I listen to a lot of podcasts on various subjects, and recently I heard the hosts of the Digital Underground Podcast from Kaspersky Labs talking about a new web browser called Aviator. Built on Chromium, but designed for privacy, I figured I’d give it a try. I like Chrome, and I like privacy, what’s not to like about a browser that behaves like Chrome but protects my privacy?
Well, it depends…
Let’s start by looking at how it protects privacy. You know how you can go back to a website you’ve visited before and it kind of acts like it “remembers” you? It does! It placed a tiny file of text onto your machine called a “cookie.” That cookie contains information about your visit to that site, it may contain login information (which is why you never want to have banks and places like that “remember” you), it may contain information from a form that you filled out while you were there that indicate certain preferences. Aviator deletes all those cookies when you close out of the browser. Poof–gone. You have to log in all over again. If you’re serious about privacy and protection, that’s a good thing.
Aviator also uses an ad blocker called Disconnect. More later about this, but an ad blocker does just what it says: blocks ads.
Java is not available to run in Aviator, because the current version of Java, and therefore the only version considered remotely “secure”, is only available as a 64-bit program. Chromium, the foundation for Aviator, is only available as a 32-bit program, so the current Java won’t run in Chromium. Most security gurus will tell you that you shouldn’t run Java anyway.
Aviator will ask you, as you go to shut it down, if you’re sure you want to quit. This is an important question, because unlike most other browsers, if you accidentally shut down, there is no recovery of open web pages. Aviator doesn’t keep a file or a log or any sort of memory of what was open when you closed it. So it asks. Every time.
As of this time, Aviator only runs on Windows and Mac. There isn’t a mobile version at all yet, though they are working on it, and, interestingly enough, there is no Linux version; Chromium is based on Linux.
So–my take on it:
Overall, the browser has a great look and feel. It’s clean–I LOVE clean!–and as responsive on click as any other browser I’ve used. (Every time Safari gets an update, the Macazoids say, “It’s snappy.” Okay, Aviator is “snappy.”) It has plenty of visual appeal, the color scheme is attractive. I don’t use a lot of customization on my Chrome browser, so I didn’t go looking for anything to customize as far as colors, etc.
For me, a huge part of what makes a browser work or not is whether it facilitates or hinders productivity. Because Aviator is built on Chrome, all of the plug-ins/extensions I use with Chrome are available for Aviator. Every. Single. One. Yes, color me impressed. Built on Chrome notwithstanding, I did expect something to be missing.
After I got all the plug-ins and extensions loaded and configured, the one I use probably more than all the others compbined, XMarks, synced flawlessly and presented my Bookmarks Bar exactly as I’m accustomed to seeing it in Chrome. Again, nothing missing.
For casual surfing, Aviator was fine. As long as nothing needed saved or passed or searched, Aviator did what I expected it to do. Beyond that, however, Aviator and I seemed to disagree on what constitutes a reasonable user experience.
The links for a survey I wanted to take wouldn’t pass through the preference on cookies, which meant that I kept having to tell Aviator that it was okay for this website to remember who I am. Since I didn’t know how long the survey was going to be, this had a potential to get real annoying real quick. As a result, I have a concern with online courses; I think it’s safe to assume that online courses may behave in the same way. I just couldn’t seem to get anything done without having to tell the browser to let me do it. If I only spent a few minutes a day using a browser, that might be tolerable, but I spend quite a bit of time using Chrome, and I have a very low tolerance for answering the same question more than once. In that respect, Aviator was like a curious toddler, constantly asking the same question. Gave me a somewhat new respect for a child’s “Why?”.
The crushing blow for Aviator on my laptop came when I found a problem with Google not liking it. In less than an hour of use, it raked up enough venom from Google that when anyone in our home tried to use the Google search engine, they had to type in a captcha response. Google hadn’t anything specific to offer by way of explanation, just a vague reference to a violation of terms of service. I made sure none of the computers in the house were sending out spam, but the only devices connected all day were iPhones and my MacBook pro. We never have network problems, I keep all our machines patched and I pay pretty close attention to network issues. It really wasn’t difficult to determine that the difference was Aviator.
A bit more digging and I found it–the ad blocker, Disconnect. Google is a business, but you are not the customer. You are the product. Don’t vilify Google, Bing is exactly the same; all the browsers are. The revenue model is that they serve up ads and if you click on them, someone makes money. If there is no ad being served, there will be no money made. So Google makes it clear–somewhere deep in the bowels of its terms of service–that something like the aggressive Disconnect is unwelcome in the Googlesphere. Note here, our family didn’t have any troubles going to any other websites; just doing a Google search. That was what helped me zoom in on the issue.