back to article India launches contest to build homegrown web browser

India's government has decided the nation needs an indigenous web browser and has launched the Indian Web Browser Development Challenge (IWBDC) to make it happen. The Challenge "seeks to inspire and empower technology enthusiasts, innovators, and developers from all corners of the country to create an indigenous web browser." …

  1. DS999 Silver badge

    I wish them luck

    The world could use an alternative browser, especially in the non-Apple world where Chrome or Chrome clones like Edge almost completely dominate. Firefox has unfortunately been bleeding market share for years thanks to Google's monopolistic tactics helping push Chrome and Mozilla's engineers prioritizing dumb things like UI changes to be more Chrome like rather than the original goal of a fast browser with a consistent interface.

    Even if this was only adopted in India, the size of the country using this alternative browser would mean Google couldn't exercise as much control over web standards as they have been attempting (and often succeed) in doing.

    1. fxkeh

      Re: I wish them luck

      It'll probably just end up being based on Chromium, aka yet-another-Chrome clone like Edge, Brave, etc.

    2. Len

      Re: I wish them luck

      I seriously hope that this will be based off the Firefox code (who knows, Mozilla might even help them because at some level it's in their interest) and not just another slightly adapted version of Chrome with its Blink engine.

      It sounds counter-intuitive at first but I seriously worry that Apple might be barred from requiring the use of the WebKit engine as underlying render technology on iOS. Such a ban may appear to create more user choice but it actually would reduce choice because it would just allow companies to make sites that only work on Blink and if you complain they'll just tell you to install Chrome because "it works just fine when they check it on Chrome".

      Firefox currently has about 200 million users making its Gecko engine the third most used engine to browse websites. If the "IndiaBrowser" would use the Gecko engine too it could easily double the use of Gecko worldwide, making the engine competition more of a three horse race again, instead of one horse on wheels with rocketboosters while firing at the competition and two horses behind it dodging bullets from a bully.

      If India is seriously worried about the dominance of Western tech then not using Chrome/Chromium/Blink, which is effectively a trojan horse pushed by Google, should be a good first argument to pick something else.

      I don't see building another engine from scratch as a viable alternative. Developing browser engines has become so complex now browsers are essentially application platforms that the complexity is probably in the same ball park as building an operating system. I would argue that developing a kernel from scratch is easier than building a web browser from scratch.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: I wish them luck

        It sounds counter-intuitive at first but I seriously worry that Apple might be barred from requiring the use of the WebKit engine

        I think that would be bad as well, because it would make it WAYYYY too easy for websites to pull the old "best viewed in IE6" thing from days past, updated for Chrome. If too many sites stopped working in Safari, all iPhone/Mac owners would be forced to download Chrome to access the web and Google would have a total monopoly on the client side of the web which is far more dangerous to the health of the internet than their already existing near monopoly on search.

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: I wish them luck

      I wouldn't count on that. For one thing, my prediction, and I'll be happy if I can come back and say I had it wrong, is that the final result will be another wrapper around Chromium. This I base off the fact that it's all people do nowadays when they want to announce that they've developed a new browser. Who, other than Firefox, has built something around Gecko recently? The only people I can think of are those who cloned an older version of Firefox at some point when they didn't like what Mozilla was doing, which is fine, but not really the same thing that has been built around Chromium. If IndiaBrowser is just a wrapper around Google's code, then Google will have as much power as they ever did.

      The other part is assuming that, since India payed some money to the writer of the browser, that Indian citizens will start using it. It's the same thing that happened when people assumed that everyone in China would run Huawei's Harmony OS (they don't), that every company doing business in India would use their videochat platform (they don't), that everyone in India would buy Indian-made mobile phones (they don't), that everyone in the US would buy one of those "only made in America" products (they don't), or any of the other times when someone assumes that some ill-defined concept of patriotism means they don't have to make a good product just because they think they've attached it to their country. They don't even refrain from buying from hostile countries unless the government bans or significantly restricts it. If they do build this browser, people are still going to get the default one their operating system brings, and a lot of them are going to go to a Google site, get the Chrome ad, and install the thing. Few people will go to the site and install India's version. I can see India doing some things to make them install and possibly even use this browser, but if they don't, it's not going to be adopted.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: I wish them luck

        You might be right, but I hope they consider that by using Chromium they would not be making a "homegrown web browser" but just slapping a sticker in the form of a new name and modified GUI on Google's work and doing nothing to affect Google's / US tech industry monopoly which I assume is the real reason they are concerned.

        It would be like someone concerned about the Android/iPhone duopoly and their response is to make an Android clone with the Googly bits removed. From a "I want the ad revenue to go to me instead of Google" standpoint that makes sense. But it reinforces the duopoly, and unless you make a hard fork you're still dependent on Google for feature updates and most fixes.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: I wish them luck

          You are absolutely correct. Unfortunately, India did announce that they were going to make their own mobile OS. Then they announced that they had. Guess what it was. If you guessed that it was a version of Android with the name changed in a couple places, you win. Making a real new browser is hard. Cloning one and saying you have is easier.

  2. fxkeh

    Nationalism for the sake of Nationalism?

    I can understand the whole self sufficiency angle, but really what can an Indian made FOSS browser offer over just encouraging contributions to, and maybe even mandating use of, existing FOSS browsers?

    If the "winner" ends up being a Chrome reskin, even more so.

    1. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

      Re: Nationalism for the sake of Nationalism?

