The Vivaldi browser offers an easy upgrade from Google Chrome

Most browsers are now being dumbed down to appeal to the mass market, but Vivaldi - now at the beta 2 stage - is going the other way, to appeal to "power users"

Vivaldi with a Speed Dial tab

Vivaldi with a Speed Dial tab open for rapid access to web sites...

Screen grab by ZDNet

The Vivaldi browser now offers a Google-free replacement for Chrome on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Switching requires very little effort because, like several rivals, it's based on open source Chromium code, and renders websites exactly like Chrome.

Vivaldi even runs extensions from the Chrome Web Store, including uBlock Origin and TinEye Reverse Image Search. (I've not had problems, but test your must-haves before switching.) However, the long-term aim is to deliver a browser that does what its users need, not one that needs overloading with extensions that slug the performance.

Why would anyone want to switch away from Chrome? Generally, there are three reasons. First, there's a dislike of Google's surveillance-based business model. Second, Chrome is aimed at the mass market, whereas Vivaldi is aimed at "power users". Third, there's Chrome's avaricious consumption of PC resources. The days when Chrome was "lean and mean" are long gone.

Vivaldi solves the first two problems, but not the third. If anything, it consumes slightly more resources than Chrome. The extra features come with a price.

While I switched my main browser from Chrome to Mozilla Firefox a couple of years ago, I still used Chrome every day. However, that's changed since Vivaldi went beta late last year, and it's now in beta 2. Yes, it still has a few bugs, and it's missing some planned features. However, for Windows users, it is now good enough for full time use for most purposes. (I haven't tested the other versions.)

Vivaldi is obviously not the only browser with a music-related name, and that's not a coincidence. Vivaldi's co-founder (with Tatsuki Tomita) and CEO, Jon von Tetzchner, was also a co-founder of Opera. However, he says he didn't like the direction in which Opera was going, and he didn't like dealing with investors. He has therefore set up his own operation, with offices in Norway, the UK and the USA.

"Opera is going in the same direction as everybody else," von Tetzchner tells me, "which is [towards] a limited, simplified browser. There's a gap in the market for people who see the browser as a tool, and want to handle a lot of data - the more technical users. Our goal is to have a product that's better for that user base."

Basically, Vivaldi looks much like every other browser, except for behaving a bit like a chameleon: it changes its colour scheme to suit the web pages you visit. Some people must like this, but I found it annoying and turned it off.

The main controls are, by default, distributed around the browser:

1) The V in the top left has a drop-down menu with access to File, Edit, View, Tools and other commands.

2) Like Firefox, Vivaldi has a separate search box that makes it easy to use a different search engine by picking one from a drop-down menu.

3) A vertical black toolbar on the left provides access to bookmarks, downloads, and notes (with mail and contacts to come) via slide-out panels. You can drag the panel as far as you like across the screen to view two web pages side by side.

4) The cogwheel in the bottom left provides fast access to settings.

5) A small cluster of controls at the right-hand end of the status bar provide various page actions, such as toggling images, and magnification via a slider.

6) A waste bin the top right holds the tabs you've closed. If you regret closing one, you can easily retrieve it.

Vivaldi Page Actions menu

Page Actions menu

However, you can do most things by hitting F2 for a searchable quick-list of commands, and by using the Opera-style Speed Dial tabs. The trick is to use New Folder to create several sets of Speed Dial tabs, one for each area of interest.

If you're the sort of person who prefers to use keyboard shortcuts, there's a huge selection. Interesting ones include Shift-Esc for the task manager, and Ctrl-F11, which removes the browser chrome (including tabs etc) without making the image full screen.

Either way, the Vivaldi interface - which is written in JavaScript and other web technologies - is generally easy to customize. For example, you can have your tabs at either side or at the bottom, and you can move the vertical black bar from the left to the right hand side.

On the downside, both Vivaldi and Chrome still have limited tab handling compared to Firefox, and the more tabs you open, the tinier each tab becomes. Hovering over a tab produces a small page preview - or, if you're tab-stacking, several small page previews - which helps. Otherwise, there's a list of pages (under Window), or you can use the mouse-wheel to scroll rapidly through tabs.

Vivaldi is not planning on world domination, and Jon von Tetzchner says he only needs a few million users to break even, with a search-based income of roughly $1 per user per year. There are more than enough geeks to make that modest aim a reality. Vivaldi should also be able to attract the people who still use Opera 12 for its tab stacks, custom keyboard shortcuts, mouse gestures and note-taking, all of which Vivaldi has.

Launching a new browser sounds like a tough job. But in von Tetzchner, Vivaldi has a CEO who not only knows what he's doing, but has done it before.

Interview with Jon von Tetzchner:

Can this browser for 'discerning users' make a dent in Chrome or Internet Explorer?

Jon von Teczchner in a London hotel

Jon von Tetzchner in London...

Photo: Jack Schofield


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