It is just about unheard of in the current tech landscape to see a company building an entirely new web browser from scratch. There are exceptions, one of which is a UK-based company called Ekioh, which is building a web browser called Flow. What is even more interesting is that it was built on Google’s Chromium of Apple’s WebKit.
Going With the Flow
Ekioh is not a new company. It was created in 2006 by Piers Wombwell, who has now over 25 years’ experience in the software industry. A lot of that experience has been in embedded software design and implementation, mostly in the field of user interface engines on TV. Its previous work also included CPU simulators (Firepath) and porting the Java VM to the Oracle Network Computer.
Flow, the company, said on its website was developed in response to both GPUs and multicore processors becoming commonplace in consumer electronics products and embedded systems. Its performance automatically scales as the number of CPU & GPU cores increases. Instead of building on Google’s Chromium or Apple’s WebKit open-source code, Flow is starting with a blank slate. The goal is to enable web-based apps to run even on low-end microcomputers such as the Raspberry Pi. In a blog in 2018 outlining the concept, Stephen Reeder, Ekioh’s commercial director, explained, “In 2012 we started an ambitious project to develop a new browser engine that would deliver excellent performance on embedded devices and consumer electronics. Mobile phones aside, consumer electronics products are usually designed with the smallest possible bill of materials required to deliver the desired user experience”
Since then, Ekioh has made steady progress and at the beginning of March announced that Flow is available for all Rasberry Pi computers. Ekioh now hopes that Flow will start appearing in products later this year. So it is worth it?
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New Browser Obstacles
Louis Ashner is EVP for technology at NY-based ENGINE Media Exchange. He said building a new browser from scratch is a daunting task, but it can work. He pointed out that it has taken Apple and Google many years to create WebKit and Chromium and that it will take another 5-10 years to create another similar browser engine.
That being said, he believes Flow’s goal of using multi-threading and using the GPU further are excellent ideas.” High-powered laptops and even the latest cell phones are designed with many processor cores, and it only makes sense to utilize more of them,” he said. However, if Google and Apple haven’t implemented this yet, there is probably a reason for it.. We will likely see the Chromium or WebKit browsers figure out how to improve multi-threading and GPU offloading before a new browser can be completely written from scratch and replace the current browsers in use."
"If Flow does succeed, a new browser option would provide more choice for consumers as the industry navigates issues around privacy and identity. In particular, having a very specific, lightweight browser for connected TV devices could have a positive impact, as a user is typically not browsing the internet from those devices,” he” said. “Flow would have a unique opportunity to positively impact advertising for CTV and cookieless environments by protecting privacy for the user while being agnostic toward any specific advertiser."
Why the Flow Might Have an Edge
A Web browser is nothing but a compilation of programming codes to create an interface for displaying the web pages. There are a number of things that make that difficult, according to Peter Brown of CA-based WindowsChimp. Making a browser from scratch is extremely difficult, requires heavy monetary investment and gives very little in return comparatively.
“Creating web browsers is not feasible,” he said. “There is no money in them. You won't find any paid browser on the internet. The big giants that are currently ruling the browser's race — Google and Microsoft provide free browsers for strategic purposes, like gaining consumers for their other paid products.
He added that current top browsers are designed in such a way that they can handle poorly written web page codes. There are thousands of web pages that do not meet the standard requirement but still work on most browsers. To make a browser that can handle the bad codes is quite challenging. “Although creating a new browser is currently not worthwhile until it brings out something revolutionary, the Flow web browser might still be successful since it is made explicitly for running web-based apps on microcomputers like Raspberry Pi;” he said.
According to Harriet Chan, marketing director of Singapore-based CocoFinder, to develop a high-performance web browser at a low price, there is a need to start the design from scratch. It is not a good idea to dwell on the old codes of Chromium and Apple browsers. The Flow browser is a new browser for your new business yet to travel in the future network space.
Ekioh has other plans with the Flow browser. The firm has decided to sell its web browser license across the electronics industry. Their goal is to embed their web browser on electronic devices at a low budget. This cost-cutting procedure has become feasible by slightly reducing the memory and processor performance without affecting the user experience.
There is one other consideration for browsers that wasn't an issue when older browsers came online. An effective web browser will always have optimized mobile compatibility, Brian Turner, CTO of Boston-based ConvertBinary, told us. “It's a fact that most online users have been comfortably habituated with Safari and Chrome for some time now. For this reason, it's always going to be difficult to change a user's long-term browsing habits unless they have a convincing enough reason to do so,” he said.
One component of a much grander image is optimized mobile compatibility. Users prefer to keep things consistent across multiple platforms; for the sake of simplicity, Chrome users will typically use Chrome on mobile and Safari users will do the same.
For a new browser to keep up, the browser must be available on both desktop and mobile devices. Otherwise, users will have their data spread across multiple different places, leaving them to repeatedly log in to their favorite websites and diminish an otherwise streamlined browsing experience. This can be confusing and unnecessarily frustrating for the user, which leads to resistance when asking them to make the switch.
“While it may take a long term to develop an equally responsive mobile initiative as a desktop complement, it's a vital component of the bigger picture. Without it, building momentum and guiding users towards your browser platform will be a considerably more difficult task,” Turner said.