New Caching Change Could Dramatically Accelerate Google Chrome

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Google is exploring a new method of improving site performance in Google Chrome, this time by adding a new back-caching feature that would keep certain data in memory, even after you’ve left a site. The company writes:

A back/forward cache (bfcache) caches whole pages (including the JavaScript heap) when navigating away from a page, so that the full state of the page can be restored when the user navigates back. Think of it as pausing a page when you leave it and playing it when you return.

The company states that this feature could improve performance by up to 19 percent in mobile Chrome, and by 10 percent on desktop PC based on the number of site interactions that represent a back/forward usage pattern. This type of caching wouldn’t accelerate sites you visit on a regular basis or improve performance overall. It’s a specific change that would make it easier to surf when moving forward and back on the same site after having accessed it the first time.

According to Google, Chrome isn’t using the default WebKit implementation of a bfcache, due to incompatibilities with Google’s multi-process architecture. Google also has work to do on the browser, ensuring that JavaScript actually freezes on the page to be cached, rather than continuing to run in the background. Allowing background JavaScript to run from cached pages would be a significant privacy and security issue.

This is a feature that Firefox and Safari already use, albeit apparently in a somewhat different way. I tried comparing Chrome and Firefox in an ordinary desktop comparison, checking the load times on several sites in succession in the same manner as the videos on Google’s developer blog. Firefox may have outperformed Chrome slightly in these tests, but not enough for me to feel comfortable declaring it a winner, and it didn’t produce the same behavior as the Chrome test did for Google. The instant load of the previous page due to bfcache doesn’t seem to happen the same way. Then again, the video is supposed to show how the feature could work in the future, not serve as a final illustration of implementation.

These changes could increase RAM usage in Chrome, but Google plans to minimize this with smarter rules about when and how to keep data in RAM while pages are suspended. The goal is to implement the feature throughout 2019 and roll it into shipping Chrome in 2020.

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Mozilla will finally add multi-process support to Firefox 48

Almost seven years ago, Mozilla announced that it would begin implementing a new multiprocess-capable version of its popular browser. Now, it’s finally ready to start rolling that capability out to its users, though only slowly at first. As of this writing, Firefox’s multi-process implementation (dubbed Electrolysis, aka e10s), will roll out to a select group of beta users testing Firefox 48. If the initial testers find no problems, the feature will be enabled on more and more systems, until it debuts in Firefox 48 in roughly six weeks.

Here’s how Mozilla describes its own feature implementation.

Similar to how chemists can use the technique called electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, we’re using project Electrolysis to split Firefox into a UI process and a content process. Splitting UI from content means that when a web page is devouring your computer’s processor, your tabs and buttons and menus won’t lock up too…

This is a huge change for Firefox, the largest we’ve ever shipped… As noted earlier, this is just the first phase. Next up we’ll be working to get E10S to the cohorts not eligible in Firefox 48. We want 100% of our release users to benefit from this massive improvement. After that, we’ll be working on support for multiple content processes. With that foundation in place, the next projects are sandboxing for security, and isolating extensions into their own processes.

Adding multi-processing

Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Edge have all used multi-process sandboxing for tabs for years. In this model, each browser tab is independent from the other. The upside to this approach is that a single slow-running tab can’t lock up the entire system, and it allows each tab to be independently sandboxed from the others. One of the downsides is that this requires more memory on a per-tab basis, which is why Chrome has sometimes been criticized for being a RAM hog.

Multiple Firefox processes

Firefox multi-processor implementation (artist’s depiction)

Unfortunately, Firefox wasn’t designed to implement each tab as its own independent process, and adding this capability required the team to rearchitect significant chunks of the browser to be compatible with this new approach. Electrolysis won’t implement multi-process support in a single leap — instead, all pages will exist in one thread, while the UI is spun off to a different thread. This should still alleviate some of the stutters and slowdowns you see from FF when the browser has many tabs open. Whether or not it completely alleviates the problem is still an open question; I regularly see Firefox’s RAM usage balloon up to 2-4GB, only to collapse back down to 1/10 that size when I open and close the browser. (Turning off all add-ons and running in Safe Mode doesn’t fix the issue.)

The long-term goal of Electrolysis is still to create a browser with per-tab isolation, but it’s not clear when Mozilla will hit that target. Development on Electrolysis stopped for several years, while the company attacked other low-hanging fruit to improve responsiveness and performance, but the need to rebuild the browser from the ground up has also delayed the rollout.

