What Happened to Web Browsers? or Web Browsers – the New Operating System

A long time ago I stopped using IE and became a Firefox user. By a long time, I mean a couple of years. After a while, which every plug-in/extension added, the browser became slower and slower and it’s memory footprint skyrocketed. JIT, google came out with Chrome, a web browser that promised to be fast. it was fast at the start (just like Firefox was), but slowly (or rather really fast) it also became a slow (And I have a quad-core chip that is supposed to be fast, 6GB RAM and 64bit Win7).

Looking at what runs on your computer when you start Chrome may surprise you the first time. Instead of having one process called “Chrome”, you have many processes, each one eating away your RAM and CPU. The reason for this architecture is described here, and they do give some strong points in its favor. But please, explain to why do you need 260MB of RAM to display two tabs, one with GMail and the other with Google Calendar? and BTW, I disabled ALL extensions to measure this. And after browsing the internet for a couple of days (I normally don’t turn off my computer, just put it to sleep), the memory footprint increases like crazy, and the performance of my computer just dies.

I went back to Firefox to see if things are better there now. A bit better, but not by much: 230MB of RAM to display the same pair of pages. Overall performance is a bit better, but not by much. And when you start loading extensions, plugins, many tabs, the browsers just grows and grows to occupy 500MB, 700MB, and who know how much more memory. And also CPU time.

So what happened? the browser became the new operating system. Neither Chrome nor Firefox are simple rendering engines like old web browsers. They are JavaScript interpreters, rendering engines for pictures and movies, handle multiple rendering processes in different tabs (and possible background processes for extension/plug-ins). They store and load information, communicate with the network in both synchronous and asynchronous ways. Applications are now being written for the browser, and not for the operating system on which this browser is running.

We have added another layer of abstraction, and this costs both CPU time and memory. But memory is cheap, and computers are always getting faster, right? But if this is so, why is my top-of-the-line 1.5-years-old computer so slow??? Oh… I hate computers 🙂

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