Making the transition to the Arc browser is challenging. You ought to be aware of that right off the get. Arc offers some basic facilities for importing bookmarks, it runs the same core engine as Chrome, and the onboarding process is truly pleasurable all the way through. This is not because it is technically tough. It’s just that Arc, the new browser that was developed by a new company called The Browser Company, has such a different take on how browsers should operate that getting acclimated to it requires a bit of time and some serious effort on your part.
Josh Miller, the Chief Executive Officer of The Browser Company, frequently discusses computer operating systems and web browsers. The distinction is not obvious but is significant. Browsers, historically speaking, have basically just attempted to show you the web without getting in your way; they provide tabs and a URL bar, and sometimes a method to add extensions, but not much more than that. On the other hand, operating systems play a significant role in the operation of various components. Consider how Siri and Apple Pay work across all of the apps on your iPhone, as well as how Google’s Material Design works. You have complete control over the way everything on your phone appears and behaves. Even the simple “share” options or the ability to drag and drop data between applications are all aspects of the operating system.
Arc aspires to become the operating system for the web. It did this by developing a set of tools that simplify the process of controlling apps and content, by transforming bookmarks and tabs into something that functions more like an app launcher, and by developing a few apps that are platform-wide. The application is somewhat more opinionated and significantly more sophisticated than the typical web browser, which features a row of tabs along the top of the screen that are virtually identical to one another.
Arc treats the web not as a fixed thing for you to consume but rather as a set of endlessly remixable components for you to pull apart, play with, and use to create something that is uniquely yours. Another way to think about it is that Arc treats the web in the same way that TikTok treats video. TikTok does not treat video as a fixed thing for you to consume but rather as a set of components that can be recombined Do you have a suggestion for how to make something appear better or what you might do with it? Don’t be afraid to try.
Arc approaches the web in the same way that TikTok does video: not as a static product for you to consume, but rather as a collection of components that may be constantly recombined.
The web browser business is currently experiencing an exciting time right now. Users are turning elsewhere for a better user interface, additional functionality, and increased privacy after Chrome’s market domination lasted for more than a decade. Brave has some good ideas about privacy, Vivaldi has some extremely clever features, and even Edge and Firefox are rapidly improving. SigmaOS is also banking on browsers as operating systems. But Arc is the greatest swing of them all; it’s an attempt to not only make the browser better, but to completely reimagine what a browser should be.
Arc is a web browser that I’ve been making occasional use of for over a year, and it’s been my go-to option for the past few months. (Arc is currently only available for the Mac, but the business has stated that it is also working on versions for Windows and mobile devices, both of which are expected to be released next year.) It is still in a waitlisted beta and is still very much a beta app; there are some fundamental functions that are missing, some features that are still being developed, and a few bugs that are really irritating. However, Arc’s grand ideas are the ones that should be implemented. I don’t know if The Browser Company is ready to take on giants and win the next generation of the browser wars, but if I had to wager, I’d say that the next generation of browsers would be quite similar to Arc.
A novel approach to tabs
To get a firm grasp on what Arc is all about, you should begin by familiarizing yourself with the sidebar. This is a completely different method of organizing the content that you are seeing in your browser; it is not vertical tabs for the purpose of reducing the amount of horizontal space taken up by your ultrawide monitor.
The sidebar, which may be found on the left-hand side of the Arc window, can be conceptualized as a combination of tabs and bookmarks for the most straightforward approach to its comprehension. (From this point forward, I’m just going to refer to them as tabs.) Imagine it as the multitasking window on the iPhone, if that window included not only all of the apps that you had open but also all of the web tabs that you had open. Yes, each item in the sidebar represents a web page that is currently open, but some of them are actually applications that you can quickly return to and discover exactly where you left off. This makes perfect sense to me: in many browsers, I accidentally open several Gmail tabs because I can’t find the other ones, but in Arc, I just hit Command-T (which opens Arc’s command bar — more on that in a second) and search to get quickly back to Gmail. In other words, I don’t have to worry about this happening to me.
Arc is a dream come true for any kind of organization.
Arc is a dream come true for everyone who enjoys organizing things. You have the ability to add up to eight different applications to a Favorites area that is located at the very top of the sidebar. You have the option of pinning tabs to the area below the favorites for quick access, as well as creating folders of tabs and folders within those folders. One of the most important aspects of Arc is the ability to rename tabs, which makes it much simpler to find the tabs you need. You have the ability to alter the sidebar’s color as well as its transparency.