Electrolysis should be faster and more responsive once FF48 debuts, but whether it’ll help stem Mozilla’s market share decline is another question altogether.

StatCounter1

Data from Statcounter shows that Firefox’s market share has been trending downwards, as has IE/Edge. While the decline looks modest over just the last few months, Firefox has been slowly bleeding market share for years — according to Statcounter, its June 2014 market share was 19.6%, compared with just 15.6% this April. IE and Edge have also been dropping off, despite Microsoft’s efforts to push users towards Windows 10.

If you want more information on Electrolysis and the rationale behind the program, these links should be of use.

Mozilla will finally add multi-process support to Firefox 48

Almost seven years ago, Mozilla announced that it would begin implementing a new multiprocess-capable version of its popular browser. Now, it’s finally ready to start rolling that capability out to its users, though only slowly at first. As of this writing, Firefox’s multi-process implementation (dubbed Electrolysis, aka e10s), will roll out to a select group of beta users testing Firefox 48. If the initial testers find no problems, the feature will be enabled on more and more systems, until it debuts in Firefox 48 in roughly six weeks.

Here’s how Mozilla describes its own feature implementation.

Similar to how chemists can use the technique called electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, we’re using project Electrolysis to split Firefox into a UI process and a content process. Splitting UI from content means that when a web page is devouring your computer’s processor, your tabs and buttons and menus won’t lock up too…

This is a huge change for Firefox, the largest we’ve ever shipped… As noted earlier, this is just the first phase. Next up we’ll be working to get E10S to the cohorts not eligible in Firefox 48. We want 100% of our release users to benefit from this massive improvement. After that, we’ll be working on support for multiple content processes. With that foundation in place, the next projects are sandboxing for security, and isolating extensions into their own processes.

Adding multi-processing

Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Edge have all used multi-process sandboxing for tabs for years. In this model, each browser tab is independent from the other. The upside to this approach is that a single slow-running tab can’t lock up the entire system, and it allows each tab to be independently sandboxed from the others. One of the downsides is that this requires more memory on a per-tab basis, which is why Chrome has sometimes been criticized for being a RAM hog.

Multiple Firefox processes

Firefox multi-processor implementation (artist’s depiction)

Unfortunately, Firefox wasn’t designed to implement each tab as its own independent process, and adding this capability required the team to rearchitect significant chunks of the browser to be compatible with this new approach. Electrolysis won’t implement multi-process support in a single leap — instead, all pages will exist in one thread, while the UI is spun off to a different thread. This should still alleviate some of the stutters and slowdowns you see from FF when the browser has many tabs open. Whether or not it completely alleviates the problem is still an open question; I regularly see Firefox’s RAM usage balloon up to 2-4GB, only to collapse back down to 1/10 that size when I open and close the browser. (Turning off all add-ons and running in Safe Mode doesn’t fix the issue.)

The long-term goal of Electrolysis is still to create a browser with per-tab isolation, but it’s not clear when Mozilla will hit that target. Development on Electrolysis stopped for several years, while the company attacked other low-hanging fruit to improve responsiveness and performance, but the need to rebuild the browser from the ground up has also delayed the rollout.

Electrolysis should be faster and more responsive once FF48 debuts, but whether it’ll help stem Mozilla’s market share decline is another question altogether.

StatCounter1

Data from Statcounter shows that Firefox’s market share has been trending downwards, as has IE/Edge. While the decline looks modest over just the last few months, Firefox has been slowly bleeding market share for years — according to Statcounter, its June 2014 market share was 19.6%, compared with just 15.6% this April. IE and Edge have also been dropping off, despite Microsoft’s efforts to push users towards Windows 10.

If you want more information on Electrolysis and the rationale behind the program, these links should be of use.

Mozilla will finally add multi-process support to Firefox 48

Almost seven years ago, Mozilla announced that it would begin implementing a new multiprocess-capable version of its popular browser. Now, it’s finally ready to start rolling that capability out to its users, though only slowly at first. As of this writing, Firefox’s multi-process implementation (dubbed Electrolysis, aka e10s), will roll out to a select group of beta users testing Firefox 48. If the initial testers find no problems, the feature will be enabled on more and more systems, until it debuts in Firefox 48 in roughly six weeks.

