Arc Browser

Hi there! It's been a minute. I've been running around doing a lot this month, and now that I have a second to sit down I thought I'd check in with a little review of the Arc Browser from the Browser Company.

A brief overview

The Arc browser has a lot differentiating it from my old browser, Firefox (and to the same extent, Chrome). It gives the impression that it has a small team that knows how to move quickly and design the features they want to see in a browser (and I suppose, thus, how the web is explored). I think Arc is able to ship features that browsers with mind/market share can't or won't ship, whether because there is little incentive, or fear that it would alienate non-power-users (and lessen their market share?); I don't know. Regardless, Arc comes with a batch of differences that are quite notable:

  • A sidebar-oriented interface (arguable, a bold move because of the screen real-estate use as well as presenting something of an adjustment curve (if not a learning curve)). There's lots to talk about that there
  • Split views ala your favourite editor
  • a popup dialog/quick action bar ala sublime text, vscode, etc for doing everything from opening in-browser applications, tabs, searching specific sites like google or youtube, etc
  • A nice profile / "space" mechanism that integrates with the sidebar
  • A move away from traditional bookmarks and an opinionated take on tabs (ie, clearing them out after X amount of time, if they go unused).
  • "Boosts" - a mechanism for altering pages you frequent (if you've ever used ublock origin to remove annoying ads / etc you'll know what I'm talking about).
  • "Easels" - a sort of "white-board" feature that lets you collect images you snap from pages, and even integrate live-updated iframe-esque snippets of pages.

I'm probably forgetting a few, but that's what comes to mind.

Locking myself in

Arc is not open source. It's built on top of Chrome, as far as I know, and you even need an account to get on the waitlist. I've seen plenty of foreboding comments online suggesting all kind of problems with this. I'm not really sure the state of things at this moment, but if I remember correctly, you only needed an account to get on the waitlist, and not to actually browse. I'm not sure - I got an invite from a friend.

Regardless, I need to address that I almost always try and pick the open-source option. Generally, I give the benefit of the doubt with things like this - I imagine that Arc browser doesn't really care what I browse, and probably isn't storing information about what I browse beyond telemetry for improving it.

Of course, there is a cynical side of me that likes to say things like "If the tool/software/whatever is free then you are the product". And, well, I do believe that. Normally that would deter me from most closed-source things, and originally that (and the effort of migrating from another browser) was what stopped me from trying Arc in the first place.

But, thankfully some free time rolled my way this month and that meant I could try new tools out; I gently asked the cynical part of me to step aside, so that the playful, curious part of me could step in to try something new!

Features I love

So far, I'm digging Arc. Here's a quick list of some of my favourite features:

  • The ability to swipe or toggle at a key command to a new profile makes separating work/life browsing easy.
  • I love the pinned bookmarks at the top that are represented by the favicon or whatever emoji icon you assign it. Being able to hotkey to my top sites and have them open instantly is really nice (for the most part, the top pinned bookmarks seem to stay relatively "alive" and are available in pretty much an instant)
  • When you are playing audio from one of your icon tabs, little music notes drift up from that. Playful and cute!
  • Speaking of playing audio, you get a little audio bar at the bottom of the sidebar showing what's playing and with audio controls. A great use of the sidebar!
  • I love splitting tabs and having two browser windows open. The occasion to do it doesn't come up a ton (especially on a 13" laptop), but I can see myself doing it frequently when attached to a larger monitor
  • I like having more vertical space (where tabs / bookmarks / the url bar would be) on chrome/firefox.
  • Conceptually, the "library" for seeing recently downloaded / captured content is neat, but I haven't used it a ton yet.
  • I really like the quick action panel (triggered by cmd + l or cmd +t) for easily searching sites / doing actions specific to Arc.

There's probably more, but that's just a taste so far.

Features I miss

Honestly, everything is an improvement over what comes out of the box with Firefox and Chrome. The only thing I wish is that it become open source — which includes the security of knowing that this tool is going to be around for longer than some companies tend to last.