Every 12 hours, Arc will close all of your open and unpinned tabs, which Arc refers to as “Today Tabs.” This is the default setting. (You’re taking a risk with this tactic, Cotton!) If there are any that you would like to keep, you can “pin” them by dragging them above a line in the sidebar. Arc will dump anything it shuts into a page that can be searched, allowing you to find things later on, and the goal is to keep your sidebar as clean as possible. You also have the option to have them automatically archived after 24 hours, 7 days, or 30 days, depending on your preference. Because I prefer the disorganized state of my tabs, I went into the settings and disabled the Archive feature. Thank you very much for your understanding.
Spaces is the ultimate power user organization tool here because it enables you to easily switch between different modes in Arc. Each space has the potential to have its own unique assortment of pins and tabs, as well as a sidebar of a distinct color, and even a unique collection of user profiles. Spaces are a godsend if you have trouble dealing with Google’s inability to manage several identities in the same browser, if you prefer the idea of overt context switching, or if you simply want to keep your personal life and professional life separate. Because I find it simpler to just cram everything into one window and let anarchy take over, I don’t make heavy use of them myself very often. But spaces are a great concept, and Arc does a fantastic job of putting them into practice.
The general basic notion of Arc seems to be about right, although the execution is awkward in several places. Arc should do more to let you know it’s already running elsewhere since it’s still too easy to open a bunch of Gmail tabs at once, and it’s still too easy to open a bunch of tabs at once. When you add a lot of pins to your sidebar, it will quickly get cluttered, which will make it difficult to locate your open tabs without having to scroll a lot. There is really no way to put bookmarks that you only occasionally use, nor is there any real location for bookmarklets if you use those. Additionally, there is no place to put bookmarks that you just occasionally require. Therefore, everything is always present in the sidebar to the right of your screen. When you move around a lot between different rooms, it might be difficult to keep track of where things are kept.
You can get around these peculiarities, as well as a good deal of the strangeness that is inherent in Arc, by becoming familiar with the keyboard shortcuts that are available in the application. You may launch a new tab or search inside your existing ones by pressing Command-T to enter the command bar. You can also activate browser extensions, alter settings, and do much more by using the command bar. When you press Command and a number key, you’ll be taken to the matching pinned tab, and when you press Control and a number key, you’ll switch between your spaces. It is a minor annoyance that the URL bar is squeezed up at the top of the sidebar; but, it is quite convenient to simply press Command-Shift-C in order to copy the URL of the page you are currently viewing. In general, Arc seems to really want you to collapse your sidebar by pressing Command-S and navigate the web solely through the use of the keyboard.
Arc is a tool for advanced users in many respects, including this one. (An employee of the Browser Company described it to me as being for “those who construct spreadsheets to plan vacations,” which is a description that is very accurate.) To my good fortune, I am what you might call a power browser user. Although it took me some time to fully grasp the concept behind Arc, I have found that it is incredibly useful for my needs. Except for one thing: Arc’s support for using multiple windows is strange and poor, and it irritates the hell out of me. You are free to open a second window, however because it behaves similarly to the sidebar, if you close a tab in one location, it will no longer be visible in the other windows. You also have the option of opening a window known as a “Little Arc,” which is a frameless tab designed to be rapidly opened and closed without ever cluttering up your sidebar. However, a Little Arc window can only hold a single page at a time. There is also something called Split View, which allows you to open up to four pages next to one another (and apparently vertical splitting is also on the way), but this feature is really only helpful if you have apps that you always want to use together.
My final window management fix involved remapping the “New Blank Window” shortcut to the Command-N key combination. This activates a new window that has an empty sidebar when it is opened. This is effective! However, there is a flaw in Arc that is quite frustrating, and it resets the keyboard shortcut customizations every time the app is updated. Because of this, I have to go back to the stupid default configuration every few weeks.
Arc is not yet compatible with other operating systems, but it does make use of iCloud to synchronize your data across all of your Macs, and it does this more effectively than any other browser I’ve tried. I am able to put my Mac Mini to sleep, walk downstairs, pick up my MacBook Air, and immediately resume working with the exact same tabs and in the exact same location as before. Even though your spaces will sync, you will need to log in to each of your accounts individually on each device. (This is an even bigger concern on mobile, since browsers usually do not connect with their desktop counterparts very effectively, so here’s hoping that Arc gets it right.)
The fact that the Chromium engine, which also powers Google’s browser, is used to power Arc is generally positive news.