      I can sort of relate to India not wanting to give control of important parts the economy to Western tech giants. The problem is the country has very little to bargain with since most of its 1.4 billion populace is poor and its infrastructure decrepit. Western manufacturer sometimes have to deal with basic infrastructure being absent, making setting up shop there a difficult proposition. Compare with China where there are thousands of manufacturers that can pump out almost anything very quickly and at low prices.

      How long before Western nations start to impose trade sanctions if India keeps hampering market access? As soon as the war in Ukraine has come to a conclusion the West will take punative action, is my guess.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nationalism for the sake of Nationalism?

        They won't, as they need India to counter China in the region

    2. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      Re: Nationalism for the sake of Nationalism?

      A purely technical argument:

      India’s native languages contextually-rearranging scripts in the Brahamic script family (Brahamic scripts are not confined to India: languages of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Tibet Laos also use scripts belonging to this family). These are the most complex writing systems in use today, and they present their own specific challenges regarding text editing and display on computers. It is conceivable that changes in UI to make these writing systems more natural to use with the browser could result in a slight degradation in UI for, say, Latin scripts. No global FOSS project would accept such a change, given the prevalence of Latin (and Latin-like) writing in the world, but one specifically targeting India would lean more towards equality of the two dominant writing systems in the subcontinent.

      That said, this is far more likely to be another one of Modi’s Hindu-supremacist impulses.

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Nationalism for the sake of Nationalism?

      "what can an Indian made FOSS browser offer over just encouraging contributions to, and maybe even mandating use of, existing FOSS browsers?"

      My interpretation from the article: control. For example, we've got this bit:

      The desired browser will have its own trust store, use a root certificate from India's Controller of Certifying Authorities,

      This may sound familiar. It is what the government of Kazakhstan said they were going to do about six years ago. An attempt to be able to MITM all traffic by making any certificate they wanted. The open source browsers responded by both refusing to include that certificate by default, and a couple versions later, modifying the code so that, even if it was installed, they would refuse to use it. Mozilla doesn't like shredding its users' privacy for a dictatorship's benefit. So what would they do if India suggested that its government should have that level of control over certificates? I don't think they'd let them.

      If I'm correct, India will have to do more things to make sure people use this browser, because as I said in an earlier comment, I don't think people will be installing it very often. They have indicated a willingness to punish those who don't comply with restrictions, even odd ones, that they've just made up. They have the option to be much stronger about this if they're interested in increasing control. At the moment, I don't think they have sufficient investment to get what they've asked for, though, so it's probably not a big concern at the moment.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Nationalism for the sake of Nationalism?

        The desired browser will have its own trust store, use a root certificate from India's Controller of Certifying Authorities

        Do they even need a new browser for that? Couldn't they just download Chrome and replace what Google has in there with what they want? That would probably be an afternoon's work. OK India we've met your requirement and we're using our own certificates - still totally dependent on Google for what the browser can do, what the rendering engine can support, and so on but hey if that's all you wanted someone is winning this competition the day entries are open!

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Nationalism for the sake of Nationalism?

          Yes, I imagine that's what they'll get, but the Kazakhstan parallel is why they wouldn't just ask Google to use the CA. Kazakhstan wasn't going to make their own browser, they were going to require people to install their CA, so the browser writers made sure that doing that wouldn't work. That may be why India has decided they need to control the software so they can insulate it from any sneaky decisions where Firefox allows their CA for six months then pushes an update that revokes it the way they've proven they're willing to do with other untrustworthy CAs. I'm pretty sure you won't get any other features that can't already be found in browsers.

  3. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

    YACBB

    Yet Another Chromes Based Browser (YACBB) isn't what we need.

    How about a Ladybird based browser?

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Holmes

    I bet

    They're not including an ad-blocker, per e.g. Vivaldi...

  5. OhForF' Silver badge

    Sustainability

    >A prize pool of $411,000 is on offer to participants, along with mentorship from NIXI and other experts.<

    Do they have any plans on funding bug fixes and further releases?

    Even if they basis is FOSS and they can merge new features and bug fixes from upstream a lot of effort will be necessary to keep the browser viable for years.

  6. Tron Silver badge

    Our global internet is being killed off by governments.

    This is a way to nationalise the internet. And you can bet the browser will have a back door in it for the Indian government.

    India is the next China.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Our global internet is being killed off by governments.

      Only if they require this and only this browser can be used. They going to arrest anyone using Edge, Safari or the Chrome comes installed on their PC/Android?

      They might be able to make it difficult or nearly impossible for someone to use any other browser when connecting to Indian government sites, and put pressure on Indian companies to do the same I suppose. But since most of the internet is outside of India they either need to criminalize use of another browser or create their own Great Firewall if they want to do what you're saying.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Our global internet is being killed off by governments.

        I think they'll find it very hard to get people to adopt this voluntarily. My best guess is that they'll talk for a while and eventually give up. However, we are talking about the country that really likes turning off the internet for whole states* for weeks, so I don't think more sophisticated censorship is inconceivable.

        * By states, I mean places with larger areas and populations than some countries. It's usual for the people cut off from the internet to count in the millions. Also, those shutdowns don't tend to be universal, because it more often applies to the mobile networks than terrestrial ones. A lot of people only have mobile connections, so that isn't as easy to deal with as those of us for whom home internet is generally available.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ha ha

    Governments and public software,.

    They all think they can do it, none of them succeed ….

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