What Comes After Chrome
I co-created the world's most popular browser. Now, I'm joining The Browser Co to fulfill an old dream.
by Darin Fisher
When I told my 14-year-old son that I’d be joining The Browser Company, he said “which one?”
It’s hard to think of a better summary of the last 20+ years of web browsers — where most of the innovation could best be labeled as incremental.
And I would know. I’ve been building them.
In 2000, I joined Netscape eager to help make a better browser. Netscape 6 was not that, but from that foundation we created Firefox. In 2005, I joined Google as part of a small team working on Firefox, with a simple focus: improve the web. But a year and half in, it became clear that the best way to do that was to start fresh.
One weekend, I built an initial prototype for “Chrome” — a browser that glued together WebKit in a multi-process embedding. It sounds complicated, but what it did was simple: allow new, more complex apps like Gmail, Maps, and YouTube to run independently. So if a site broke, you wouldn’t lose your whole browser! It was a step function improvement for browsers.
Even with that early prototype, it was clear that the user experience was going to be significantly faster than the status quo, and far more resilient to poorly written web pages. With a lot of work by an amazing team, Chrome was born, and enabled an entire generation of richer and more complex web apps to be created.
Chrome grew to be used by far more people than anyone ever imagined, and I was now running the Chrome engineering org as VP of engineering. But the job didn’t feel remotely done — not to me. What started out as a vision of a better computing experience, in hindsight only partially delivered.
Yes, we could now have more complex apps in our browsers, and, thanks to Chrome’s web computing model, we were no longer as tethered to a specific device. But the core user experience of browsers hadn’t really changed that much from the Netscape days — not as much as people working on these browsers like to tell themselves.
Over time, I came to believe that the web computing model could extend beyond the browser as we knew it — and become the entire computing experience. A few years later, I was also overseeing engineering for Chrome OS, which embodies this idea. And along the way, I helped kickstart Fuchsia OS: web-like computing taken to a much greater extreme.
But, my hopes for web computing always felt limited by both the inertia of what Chrome already was (it’s hard to move the cheese on people), and by Google itself. A company that once oozed innovation now stood in its way. At some point, so much of our focus became navigating a sea of reasons not to innovate, for fear of causing users to see fewer ads. The ads model is an addictive one! And despite my lofty position at the company, this wasn’t something I could change.
As a result, it became clear that it was time for me to leave Google and find another way to realize the better web of my dreams. At the end of 2020, I decided to join some like minded ex-Googlers at Neeva, who shared in the vision of a better user experience on the web, and knew first hand of the ways the ads model is an obstacle to that. So at Neeva, we built a new kind of search engine that’s ad-free, private, and designed only for its customers — the people who actually use the product — not advertisers. What a novel idea!
My focus since then has been building out Neeva’s mobile apps, across iOS and Android. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to re-think browsing the web on mobile, focusing on features that help you bypass the need to search or get back to the things you were doing before more easily. Things that were near impossible to prioritize on Chrome. And I’m proud of the experience we’ve created, but for me, a better search experience is just part of what’s needed. As you can probably tell, my dream goes beyond search alone.
When I first heard about The Browser Company, it seemed almost too good to be true. Who are these folks, anyway? And what do they know about building a browser?
Earlier this year, I started meeting regularly with Josh and Hursh from The Browser Company in an advisory role. I started using Arc regularly, and it quickly became my default browser. I was kind of surprised at how much better it was than Chrome. Then, over the summer, I came to better understand the larger vision of what The Browser Company is about — and how indeed that name is even a bit tongue in cheek.
The vision of an internet computer strikes so many chords with me, and connects back to what I’ve wanted to create since forever. It’s not enough to just be the browser that most people choose. We need to make the web computing model work better, and it’s going to take another step function or two to get there.
To me, that’s about evolving the browser into a home for all that I do on the internet that I can access from anywhere, feels like it has been tailored especially for me, and where it’s seamless to use apps in concert with one another.
I imagine a browser that is more than just a browser — that makes it easier for me to create on the web, and easier for me to discover what others have created. I dream of the browser fueling a virtuous cycle between creator and consumer, and ultimately growing the web ecosystem.
These are not easy things to do, but I believe they are within reach. How could I not want to roll up my sleeves and help?
So that’s exactly what I’m going to do next — and not as a manager of managers, but as a software engineer. Because if I’m helping build the browser of the future again, I want to be back in the code doing it.
P.S. Want to join? We’re hiring for Product Infrastructure, Chromium eng, and more.