The Web and Web browsers are OSCENELY complex...

 

… and this is bad for YOU. Real bad

Web browsers probably are, whatever hardware they run on, the most important software program for billions of people worldwide. A few days ago, programmer Drew Devault rightly complained about their “reckless, infinite scope”. This is a summary of what he wrote, and why everybody should care, in plain language.

The Web and Web browsers are OSCENELY complex... /img/spaghetti-code-then.jpg
The inside of your browser? A huge, undecipherable mess of spaghetti code

Since their appearance, web browsers have been competing against each other using only new “features”. In parallel, the World Wide Web they browse has become obscenely complex: as of March 2020, the total word count of all the specifications that a programmer should learn and implement, if she wanted to write a new web browser from scratch, is… 114 million words. Writing something as essential as a new web browser would [unnecessarily!!!] be as difficult as designing from scratch how to send people in space. It would be a fool’s errand to try to compete with Google’s Chrome, or Mozilla’s Firefox, and the fact that both those browsers are Open Source, with their code legally reusable by everybody, is practically irrelevant.

This has been allowed to go on for far too long, producing a World Wide Web that is impossible to implement correctly and securely.

A first harmful consequence is that browsers are, for their typical user, “the most expensive piece of software” they run, the main responsible for using all their memory, processor power and batteries. But that is the least troublesome part (except for its effects on energy consumption and pollution, that is).

The real problem? What OTHERS can do TO you

The fact that the web specifications are so complex that it is practically impossible to break the duopoly of Google and Mozilla has a darker effect: those two browsers have stopped being only the “agents” of their users, and have started being also the agents of their creators:

“Firefox is filling up with ads, tracking, and mandatory plugins. Chrome is used as a means for Google to efficiently track your eyeballs and muscle anti-technologies like DRM and AMP into the ecosystem”

The browser wars that, instead of focusing on performance and stability, produced this status of things have been allowed to continue for far too long. They have to stop.

(This post was drafted in April 2020, but only put online in August, because… my coronavirus reports, of course

Image source: Spaghetti Code…

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