Here’s how Mozilla describes its own feature implementation.

Similar to how chemists can use the technique called electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, we’re using project Electrolysis to split Firefox into a UI process and a content process. Splitting UI from content means that when a web page is devouring your computer’s processor, your tabs and buttons and menus won’t lock up too…

This is a huge change for Firefox, the largest we’ve ever shipped… As noted earlier, this is just the first phase. Next up we’ll be working to get E10S to the cohorts not eligible in Firefox 48. We want 100% of our release users to benefit from this massive improvement. After that, we’ll be working on support for multiple content processes. With that foundation in place, the next projects are sandboxing for security, and isolating extensions into their own processes.

Adding multi-processing

Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Edge have all used multi-process sandboxing for tabs for years. In this model, each browser tab is independent from the other. The upside to this approach is that a single slow-running tab can’t lock up the entire system, and it allows each tab to be independently sandboxed from the others. One of the downsides is that this requires more memory on a per-tab basis, which is why Chrome has sometimes been criticized for being a RAM hog.

Multiple Firefox processes

Firefox multi-processor implementation (artist’s depiction)

Unfortunately, Firefox wasn’t designed to implement each tab as its own independent process, and adding this capability required the team to rearchitect significant chunks of the browser to be compatible with this new approach. Electrolysis won’t implement multi-process support in a single leap — instead, all pages will exist in one thread, while the UI is spun off to a different thread. This should still alleviate some of the stutters and slowdowns you see from FF when the browser has many tabs open. Whether or not it completely alleviates the problem is still an open question; I regularly see Firefox’s RAM usage balloon up to 2-4GB, only to collapse back down to 1/10 that size when I open and close the browser. (Turning off all add-ons and running in Safe Mode doesn’t fix the issue.)

The long-term goal of Electrolysis is still to create a browser with per-tab isolation, but it’s not clear when Mozilla will hit that target. Development on Electrolysis stopped for several years, while the company attacked other low-hanging fruit to improve responsiveness and performance, but the need to rebuild the browser from the ground up has also delayed the rollout.

Electrolysis should be faster and more responsive once FF48 debuts, but whether it’ll help stem Mozilla’s market share decline is another question altogether.

StatCounter1

Data from Statcounter shows that Firefox’s market share has been trending downwards, as has IE/Edge. While the decline looks modest over just the last few months, Firefox has been slowly bleeding market share for years — according to Statcounter, its June 2014 market share was 19.6%, compared with just 15.6% this April. IE and Edge have also been dropping off, despite Microsoft’s efforts to push users towards Windows 10.

If you want more information on Electrolysis and the rationale behind the program, these links should be of use.

Why I’m dumping Google Chrome

DumpChrome

I’ve been a Google Chrome user for so many years, I can’t remember when I switched. It’s been my favorite browser for a long time — I remember being blown away by how fast it was compared with Firefox, and while Mozilla has improved its browser significantly since 2008, Chrome still feels faster in many cases. I’m going to miss Chrome — but I’m no longer willing to tolerate the way Google handles the update process. It’s incredibly user-hostile and it’s based on a myth of infallibility.

Up until January 2014, I never gave a thought to Chrome’s frequent auto-updates. Then I got hit with version 32.0.1700, and my experience went straight to hell. Chrome began crashing upwards of 20x a day, typically without the option to recover the previous session. In some cases, I’d initiate recovery and the browser would crash before finishing the process. I tried all of the troubleshooting techniques I could find online and a few standard solutions, like disabling GPU acceleration. Nothing worked.

That’s when I discovered that Google monitors the Internet and forbids anyone from offering old versions of Chrome to download. File aggregation sites like OldVersion.com and FileHippo don’t archive Chrome. FileHippo has a notice that states Google’s policies disallow the site from offering downloads. I found a few downloads for the early version of Chrome, but all I wanted to do was step back to version 31 — and at the time, I couldn’t find it anywhere. In the end, I downloaded a beta version of Chromium.

AutoUpdate

After my experience with Chrome 32, I wanted to make certain I wasn’t caught by surprise again. Unfortunately, Chrome’s auto-update policy is deliberately difficult to use. Originally, you could disable Chrome’s Auto-Update via registry values. Google felt this was insecure, however, and mandated that you have to be able to edit group policies in Windows in order to make these changes. By default, that restricts auto-update control only to Windows 7 or Windows 8 Professional. Luckily, I have Windows 7 Pro, so I disabled the update process and went on my way.

