chromium under the hood. Brave, an open-source privacy-focused browser, is also running Chromium. Opera, a long vestige of alternatives, is running Chromium.
Firefox and Safari don’t, but Safari has the benefit of running WebKit. The engine is the only one that iOS runs, meaning that all other browsers have to adhere to it, so all the various web apps have to adhere to it as well.
Arc is no different. It runs Chromium. It’s basically Chrome with a new dress on. It has the benefit of being integrated into the Chrome ecosystem, with your profile carrying straight over with a few clicks. Coming over from Firefox, it meant a few extra steps to bring in passwords and the like.
It’s not a problem, but it is scary just how strong the stranglehold on browsers one company can have. However, unlike Microsoft and Netscape Navigator in the past, this is a different fight.
With it all being under the hood, and the dozens now available across the world, it’s more of a cold war than anything else.
We weren’t expecting The Browser Company to generate and build its own browser engine, but for the revolutionary stance that it’s taken, it’s pretty funny to see it falling back on the default.
The thing that Arc does the best is actually what it originally was designed to do. With most of our lives interconnected with a browser, and profiles carrying between computers, you can never truly escape work.
Sitting into your chair after a long day, only to be immediately greeted with an autofill suggestion to a regularly visited website that’s to do with work, is maybe an oversight by the ongoing society we live in.
Arc, while it still struggles with this aspect, does at least seem to be making massive moves to ensure that you don’t have that cross over in your life.
The best implementation we use on a regular basis is Firefox. Mozilla’s browser has ‘containers’ which allow you to effectively run multiple instances of Firefox for different purposes. Its biggest issue is actually easily accessing these instances.
As they run in tabs, if you don’t load up the right container, you can wind up working in the wrong one and infecting your regular life.
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With Arc, you can swap ‘Spaces’, which means you won’t immediately be greeted with work when you’re just trying to use the web. It’s something you don’t realize until the option is presented to you. No longer does work follow you through the web, nor does your life interfere with your work.
Bookmarks, tabs, and more can all be separated. What doesn’t, is the autofill in the search bar. It is still littered with the various things we don’t want to see past a certain hour.
It’s not as bad as the full-on assault that Chrome and Safari offer, with a full drop-down list, but it still exists.
Arc is filled with secrets
Arc’s other aspect is to be almost like a scrapbook or notebook. You can pull things from around the web, and pop them into ‘easles’.
With an easle, you can bring in these either static or live screenshots to then refer to later. It functions similarly to Notion, another productivity app that renders out the webpages in the little snippets you’ve captured.
The best thing? YouTube videos operate as expected. Collating an easle to show someone a collection of notes you’ve gathered is ridiculously easy, and then having it all interactable within the same tab too? Even better.
What is currently Arc’s downfall with all these various tools, is that it refuses to surface them or even operate as you’d expect.
Tabs are fundamental to the day-to-day operation of a modern web browser. Arc allows you to split the screen up to four times, before you even begin to contemplate things like splitting the screen on Windows and macOS.
It’s a super handy thing, intended to keep things you do together. It is also not functional in the way that you’d expect. You can press shortcuts to access this split view, but the combination feels like The Browser Company were fighting against the various operating systems to ensure that they weren’t overwriting system-level shortcuts.
It means that things like accessing a fresh tab in split view isn’t as simple as pressing Control+Shift+T, but Control+Shift+= instead. The same with easles, as you’ll need to press Control+Shift+E. It’s an unnatural combination to press on the keyboard, one that across two weeks, just never sat right on the brain.
We found it quicker to make a new tab, then drag it into the space that will split it up.
After setting Arc as our default browser, we were suddenly introduced to ‘Little Arc’ after clicking a link in an email. It’s just a window that opens to quickly access the web. However, Arc allows you to directly integrate it with one of your spaces. On regular browsers, you’d have to copy the link and close the window.
It’s a small thing, but one that has immediately made work far easier.
Arc might be around to stay
That’s the thing with Arc. The little things. The tiny moments of going “Oh!” when something new is added, or something new you hadn’t paid attention to pops up. It’s a clever piece of software, one that might be the major step forward the web has been after.
All the tools seem to rely on the web’s stagnation. Pushing the boundaries isn’t going to come any time soon, the web is too focused on serving a boring master. Instead, Arc seems more focused on providing better tools and better experiences for a web that doesn’t seem interested in changes.
Ease of use, as well as actually making the browser a functional tool for whatever you need it for, rather than relying on extensions is something that we’re fully onboard to watch grow.