Back in the late 1990’s when you installed a web browser, you didn’t just get a web browser. With Internet Explorer 4 and Netscape Communicator 4, you’d get a suite of internet connected products. That’s partly because the internet isn’t really just the web. There is a huge ecosystem of internet protocols that don’t need a web browser. With Vivaldi’s latest update, the email and RSS feed reader features are now final versions. They’ve been available for beta testing since last year, but now they’re for real.
A real email program
Email has always been the most widely used messaging protocol on the internet. These days some may say Whatsapp is the most widely used messaging app, but that’s not true by a long shot. Email use will probably reach 4.5 billion users soon and that usage base is double the 2nd largest messaging service’s user base.
The ecosystem for email communications is massive as well. If there’s anything you don’t like about your current email program or service, there’s probably an alternative that fixes everything you might complain about. The beauty is that your switching of email apps or servers doesn’t require you to peer pressure everyone else into also switching which IS the case with more discriminatory messaging systems like WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Slack, Facebook Messenger, etc. For Apple’s iMessage, you even have to peer-pressure people into using a specific phone! Email is completely open, non-discriminatory, and customizable. See: How (and why) Email could become your favorite messaging system.
Anyway, Vivaldi has finalized their first actual email program and it’s nicely integrated with the Vivaldi browser. You might say, “Why don’t I just use the usual web-based email client?” Well, of course you still can, but an offline native email client can offer more features and flexibility than you might get through a web app.
For example, your web-based email client probably doesn’t support accessing multiple email accounts from multiple servers. You probably need to log into work email in a different web browser tab, along with personal email, spam/shopping account, etc. There’s nothing really wrong with that except that you now have to use your cognitive energy to learn a plethora of user interface conventions and browser windows instead of one. You can’t move or organize emails accross accounts in a consistent way. With some native email program, you can consolidate everything and manage messages between accounts by easily drag/dropping messages to different folders (unfortunately that aspect is not currently possible in Vivaldi Mail 1.0).
RSS Feed Reader
For a while many web browsers had nice “Really Simple Syndication” (RSS) Feed readers built in. Those disappeared at some point for some reason, but now Vivaldi has brought one back to their Chromium based web browser. Maybe normal people never really understood how to use RSS readers? Basically RSS is just an XML based list of minimal content like headings, text, images, videos, MP3s, and/or HTML. RSS is actually the basis for “podcasts” which are really just RSS feeds with MP3 audio files attached. Essentially, with an RSS reader, you can “follow” all of your favorite news sites, podcasts, social media threads, etc. and the RSS reader will just download all of those items periodically and put them in a list. With Vivaldi, that list of RSS “posts” is formatted in a very similar way to their email lists so that managing everything can be very familiar.
This is very similar to the way the ancient browser war between Internet Explorer 4’s suite and Netscape Communicator’s suite implemented things except back then, email was integrated with Usenet newsgroup support. Although newsgroups weren’t really much like RSS feeds. Newsgroups were more like discussion forums that didn’t need a website. In other words, the same kind of thing as Slack, MS Teams, Discord, etc.
Calendar, Contacts, Notes
If you’ve got an email program, you might as well add a Calendar, Contact list, and Notes to it. Vivaldi has that too. The Calendar sync needs to be set up separately from the email accounts and only supports CalDAV, Google Calendar, and Web Calendar accounts, so no Microsoft Exchange Server support (which is basically what the majority of the business world runs on.)
What else did 90’s Internet Communications Suites have?
I do kind of miss the days of 90’s Internet Communications Suites like the Internet Explorer 4 and Netscape Communciator 4 bundles. Granted, they were a bit complicated with all of the extra apps when in reality maybe all you really needed was a web browser.
Microsoft’s Internet Explorer suite actually also included NetMeeting which was a voice & video over internet application for video calling back in the days of 54Kbs modems. Today, those capabilities are built into the web browser with WebRTC standards, but there aren’t any real global directories of users like we had in NetMeeting.
Vivaldi is also still missing an HTML editor like Microsoft’s FrontPage Express or Netscape’s Composer of the 1990’s although with the proliferation of very user-friendly server-based content management systems like WordPress, a native offline HTML editor isn’t really necessary anymore.
I’m a huge fan of the Vivaldi web browser. It’s my favorite on Windows, Linux, and Android. It’s far more customizable than most other popular web browsers, and as a power user that’s something I greatly appreciate. I can actually change the settings it make it something close to usable. The toolbars are customizable even! Just like browsers were in the 90’s! Still user-experience design wise, Vivaldi needs to bring back the text labels for buttons as there are far too many unlabeled icons that are difficult to understand. Normal humans might be able to translate 7 with their cognitive energy, but I counted 43 unlabeled unintelligible user interface elements in nthe Vivaldi Mail/RSS programs. If Vivaldi’s user interface designers are reading this, here’s some tips.
The integrated suite of apps added to the Vivaldi browser are certainly welcome additions, but they do lack in some areas where a dedicated email program or RSS feed reader may have more desirable features or capabilities. For example, the lack of Microsoft Exchange support is going to be rough for business users and the RSS feed section doesn’t have any options for categorizing feeds (though you can categorize feed posts), or import/exporting OMPL lists of feeds.
Still I love seeing more new email programs to choose from and the resurgance of RSS readers for browsing lists of content is a great alternative to depending on crazy social media post algorithms. Definitely consider trying out the new Vivaldi features, and if you don’t like them, don’t worry, Vivaldi is so customizable it’s very easy to hide things you don’t care about.