Google Auto-Updates anyway

Last August, I logged into my system and found that Chrome had been updated. It turns out that Google had made changes to its own update process. It was no longer sufficient to set the “Auto-Update Check Period Override” to 0, as it had been. Now, the company’s help pages contained the following: “Warning: To prevent abuse of this policy, if a device is not joined to an Active Directory domain, and if this policy has been set to 0 or to a value greater than 77 hours, this setting will not be honored and replaced by 77 hours after August 2014. If you are affected by this, and still want to disable Chrome updates (NOT RECOMMENDED), you may do so by using ‘Update policy override’ as described.”

In other words, Google was still able to reach into my machine and forcibly update my software. I made the appropriate additional changes described above and again went about my business. It turns out, Google really hates it when you do that. I began to see pop-ups, at least once a day, telling me that I needed to update Google Chrome manually. Google services like Gmail or Google Drive would embed a yellow banner (shown below) when I attempted to use them. The banner would pop up every single time I used a Google service, and apparently can’t be dismissed or blocked.

chrome_not_supported

Then, last week, I stopped getting the errors. I checked my Google version and discovered I’m now running 44.0.2403.89. My policy settings haven’t changed. The only way to set them is by manually editing gpedit.msc, and that’s not a command you enter accidentally. My Downloads folder indicates that I haven’t downloaded Chrome’s installer for more than a year. Somehow, and entirely not by choice, I’m running a new browser version.

I’m aware, of course, that the trend in software is to force users to install security updates by default, and if Google had only made security patches mandatory, I’d have little issue with the company. My problem with Chrome isn’t that Google pushed out a broken software version that crashed 20x a day on my primary system — my problem is that Google has made it virtually impossible to actually choose not to update your browser. You can’t opt out. You can’t install an older version. You can’t shut Auto Update off unless you own the professional version of the Windows OS (though there are hacks to allow gpedit.msc to run on other versions of Windows). Even once you’ve jumped through the hoops required to shut off Auto Update, Google retains the ability to turn it right back on. Windows 10 at least allows users to uninstall updates if they cause a problem. In Google’s world, every version is better than the last for everyone, period, without exception.

I still like Chrome, but I’m no longer willing to put up with Google’s lockdown and willingness to override its own update policies. Back to Firefox for me.

Update: Multiple readers have questioned how I knew my problem in January 2014 was caused by a Chrome update. I didn’t just troubleshoot my browser installation — I manually deleted all associated files and reinstalled from scratch, ran stress tests and evaluations on all of my hardware including both RAM and CPU, switched from an Nvidia to an AMD GPU, confirmed that the browser would crash with just one tab and one window open (meaning not a memory leak issue), manually monitored Chrome’s memory use through Process Explorer, and tried the standard troubleshooting techniques like removing all plugins and disabling GPU acceleration. None of it worked. I didn’t include all this in the initial story because the point was to focus on the inability to disable auto-updates, not the scenario that led me to do so in the first place, but since folks have been asking, there it is.

Why I’m dumping Google Chrome

I’ve been a Google Chrome user for so many years, I can’t remember when I switched. It’s been my favorite browser for a long time — I remember being blown away by how fast it was compared with Firefox, and while Mozilla has improved its browser significantly since 2008, Chrome still feels faster in many cases. I’m going to miss Chrome — but I’m no longer willing to tolerate the way Google handles the update process. It’s incredibly user-hostile and it’s based on a myth of infallibility.

Up until January 2014, I never gave a thought to Chrome’s frequent auto-updates. Then I got hit with version 32.0.1700, and my experience went straight to hell. Chrome began crashing upwards of 20x a day, typically without the option to recover the previous session. In some cases, I’d initiate recovery and the browser would crash before finishing the process. I tried all of the troubleshooting techniques I could find online and a few standard solutions, like disabling GPU acceleration. Nothing worked.

That’s when I discovered that Google monitors the Internet and forbids anyone from offering old versions of Chrome to download. File aggregation sites like OldVersion.com and FileHippo don’t archive Chrome. FileHippo has a notice that states Google’s policies disallow the site from offering downloads. I found a few downloads for the early version of Chrome, but all I wanted to do was step back to version 31 — and at the time, I couldn’t find it anywhere. In the end, I downloaded a beta version of Chromium.

