Still on Arc

Sometimes when I change software, I end up switching back. I get excited about the fresh vibes, like moving the living room couch, then find enough little annoyances or rough edges that the temptation to move back overwhelms.

Email clients are notorious for that. I get tempted by the aesthetics. Or tempted by the features. Or tempted by the fact that I see how happy other people seem to be using some new email client. Then I end up back at Gmail in a browser tab.

Switching browsers is another. I generally like Chrome, but I’m not beholden to it. Once in a while, I’ll switch “main” browsers for kicks1. Because of my browsing habits, it’s usually not terribly difficult. I don’t rely on bookmarks at all (if you did, I’m sure you can find a way to export/import them, or use some kind of syncing service. Remember Foxmarks? I used to love that). I use 1Password, which works across all the major browsers, so no pain there. Aside from 1Password, I don’t have any browser extensions that are mission-critical for me (the closest is maybe Notion Web Clipper). I don’t really care about having browsing history synced, but my Google history will kinda do that anyway, regardless of the browser used.

But I do generally switch back to Chrome after a while. Maybe it’s some website that doesn’t work. Maybe it’s a DevTools feature I want. Maybe it’s a browser extension I temporarily need and only works in Chrome.

Screenshot of saying "We only work with Google Chrome"
Thankfully, a rare sight these days. Actually kinda shocking to see. I’d love to understand the exact reason. Probably some specific media-related API.

But I have managed to switch and stay switched to Arc over the last several months. In a way, it doesn’t count. It’s Chrome under the hood, so any extension will work, it has the exact same platform features, it has the same DevTools, etc. But the UI and UX are pretty different! That could put it at risk for a switch-back, but so far I find nearly every choice Arc makes an improvement.

Here are the things keeping me on Arc:

  • I like how it syncs the tabs between computers2. I use Arc on several browsers and I know I can walk away from one computer, up to another, and it’ll have the exact same tabs open.
  • I like how easy it is to make and edit user stylesheets. Arc calls them Boosts β€” they can be JavaScript too. One of my favorites right now is one Rachel sent me that alters GitHub to remind us to write good merge commit messages. Maybe she’ll share it someday. Guy Feiri is involved.
  • Split View. This just kicks ass for writing. Nothing prevents you from putting websites side by side in other browsers, but it involves window management3 on your own. Arc’s default of “just split the space” is great.
  • Tabs on the side. There is more room and you can fit more of them. Convinced it’s the future.
  • Pinned tabs are fast. I like how it seems to keep these tabs in memory and up to date so clicking on them feels instant.
  • Changeable tab names and icons. Such a simple idea it’s starting to feel weird mainline browsers haven’t copied Arc here.
  • Invoking extensions via keyboard. I like that instead of using my mouse to go find the icon for Ghostery or Notion Web Clipper or Bitmoji or something, I use the main command (Command-T or L) and start to type the name of the extension, then select it.
  • Command-Shift-C to copy the URL with no tracker crap. Clutch.

This list isn’t too different from last time, but the features are more meaningful to me now months later as I’ve proven to myself they aren’t just good ideas but that I actually use and like them.

  1. You don’t have to pick a “main” browser. Some people like to bop around browsers for their own secret reasons.
  2. Here’s a warning that took me too long to figure out: if any computer you sync with has a setting that says to archive tabs over X period of time (a feature many like but I dislike), it honors the least among the synced browsers. This manifested in a where the hell are my tabs reaction for me until I figured it out. That setting should sync.
  3. Window management in Arc is a strike against it actually. It should almost just not even let you make multiple windows since it causes weird problems. Like if you open a new window with all the same tabs, and one of those tabs is doing auto-saving of active work, the other window might be saving over newer changes with stale content. Plus I’ve heard they don’t play very nice with Spaces. Remapping Command-N to “open Little Arc window” is the move.


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One response to “Still on Arc”

  1. Colin Walker says:

    Completely agree with you here, although I would add in Easel as an excellent feature (especially) with the live clips.

    I’ve been using it properly for about a month and feel that as soon as you get your head around spaces (and swiping between them) every other browser just feels … old. They’re so much better than tab groups.

    The command bar feels so Mac-native that I’m surprised it’s not been done before.

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