The browser wars are back
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The browser wars are back

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Good morning! This Wednesday, web browsers are suddenly very important, the U.K. wants a probe into Nvidia's Arm deal, and Activision Blizzard employees call for Bobby Kotick's resignation.

Just browsing

For years, companies like Microsoft sat back and watched Chrome eat the browser market. Now they're trying to claw back some control over the most important app on every user's device.

The browser wars are back in full swing. And just like the last time, Microsoft is willing to play dirty to win.

  • Windows 11 makes it hard to switch default browsers away from Edge, and Microsoft now even blocks the apps some users install to circumvent the restrictions. It turns Windows PCs into iPhone-like systems where you can use other browsers, but the OS always tries to bring you back to its preferred choice.
  • Apps like EdgeDeflector didn't have a huge number of users, but Mozilla and Brave were among the developers using a similar strategy to work around the defaults.
  • "People deserve choice," Mozilla told The Verge. "They should have the ability to simply and easily set defaults, and their choice of default browser should be respected."
  • The last time Microsoft tried this, by the way, was back in the Netscape days. It led to a … fairly important lawsuit. But Microsoft's nowhere near monopoly status now, so it clearly feels free to fight turf wars.

Browsers are suddenly hugely important. Apps like Figma and Miro have shown what web-native apps can do, and as apps become more collaborative, more of them are betting on the web. Plus, web browsers are important to a crypto-first future; browsers can act as identity and security systems, wallets and more.

  • Brave is a particularly good example of this: It has built everything from crypto wallets to custom news feeds and privacy-first advertising directly into its browser.
  • Edge, too, looks more and more like an operating system. Microsoft built features for shopping and research, and has baked in more security tools over time as well.
  • And there are lots of other upstarts, too: The Browser Company, Sidekick and Ghost are all building browsers meant to make users more productive, Ghostery and Tor are trying to make security more mainstream, and stalwarts like Opera are still chugging along.
  • Think of browsers as the next generation of operating systems, the infrastructure and connective tissue underlying all the apps you use. Both iOS and Android turned out to be pretty good businesses, right? Imagine being the same for the entire internet.

And the browser makers make the rules. They can insert ads, collect data, and understand and act on behalf of users in uniquely powerful ways. The best way Microsoft can get you to use Bing? Make Edge the default browser, and Bing the default search engine. That's good for a number of teams inside of Microsoft, from Azure to ads, and locks competitors out entirely.

But can anyone unseat Google? Chrome has north of two-thirds of the browser market, and even Edge and others are now running on its Chromium tech. At this point, some apps only work properly in Chrome. Safari, Firefox, Edge and the rest are mostly competing for scraps, and Brave and others are offering new ideas but not stealing meaningful market share.

  • Safari could be a serious competitor on mobile in particular, because Apple has such tight control over iOS. And Apple has invested a lot more in the browser over the last couple of years, even if some of that investment has led to crazy ideas about tabs that nobody likes.

The metaverse may be the platform war everyone's talking about, but web browsers may be just as consequential. We're moving to a world where everything is digital, and everything's a URL. The fight to be the app that opens, controls and sees those URLs is going to be fierce. And it's going to get ugly.

— David Pierce (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM FACEBOOK

Rochelle is one of many experts working on privacy at Facebook—to give you more control over your information.

Hear from Rochelle on why Facebook supports updating regulations on the internet's most pressing challenges, including federal privacy legislation.

Learn more

People are talking

Epic's Tim Sweeney thinks a universal app store would crack Apple and Google's power:

  • "What the world really needs now is a single store that works with all platforms."

If the SEC criticizes crypto, Ripple's Stuart Alderoty said crypto leaders will fight back:

  • "It leaves little choice for responsible actors who are trying to get to the right solution in this space to express their frustration and their views."

And speaking of crypto, federal agencies want to look more closely into crypto, said Michael Hsu, acting head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency:

  • "The agencies are approaching crypto activities very carefully with a high degree of caution."

EVgo's Jonathan Levy said Joe Biden's EV charging plan is a step in the right direction:

  • "What we need from the tailwinds of policy is the support to accelerate ahead of full EV adoption."

Making moves

The Senate confirmed Jonathan Kanter to lead the Justice Department's antitrust unit. He's received support from both liberals and conservatives.

SoundHound is getting SPAC'd. The voice assistant maker is going public in a deal valuing it at $2.1 billion.

Crypto.com is getting its name in lights. The Staples Center in Los Angeles is being renamed Crypto.com Arena for at least the next 20 years.

Instacart postponed its IPO, a source told The Information. Execs had talked last year about listing company shares by the fourth quarter.

Jonathan Lai and James Gwertzman are a16z's newest general partners. Lai last worked on product at Riot Games, and Gwertzman founded a games startup called PlayFab.

Louise Pentland is leaving PayPal. She's been the company's chief business affairs and legal officer for nearly seven years.

Jeff Housenbold stopped fundraising for his VC firm to lead Leaf Home, a home improvements company. Housenbold is a former exec at SoftBank's Vision Fund.

Priya Nagarajan and David Pomponio are joining Thumbtack as VP of finance and VP of total rewards, respectively. Nagarajan has worked at Visa and PayPal, and Pomponio has experience at various companies including Box and Salesforce.

In other news

Bobby Kotick knew about misconduct at Activision Blizzard for years, The Wall Street Journal reported. Not only that, but he allegedly took steps to ensure the company's board didn't know about it. Employees staged a walkout yesterday pressing Kotick to resign.

The metaverse will feel so real you could almost touch it. And in time, Meta researchers think you'll be able to do just that. They've been working on a haptic glove that allows people to feel the metaverse, but it's still quite far from being finalized.

Qualcomm is diving into PC chips. Thanks to its Nuvia acquisition, Qualcomm thinks it can take on Apple's M-series chips and beat Intel as the best thing in Windows processors.

Tuesday is Netflix's Top 10 Day from here on out. The company released a Top 10 site yesterday that lists its most popular shows and movies, which is based on total watch time.

Meta is trying to stop the next Frances Haugen. The company has reportedly been making internal communication changes, like a system that gives Integrity employees access to private Workplace groups, in an effort to prevent future leaks.

The U.K. wants a six-month probe into Nvidia's Arm deal. The country's digital secretary ordered the investigation over competition and national security concerns, but Nvidia sees it as a chance to prove that the acquisition is beneficial.

Some companies are trying to do what Theranos couldn't: They've created blood-testing tools that can quickly diagnose patients, and in some respects, these firms say Theranos' failure helps prove they're doing it the right way.

Amazon will soon stop taking Visa payments in the U.K. The company said it'll no longer accept payments made with a Visa credit card in the U.K. beginning early next year because of its high transaction fees.

Spotify, Snapchat and others were down yesterday. The shutdown even affected some retailers like Target, and Google Cloud was apparently responsible for all the issues.

'Alexa, play something'

Finding something to watch on Netflix is a drag. Netflix has a feature, called Play Something, that will start a show or movie based on what it thinks you might like, but let's be honest: hands-free tech is where it's at.

Fire TV now lets you sync up with Netflix, so you can say "Alexa, play something on Netflix," and it'll pick something for you. It doesn't sound like Alexa will be able to play something specific, so you can't necessarily say "Alexa, play 'Tiger King'" (which came out with a second season today), but it still saves you from the endless hunt for the remote control.

A MESSAGE FROM FACEBOOK

Rochelle is one of many experts working on privacy at Facebook—to give you more control over your information.

Hear from Rochelle on why Facebook supports updating regulations on the internet's most pressing challenges, including federal privacy legislation.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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