AutoUpdate

After my experience with Chrome 32, I wanted to make certain I wasn’t caught by surprise again. Unfortunately, Chrome’s auto-update policy is deliberately difficult to use. Originally, you could disable Chrome’s Auto-Update via registry values. Google felt this was insecure, however, and mandated that you have to be able to edit group policies in Windows in order to make these changes. By default, that restricts auto-update control only to Windows 7 or Windows 8 Professional. Luckily, I have Windows 7 Pro, so I disabled the update process and went on my way.

Google Auto-Updates anyway

Last August, I logged into my system and found that Chrome had been updated. It turns out that Google had made changes to its own update process. It was no longer sufficient to set the “Auto-Update Check Period Override” to 0, as it had been. Now, the company’s help pages contained the following: “Warning: To prevent abuse of this policy, if a device is not joined to an Active Directory domain, and if this policy has been set to 0 or to a value greater than 77 hours, this setting will not be honored and replaced by 77 hours after August 2014. If you are affected by this, and still want to disable Chrome updates (NOT RECOMMENDED), you may do so by using ‘Update policy override’ as described.”

In other words, Google was still able to reach into my machine and forcibly update my software. I made the appropriate additional changes described above and again went about my business. It turns out, Google really hates it when you do that. I began to see pop-ups, at least once a day, telling me that I needed to update Google Chrome manually. Google services like Gmail or Google Drive would embed a yellow banner (shown below) when I attempted to use them. The banner would pop up every single time I used a Google service, and apparently can’t be dismissed or blocked.

chrome_not_supported

Then, last week, I stopped getting the errors. I checked my Google version and discovered I’m now running 44.0.2403.89. My policy settings haven’t changed. The only way to set them is by manually editing gpedit.msc, and that’s not a command you enter accidentally. My Downloads folder indicates that I haven’t downloaded Chrome’s installer for more than a year. Somehow, and entirely not by choice, I’m running a new browser version.

I’m aware, of course, that the trend in software is to force users to install security updates by default, and if Google had only made security patches mandatory, I’d have little issue with the company. My problem with Chrome isn’t that Google pushed out a broken software version that crashed 20x a day on my primary system — my problem is that Google has made it virtually impossible to actually choose not to update your browser. You can’t opt out. You can’t install an older version. You can’t shut Auto Update off unless you own the professional version of the Windows OS (though there are hacks to allow gpedit.msc to run on other versions of Windows). Even once you’ve jumped through the hoops required to shut off Auto Update, Google retains the ability to turn it right back on. Windows 10 at least allows users to uninstall updates if they cause a problem. In Google’s world, every version is better than the last for everyone, period, without exception.

I still like Chrome, but I’m no longer willing to put up with Google’s lockdown and willingness to override its own update policies. Back to Firefox for me.

Update: Multiple readers have questioned how I knew my problem in January 2014 was caused by a Chrome update. I didn’t just troubleshoot my browser installation — I manually deleted all associated files and reinstalled from scratch, ran stress tests and evaluations on all of my hardware including both RAM and CPU, switched from an Nvidia to an AMD GPU, confirmed that the browser would crash with just one tab and one window open (meaning not a memory leak issue), manually monitored Chrome’s memory use through Process Explorer, and tried the standard troubleshooting techniques like removing all plugins and disabling GPU acceleration. None of it worked. I didn’t include all this in the initial story because the point was to focus on the inability to disable auto-updates, not the scenario that led me to do so in the first place, but since folks have been asking, there it is.

Why I’m dumping Google Chrome

I’ve been a Google Chrome user for so many years, I can’t remember when I switched. It’s been my favorite browser for a long time — I remember being blown away by how fast it was compared with Firefox, and while Mozilla has improved its browser significantly since 2008, Chrome still feels faster in many cases. I’m going to miss Chrome — but I’m no longer willing to tolerate the way Google handles the update process. It’s incredibly user-hostile and it’s based on a myth of infallibility.

Up until January 2014, I never gave a thought to Chrome’s frequent auto-updates. Then I got hit with version 32.0.1700, and my experience went straight to hell. Chrome began crashing upwards of 20x a day, typically without the option to recover the previous session. In some cases, I’d initiate recovery and the browser would crash before finishing the process. I tried all of the troubleshooting techniques I could find online and a few standard solutions, like disabling GPU acceleration. Nothing worked.

