Do we need more help managing resource-sucking web browsers?

Web browsing is becoming increasingly resource-intensive, and it's usually not the fault of our applications. The nature of today's internet, with ads and videos, is sucking the life out of our desktops.

Over the years, much has been said about how the relatively simple act of browsing the web is becoming an increasingly large problem, especially on RDSH servers where problems are magnified and instantly felt across all users. Recently at E2EVC, Helge Klein shared the results of some of the testing he's done with regards to the performance of different video sites in different browsers in addition to some quick testing of ad blocking software.

At past BriForums, we've had sessions about the impact of web browsing. Last year's "Why web browsing is killing VDI performance and costing you big $$$" from Nick Rintalan and Dan Allen sticks out. (You'll soon be able to watch that when we launch GeekOut 365 next month!) There are others, too, and the trend is undeniable: today's internet sucks the life out of our machines.

What's become clear is that the world we live in today incorporates a few different browsers. Chrome is winning the internet right now, with noting that Chrome accounts for 59% of the market as of May 2017. Chrome's rise exactly mirrors the downward turn of Internet Explorer, which has fallen to 17.5% of the market (down from nearly 30% just a year ago), followed by Firefox (12%), Edge (5.6%), Safari (3.5%) and everything else (1.9%).

In Helge's testing, which I detailed a bit in my E2EVC wrap-up, it was clear that in certain scenarios, IE still provided the best bang for your resource-buck nearly across the board, and I began to wonder if there was a way we could use some of today's best practices (ad-blocking, hosts files, IE's Transaction Protection) while also steering users to the most appropriate browser for specific sites.

That led me to Browsium and their Catalyst product, which we've written about before. Catalyst is a multiple browser management platform that lets admins specify which sites are opened in which browser. If you let your users have Chrome, but you want them to access intranet sites only via IE (perhaps because of some sort of java version or plugin), you can configure the Browsium agent to intercept the request for an intranet site in Chrome and redirect that to an IE window. The reverse is also true, routing browsing activities to the wild west internet to Chrome instead of IE so that no potential vulnerabilities are exposed.

It seems to me that this sort of technology could be used to further optimize resources that are chewed up by browsing by switching to the most appropriate browser for each site. For example, DailyMotion (the site behind every video listicle you've ever clicked on…and you know you click on them!) performs horribly across all browsers, but is far and away less resource-intensive on IE compared to Chrome.

I spoke with Browsium to ask if any of their Catalyst customers have gone beyond the normal use case in order to address this, and their answer, predictably, was no. There's nothing really stopping customers from doing that, at least when it comes to typing in URLs or clicking on links, but Catalyst only really works on whatever is typed into the address bar. Often the parts that chew up resources when browsing come from embedded objects, which this wouldn't solve.

Nevertheless, I'm still wondering if there's an opportunity here for something like Catalyst to work as a performance optimizer for desktop virtualization environments (it would work for physical too, but the results in virtual desktops would be more dramatic). It could work on policies that admins set, and even leverage crowdsourced data to automatically configure certain activities to launch in certain browsers.

Browsium actually has a product called Proton that does analytics on the SaaS apps that users visit, collecting information around which apps they use, what logons they use for each site, which versions of Java or ActiveX plugins are being used (and which ones are installed but aren't used). It's possible that it could be leveraged to catalog what sites are doing in order to automatically set policies for which browser to use in certain situations.

Proton itself is worth a deeper look at some point, so look for something on that soon. We've covered it before, but it has morphed into more than just software inventory since then. In the meantime, what do you think? Are you feeling the weight of performance-sucking web browsing while also trying to deal with multiple browsers running in your environment? Would something like what I've described be useful?

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This may not be completely related, but you could swap 'performance in virtual desktops environments' with 'laptop battery life.' That leads me to wonder about things like Chrome plugins that suspend old tabs, or Apple's assertion that Safari performs better than Chrome. Okay, so Safari might not be applicable to desktop virt performance, but what else could cross over?