Josh Miller, a 31-year-old product developer, spent a recent Thursday morning at his Brooklyn office, sniping at Google’s Chrome web browser and its Apple Inc. rival, Safari. The experiences are “broken,” he says, staring at both browsers running side by side on his computer. They have almost indistinguishable interfaces, including the gray menus and wide address bars wasting valuable space across the top of the screen to display what he calls “URL gibberish.” Then there are the cluttered tabs that collapse into teeny, inscrutable icons when too many are open, making his laptop scorch like a just-microwaved Hot Pocket. “Why do I have seven versions of the same Google Doc tab open across three windows?” Miller says. “It doesn’t make any sense!”
Power users often exchange laments about their poor tab management as a way to humblebrag about their freakish workloads. But in Miller’s view, they shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. What seems like their organizational shortcoming is actually evidence of the deeply entrenched power of several large tech companies that, frankly, don’t have much reason to care about user misery. Maybe it’s time to admit, Miller says, that the basic assumption of what a browser is—a rectangle with a topside URL and a row of tabs, each displaying a separate web page—could be all wrong.