That’s when I discovered that Google monitors the Internet and forbids anyone from offering old versions of Chrome to download. File aggregation sites like OldVersion.com and FileHippo don’t archive Chrome. FileHippo has a notice that states Google’s policies disallow the site from offering downloads. I found a few downloads for the early version of Chrome, but all I wanted to do was step back to version 31 — and at the time, I couldn’t find it anywhere. In the end, I downloaded a beta version of Chromium.

AutoUpdate

After my experience with Chrome 32, I wanted to make certain I wasn’t caught by surprise again. Unfortunately, Chrome’s auto-update policy is deliberately difficult to use. Originally, you could disable Chrome’s Auto-Update via registry values. Google felt this was insecure, however, and mandated that you have to be able to edit group policies in Windows in order to make these changes. By default, that restricts auto-update control only to Windows 7 or Windows 8 Professional. Luckily, I have Windows 7 Pro, so I disabled the update process and went on my way.

Google Auto-Updates anyway

Last August, I logged into my system and found that Chrome had been updated. It turns out that Google had made changes to its own update process. It was no longer sufficient to set the “Auto-Update Check Period Override” to 0, as it had been. Now, the company’s help pages contained the following: “Warning: To prevent abuse of this policy, if a device is not joined to an Active Directory domain, and if this policy has been set to 0 or to a value greater than 77 hours, this setting will not be honored and replaced by 77 hours after August 2014. If you are affected by this, and still want to disable Chrome updates (NOT RECOMMENDED), you may do so by using ‘Update policy override’ as described.”

In other words, Google was still able to reach into my machine and forcibly update my software. I made the appropriate additional changes described above and again went about my business. It turns out, Google really hates it when you do that. I began to see pop-ups, at least once a day, telling me that I needed to update Google Chrome manually. Google services like Gmail or Google Drive would embed a yellow banner (shown below) when I attempted to use them. The banner would pop up every single time I used a Google service, and apparently can’t be dismissed or blocked.

chrome_not_supported

Then, last week, I stopped getting the errors. I checked my Google version and discovered I’m now running 44.0.2403.89. My policy settings haven’t changed. The only way to set them is by manually editing gpedit.msc, and that’s not a command you enter accidentally. My Downloads folder indicates that I haven’t downloaded Chrome’s installer for more than a year. Somehow, and entirely not by choice, I’m running a new browser version.

I’m aware, of course, that the trend in software is to force users to install security updates by default, and if Google had only made security patches mandatory, I’d have little issue with the company. My problem with Chrome isn’t that Google pushed out a broken software version that crashed 20x a day on my primary system — my problem is that Google has made it virtually impossible to actually choose not to update your browser. You can’t opt out. You can’t install an older version. You can’t shut Auto Update off unless you own the professional version of the Windows OS (though there are hacks to allow gpedit.msc to run on other versions of Windows). Even once you’ve jumped through the hoops required to shut off Auto Update, Google retains the ability to turn it right back on. Windows 10 at least allows users to uninstall updates if they cause a problem. In Google’s world, every version is better than the last for everyone, period, without exception.

I still like Chrome, but I’m no longer willing to put up with Google’s lockdown and willingness to override its own update policies. Back to Firefox for me.

Update: Multiple readers have questioned how I knew my problem in January 2014 was caused by a Chrome update. I didn’t just troubleshoot my browser installation — I manually deleted all associated files and reinstalled from scratch, ran stress tests and evaluations on all of my hardware including both RAM and CPU, switched from an Nvidia to an AMD GPU, confirmed that the browser would crash with just one tab and one window open (meaning not a memory leak issue), manually monitored Chrome’s memory use through Process Explorer, and tried the standard troubleshooting techniques like removing all plugins and disabling GPU acceleration. None of it worked. I didn’t include all this in the initial story because the point was to focus on the inability to disable auto-updates, not the scenario that led me to do so in the first place, but since folks have been asking, there it is.

Microsoft won’t enable ‘Do Not Track’ in next-gen Spartan browser

Spartan kicking Internet Explorer

Microsoft has announced that it will no longer enable the “Do Not Track” header by default in its next-generation web browser, codenamed Spartan. This move is a sharp reversal for Microsoft, which weathered substantial criticism from industry groups after it decided to enable DNT by default in Windows 8 and IE10.

