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Last month, This Dot Labs, a framework-agnostic JavaScript consultancy, conducted its biannual online live streaming event, This. JavaScript – State of Browsers. In this live stream, representatives of popular browsers talk about the amazing features users can look forward to, next releases, and much more.

This time Firefox was missing. However, in attendance were:

  • Stephanie Drescher ,  Program Manager, Microsoft Edge
  • Brian Kardell ,  Developer Advocate, Igalia, an active contributor to WebKit
  • Rijubrata Bhaumik , Software Engineer, Intel, who talked about Intel’s contribution towards web
  • Jonathan Sampson ,  Developer Relations, Brave
  • Paul Kinlan , Sr. Developer Advocate, Google
  • Diego Gonzalez, Product Manager, Samsung Internet

The event was moderated by Tracy Lee , who is the  founder of This Dot Labs.

Following are some of the updates shared by the browser representatives:


What’s new with Edge

In December last year, Microsoft announced that it will be adopting Chromium in the development of Microsoft Edge for desktop. And, beginning this year we saw its decision coming to fruition. The tech giant made the first preview builds of the Chromium-based Edge available to both macOS and Windows 10 users. These preview builds are available for testing from the Microsoft Edge Insider site. This Chromium-powered Edge is available for iOS and Android users too.

Stephanie Drescher shared what has changed for the Edge team after switching to Chromium. This is enabling them to deliver and update the Edge browser across all supported versions of Windows. This is also allowing them to update the browser more frequently as they are no longer tied to the operating system. The Edge team is not just using Chromium but also contributing all the web platform enhancements back to Chromium by default. The team has already made 400+ commits into the Chromium project.

Edge comes with support for cross-platform and installable progressive web apps directly from the browser. The team’s next focus area is to improve Windows experience in terms of accessibility, localization, scrolling, and touch. At Build 2019, Microsoft also announced its new WebView that will be available for Win32 and UWP apps. She said this “will give you the option of an evergreen Chromium platform via edge or the option to bring your own version for AppCompat via a model that’s similar to Electron.

Moving on to dev tools, the browser has several new dev tools that are visually aligned with VS Code. The updates in dev tools include dark mode on by default, control inputs, and the team is further exploring “more ways to align the experience between your browser dev tools and VS Code.” The browser’s built-in tools can now inspect and debug any Microsoft-Edge powered web content including PWAs, WebView, etc.

No doubt these are some amazing features to be excited for. Edge has come to iOS and macOS, however, the question of whether it will support Linux in the future remains unanswered. Drescher said that the team has no plans right now to support Linux, however looking at the number of user requests for Linux support they are starting to think about it.

What’s new with Chrome

At I/O 2019, Google shared its vision for Chrome, which is making it “instant, powerful, and safe” to help improve the overall browsing experience.

To make Chrome faster and lighter, a bunch of improvements to V8, Chrome’s JavaScript engine has been made. Now, JavaScript memory usage is down by 20% for real-world apps. After addressing the startup bottlenecks, Chrome’s loading speed has now become 50% better on low-end devices and 10 percent across devices. The scrolling performance has also improved by 18%.

Along with these speed gains, the team has also introduced a few features in the web platform that aim to take the burden away from the developers:

  • The lazy loading mechanism reduces the initial payload to improve load time. You just need to add “loading=lazy” in the image or iframe elements. The idea is simple, the web browser will not download an image or iframe that has the loading attribute until the user scrolls near to it.
  • The Portals API, first showcased at I/O this year, aims to make navigation between sites and web pages smoother. Portals is very similar to iframe in that it allows web developers to embed remote content in their pages. The difference is that with Portals you will able to navigate inside the content you are embedding.

As a part of making Chrome more powerful, Google is actively working on bridging the capabilities gap between native and web under Project Fugu. It has already introduced two APIs: Web Share and Web Share Target and plans to bring more capabilities like writable file API, event alarms, user idle detection, and more.

As the name suggests, the Web Share API allows websites to invoke the native sharing capabilities of the host platform. Users will be able to easily share either a URL or text on pretty much any platform they want to. Till date, we were restricted to share content on native apps that have registered as a share target. With Web Share Target API, installed web apps can also register with the underlying OS as a target to receive shared content.

Talking about the safety aspect, Chrome now comes with support for WebAuthn, a new authentication standard by W3C, starting from its 67 version. This API allows servers to integrate strong authenticators that are built into devices, for instance, Windows Hello or Apple’s Touch ID.

What’s new with Brave

Edge, Chrome, and Brave share one common thing and that is they all are Chromium-based. But, what sets Brave apart is the Basic Attention Token (BAT). Jonathan Sampson, who was representing Brave, said that we have seen a “Cambrian Explosion” of cryptocurrencies utility tokens or blockchain assets like Bitcoin, Litecoin, Etherium.

Partnership with Coinbase

Previously, if we wanted to acquire these assets there was only one way to do it “mining”, which meant a huge investment on expensive GPUs and power bill. Brave believes that the next step to earn these assets is primarily by your “attention”.

Brave’s goal is to take users from mining to earning blockchain assets. As a part of this goal, it has partnered with Coinbase, one of the prominent companies in the blockchain space. Users will get 10 dollars in the form of BAT just for learning the state of digital advertising and what Brave and attention tokens are doing in that space. Through BAT, Brave is providing its consumers with a direct way to support their content creators. These content creators can customize and personalize this entire experience by navigating to the signing up on Brave’s creators page.

Implementation changes in how BAT is sent to creators

The Brave team has also made some implementation changes in terms of how this whole thing works. Previously, consumers could send these tokens to anyone. The token then used to go into an omnibus settlement wallet and stays there until that creator verifies with the program and demonstrates ownership over their web property. Finally, after all this, they get access to these tokens for use.

Unfortunately, this could mean that some tokens have to “sit in a state of limbo” for an indefinite amount of time. Now, the team has re-engineered this process to hold these tokens inside your wallet for up to 90 days. If and when that property is verified the tokens are transmitted out. And, if the property is never verified then the tokens are released back inside your wallet. You can send them to another creator instead of letting them sit in that omnibus settlement wallet. Sampson further added, “of course the entire process goes through the anonymize protocol so that brave nor anybody else has any idea which websites you’re visiting or to whom you are contributing support.”

Inner working of Brave ads

To better the ads recommendation Brave comes with a machine learning model integrated. This feature is opt-in so the user gets to decide when and how many ads they want to see in order to earn BAT from their attention. The ML model can study the user and learn about them each day. Every day a catalog is downloaded to each users’ device. Then the individual machines would churn away on that catalog to figure out which ads are relevant to an individual. Once, the relevant ads are found out users will see a small operating system notification. Brave sends 70% of the revenue made from the users’ attention to the user in the form of BAT.

Brave Sync (Beta)

The beta version of Brave Sync is available across platforms from Windows, macOS, Linux to Android, and iOS. Similar to Brave Ads, this is also an opt-in feature that allows you to automatically sync browsing data across devices. Right now it is in beta and supports syncing only bookmarks. In the future releases, we can expect support for tabs, history, passwords, autofill, as well as Brave Rewards. Once you enable it on one device, you just need to scan a QR code or enter a secret phrase to register another device for syncing.

Canary builds available

Like all the other browsers, Brave has also started to share their nightly and dev builds to give developers an “earlier insight” into the work they are doing. You can access them through their download page.

These were some of the major updates discussed in the live stream. There was also Intel and Samsung who talked about their contributions to the web. Igalia’s developer Brian Kardell talked about the dark mode, pointer events, and more in WebKit.

Watch the full event on YouTube for more details.

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