Chrome is the foundation around which all of this UI development is built. Arc uses the same Chromium engine that powers Google’s browser, which is largely good news. At this point, the internet is so Chrome-optimized that certain web pages will not work properly in any browser that does not utilize Chromium. Arc presently uses Chrome’s history page, borrows its Autofill technology, and supports Chrome extensions. In addition, Arc currently uses Chrome’s Autofill technology. It also suffers from the performance flaws that Chrome is known for, regrettably. The weight of my browser tabs doesn’t cause my computer to beachball very often, in part because Arc makes it much easier to organize them, but I have definitely had a few freezes and crashes.
But in the time that I’ve been using it, Arc has constantly improved, and while I wouldn’t recommend that everyone instantly stop using their browser and take the effort to figure out Arc, it does improve on a lot of the surfing interface. And the ways in which the app interacts with the web itself are where you’ll find the app’s true potential for intrigue.
The computer for the internet
My initial attraction to Arc was piqued by the fact that it featured built-in media controls. When you begin watching a Twitch stream or listening to a song on Spotify and then go to another tab, a little player appears at the bottom of the sidebar and gives you the ability to pause, play, or skip tracks. When you click on the player, it will send you straight back to the tab you were previously on. When you disconnect from Google Meet, the controls for the microphone and speaker are moved to the sidebar. So simple! How very useful! This is a huge improvement over Chrome’s hidden menu, which I frequently overlook. Thank you!
When switching tabs or moving to a different app, the picture-in-picture mode in Arc pops whatever it is that you’re watching out into a small superimposed window. I have the same sentiments on this feature. (It will even take the window with you if you transition to a different macOS Space.) The Browser Company has ambitious goals for the feature, despite the fact that right now it is just a very simple tool that captures the video player and places it on top of the other tabs. What if the picture-in-picture feature also incorporated the chat, allowing you to watch while simultaneously participating in the conversation? What if it were successful for using in video chats? What if it were possible to use it for something other than just video?
Arc’s ambition of becoming “TikTok for the web” is most evident in its implementation of features such as these, which cause the browser to behave more like an operating system than a standard web browser. According to the company’s projections for the not too distant future, everything you do will be connected to the internet. Even the vast majority of native apps are now merely web apps packaged in a native shell. Why, therefore, would you choose to handle everything on your desktop? Because of this, Arc considers the sidebar to be an app launcher. Additionally, it provides a location to save and explore all of your screenshots and downloads, allowing you to perform additional tasks without ever having to exit the application.
Even more additional applications, dubbed Notes and Easels, have been incorporated into Arc by The Browser Company. Notes is an app that consists of nothing more than a quick way to open a blank page and jot down some ideas. Each page will have its own unique URL, allowing you to easily save it and share it with others. Easels are significantly more potent, and they provide a glimpse into Arc’s genuine goals and aspirations. An easel is essentially a whiteboard, which is a flat surface with a blank area on which one can write, draw, or add images and videos. You can also substitute a screenshot with a live version of any webpage, transforming an easel into a display of multiple websites simultaneously in real time. Every easel can be used jointly, and sharing it is encouraged.
Arc additionally makes it simple to modify and adjust the appearance of any website you employ. Its Boosts function operates in a manner that is analogous to that of browser extensions, albeit on a much basic level: all it takes is a few lines of CSS code to make immediate modifications to the way a website appears or operates. I have one that gets rid of Twitter’s Trending sidebar, and another that makes my Gmail page more organized. Both of these are extensions. Even if it may appear that there will be a Boosts shop in the future, similar to the way that there is an App Store or a Chrome Web Store, it is rather simple to find out how to modify websites so that they are more to your liking right now.
Arc is conceptually closer to ChromeOS than it is to Chrome itself. Because in a world when all your apps are web apps and all your files are URLs, who really needs more than a browser? This feature works to increase the capabilities of your browser in an effort to make it the only app you require. For the time being, I do, even if just because the poor window management in Arc makes it too difficult for me to swiftly navigate between all of my many things.
But I believe that Arc is correct: we do need an operating system for the web, a tool that will make it simpler for us to operate across applications, assist us in organizing things, and add some platform-wide utilities that will make it all better. The application will be of much greater value once it is made accessible on mobile devices and Windows, but in the meanwhile, it has already established itself as my go-to browser. Tabs are dead. Long live sidebars.
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Arden Mitchell, a writer who is always looking for new ways to push the limits of what's possible with my words. I believe that writing is not just about expressing oneself, but about pushing the boundaries of what's possible and exploring uncharted territories. I strive to create work that is both ambitious and thought-provoking, that challenges readers to think differently and to question their assumptions. I believe that writing has the power to change the world, and I am honored to be a part of that tradition.