Microsoft has laid blame for this change squarely at the World Wide Web Consortium’s door. The latest version of the DNT standard states: “The signal sent MUST reflect the user’s preference, not the choice of some vendor, institution, site, or network-imposed mechanism outside the user’s control; this applies equally to both the general preference and exceptions. The basic principle is that a tracking preference expression is only transmitted when it reflects a deliberate choice by the user.”

The problem with this thinking is that the overwhelming majority of users in every context never change default settings. That’s why Microsoft enabled DNT by default (well, that’s the idealistic reason), and that’s why putting the standard back in neutral means the majority of people will never use it. The larger issue at hand, however, is that the Do Not Track standard has been watered down to the point of uselessness. Most large companies simply ignore the header, and the entire point of DNT was that it was a voluntary buy-in, a collaboration between privacy advocates and advertising companies facilitated through the W3C itself. Some of the debated proposals would have sharply limited the ability of small advertising firms or businesses to track information, while simultaneously carving out vast exceptions for the likes of Google and Facebook.

IE11 vs. Project Spartan, Microsoft's new browser

IE11 vs. Project Spartan, Microsoft’s new browser

The battle lines were clear in short order. Privacy advocates wanted robust protections that would limit what kinds of data could be collected, how much sites could follow you, and for a majority of high-tech companies to sign on as respecting these restrictions. Advertising firms, and those that make their living on your personal information, weren’t interested in any of these restrictions. Privacy advocates wanted the opt-out to cover all tracking, advertisers wanted opt-outs to be construed as narrowly as possible, or to focus explicitly on specific types of tracking — thereby leaving the door open to the development of new methods that wouldn’t be included in the previous agreement.

Officially, of course, DNT isn’t dead — Microsoft, after all, is making these changes to abide by the standard, implying that there is a standard to be abided to and utilized. But with the project neutered, voluntary, and multiple large companies loudly proclaiming they won’t abide by it, the writing is clearly on the wall. Yahoo and AOL have both opted out, as has Facebook.

Consumer apathy, combined with massive conflicts of interest, have virtually guaranteed that any attempt to create an actual privacy standard is doomed to fail. There’s no way that the massive Internet giants, who make tens of billions of dollars on user information, are going to voluntarily embrace standards that restrict their right to do so — and no privacy standard that kowtows to the rights of such company can possibly succeed in protecting user rights.

For now, the only person respecting your own right to privacy, or to not be ruthlessly tracked across every aspect of your Internet usage, is you — and while browser plugins and anonymous browsing can help in certain areas, even approaching something like anonymity requires a dedicated commitment to the task.

Microsoft won’t enable ‘Do Not Track’ in next-gen Spartan browser

Microsoft has announced that it will no longer enable the “Do Not Track” header by default in its next-generation web browser, codenamed Spartan. This move is a sharp reversal for Microsoft, which weathered substantial criticism from industry groups after it decided to enable DNT by default in Windows 8 and IE10.

Microsoft has laid blame for this change squarely at the World Wide Web Consortium’s door. The latest version of the DNT standard states: “The signal sent MUST reflect the user’s preference, not the choice of some vendor, institution, site, or network-imposed mechanism outside the user’s control; this applies equally to both the general preference and exceptions. The basic principle is that a tracking preference expression is only transmitted when it reflects a deliberate choice by the user.”

The problem with this thinking is that the overwhelming majority of users in every context never change default settings. That’s why Microsoft enabled DNT by default (well, that’s the idealistic reason), and that’s why putting the standard back in neutral means the majority of people will never use it. The larger issue at hand, however, is that the Do Not Track standard has been watered down to the point of uselessness. Most large companies simply ignore the header, and the entire point of DNT was that it was a voluntary buy-in, a collaboration between privacy advocates and advertising companies facilitated through the W3C itself. Some of the debated proposals would have sharply limited the ability of small advertising firms or businesses to track information, while simultaneously carving out vast exceptions for the likes of Google and Facebook.

