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What Happened to Web Browsers? or Web Browsers – the New Operating System

Last updated on 2012-12-10

A long time ago I stopped using IE and became a Firefox user. By a long time, I mean a couple of years. After a while, which every plug-in/extension added, the browser became slower and slower and it’s memory footprint skyrocketed. JIT, google came out with Chrome, a web browser that promised to be fast. it was fast at the start (just like Firefox was), but slowly (or rather really fast) it also became a slow (And I have a quad-core chip that is supposed to be fast, 6GB RAM and 64bit Win7).

Looking at what runs on your computer when you start Chrome may surprise you the first time. Instead of having one process called “Chrome”, you have many processes, each one eating away your RAM and CPU. The reason for this architecture is described here, and they do give some strong points in its favor. But please, explain to why do you need 260MB of RAM to display two tabs, one with GMail and the other with Google Calendar? and BTW, I disabled ALL extensions to measure this. And after browsing the internet for a couple of days (I normally don’t turn off my computer, just put it to sleep), the memory footprint increases like crazy, and the performance of my computer just dies.

I went back to Firefox to see if things are better there now. A bit better, but not by much: 230MB of RAM to display the same pair of pages. Overall performance is a bit better, but not by much. And when you start loading extensions, plugins, many tabs, the browsers just grows and grows to occupy 500MB, 700MB, and who know how much more memory. And also CPU time.

So what happened? the browser became the new operating system. Neither Chrome nor Firefox are simple rendering engines like old web browsers. They are JavaScript interpreters, rendering engines for pictures and movies, handle multiple rendering processes in different tabs (and possible background processes for extension/plug-ins). They store and load information, communicate with the network in both synchronous and asynchronous ways. Applications are now being written for the browser, and not for the operating system on which this browser is running.

We have added another layer of abstraction, and this costs both CPU time and memory. But memory is cheap, and computers are always getting faster, right? But if this is so, why is my top-of-the-line 1.5-years-old computer so slow??? Oh… I hate computers 🙂

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Published inProgrammingThoughts


  1. aplatypus aplatypus

    Hi …

    This topic of a truly heterogamous and egalitarian ‘o/s’ has been a keen interest of mine since reading a IEE report on the Cambridge Ring and later coming to work at a site running the CDC-NOS (Network Operating System) — Just as series of coincidences if you like but I’ve never really fallen in lust with the monolithic O/S that keep wining despite the evidence provided by alternatives that did-it-better-distributed (on a technical level).

    Continuing my chain of coincidence I was in the era that let me play with Amiga-DOS and work on two very powerful message passing operating systems, CTOS for desktops and controllers and MCP and CWS based mainframe communication hubs. Both of the later dedicated to fast, efficient transaction or message processing and output! Amiga-DOS was a bit more like the Cambridge Ring model for resource sharing. By and large network operating models/architectures grew from a self-centric paradigm (Windows, Linux, Unix, VAX-11, UNIVAC, MCP, …). CTOS however began as a NETWORK that needed to provide desktop and server (‘centralised self’) services.

    I don’t think you will find much on CTOS these days. I was lucky to have the chance to play with the internals course and there are many people you can find for data … The reason I even began on this archaeology is because imho you want a Services Oriented O/S such as CTOS, Lilith or a Resource Oriented OS like Amiga-DOS, OS/2, or MAC to make this ‘cloud O/S’ thing work. I think of myself as a solutions person. I have some good system implementations to say I can do that. My comments concern the Solution NEEDs that monolithic cloud concepts like (almost everyone) keep trying to make me interested in … They don’t (interest my solutions). REST interests me. Resource systems interest me. Message bases systems most of all because they are ‘REST’ by definition and resources based from birth!

  2. kosta kosta

    everyday computing converges to the internet, and browsers turned to be virtual machines for our applications.
    for me, chrome consumes a lot of memory, but not CPU. it can be said about almost any application.
    no matter how many RAM you have, it always will not be enough. look at the thousands and millions page faults for most of applications. every page is potentially i/o operation, so the bottleneck is hard drive.
    fortunately, we’ve got the cure. this is SSD. try this, it works like magic. with SSD my hi-end 4-years-old system runs just like a bullet. it boots in seconds, and loads heavy applications almost instantly. with HDD it might take ages.

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