IE11 vs. Project Spartan, Microsoft's new browser

IE11 vs. Project Spartan, Microsoft’s new browser

The battle lines were clear in short order. Privacy advocates wanted robust protections that would limit what kinds of data could be collected, how much sites could follow you, and for a majority of high-tech companies to sign on as respecting these restrictions. Advertising firms, and those that make their living on your personal information, weren’t interested in any of these restrictions. Privacy advocates wanted the opt-out to cover all tracking, advertisers wanted opt-outs to be construed as narrowly as possible, or to focus explicitly on specific types of tracking — thereby leaving the door open to the development of new methods that wouldn’t be included in the previous agreement.

Officially, of course, DNT isn’t dead — Microsoft, after all, is making these changes to abide by the standard, implying that there is a standard to be abided to and utilized. But with the project neutered, voluntary, and multiple large companies loudly proclaiming they won’t abide by it, the writing is clearly on the wall. Yahoo and AOL have both opted out, as has Facebook.

Consumer apathy, combined with massive conflicts of interest, have virtually guaranteed that any attempt to create an actual privacy standard is doomed to fail. There’s no way that the massive Internet giants, who make tens of billions of dollars on user information, are going to voluntarily embrace standards that restrict their right to do so — and no privacy standard that kowtows to the rights of such company can possibly succeed in protecting user rights.

For now, the only person respecting your own right to privacy, or to not be ruthlessly tracked across every aspect of your Internet usage, is you — and while browser plugins and anonymous browsing can help in certain areas, even approaching something like anonymity requires a dedicated commitment to the task.

Microsoft won’t enable ‘Do Not Track’ in next-gen Spartan browser

Microsoft has announced that it will no longer enable the “Do Not Track” header by default in its next-generation web browser, codenamed Spartan. This move is a sharp reversal for Microsoft, which weathered substantial criticism from industry groups after it decided to enable DNT by default in Windows 8 and IE10.

Microsoft has laid blame for this change squarely at the World Wide Web Consortium’s door. The latest version of the DNT standard states: “The signal sent MUST reflect the user’s preference, not the choice of some vendor, institution, site, or network-imposed mechanism outside the user’s control; this applies equally to both the general preference and exceptions. The basic principle is that a tracking preference expression is only transmitted when it reflects a deliberate choice by the user.”

The problem with this thinking is that the overwhelming majority of users in every context never change default settings. That’s why Microsoft enabled DNT by default (well, that’s the idealistic reason), and that’s why putting the standard back in neutral means the majority of people will never use it. The larger issue at hand, however, is that the Do Not Track standard has been watered down to the point of uselessness. Most large companies simply ignore the header, and the entire point of DNT was that it was a voluntary buy-in, a collaboration between privacy advocates and advertising companies facilitated through the W3C itself. Some of the debated proposals would have sharply limited the ability of small advertising firms or businesses to track information, while simultaneously carving out vast exceptions for the likes of Google and Facebook.

IE11 vs. Project Spartan, Microsoft's new browser

IE11 vs. Project Spartan, Microsoft’s new browser

The battle lines were clear in short order. Privacy advocates wanted robust protections that would limit what kinds of data could be collected, how much sites could follow you, and for a majority of high-tech companies to sign on as respecting these restrictions. Advertising firms, and those that make their living on your personal information, weren’t interested in any of these restrictions. Privacy advocates wanted the opt-out to cover all tracking, advertisers wanted opt-outs to be construed as narrowly as possible, or to focus explicitly on specific types of tracking — thereby leaving the door open to the development of new methods that wouldn’t be included in the previous agreement.

Officially, of course, DNT isn’t dead — Microsoft, after all, is making these changes to abide by the standard, implying that there is a standard to be abided to and utilized. But with the project neutered, voluntary, and multiple large companies loudly proclaiming they won’t abide by it, the writing is clearly on the wall. Yahoo and AOL have both opted out, as has Facebook.

Consumer apathy, combined with massive conflicts of interest, have virtually guaranteed that any attempt to create an actual privacy standard is doomed to fail. There’s no way that the massive Internet giants, who make tens of billions of dollars on user information, are going to voluntarily embrace standards that restrict their right to do so — and no privacy standard that kowtows to the rights of such company can possibly succeed in protecting user rights.

For now, the only person respecting your own right to privacy, or to not be ruthlessly tracked across every aspect of your Internet usage, is you — and while browser plugins and anonymous browsing can help in certain areas, even approaching something like anonymity requires a dedicated commitment to the task.