WTF?! Whenever we find our computers struggling to run apps, games, or the odd RAM-hungry web browser, the usual solution is to upgrade to a beefier machine. A new startup called Mighty proposes a bizarre alternative — a web browser that lives on a powerful server in the cloud, for “just” $30 per month.
If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’re doing so from a Chromium-based browser, either Google Chrome or the new Microsoft Edge. These two browsers have a combined market share of over 75 percent, with Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and others taking smaller slices of the remaining share.
Heavy browser users among us may have noticed that a lot of effort has gone into making significant performance enhancements to browsers — it’s been a never-ending cycle for the past two decades, really — from using fewer CPU cycles to reducing their appetite for RAM and suspending tabs you’re not actively using. On mobile, browser developers have offered data saving features for a while now, to conserve precious cellular data on limited plans and to make the experience of loading websites faster.
We’ve heard about running instances of entire operating systems or CPU-intensive applications in the cloud, and most recently, cloud gaming on its various presentations has the ambitious goal of letting you playing triple-A games without the need of much local graphics power. Now Mighty wants to do the same for the regular web browser.
For the past two years, Mighty has been working on a solution for streaming a Chromium-based browser from a powerful server in the cloud to an app that has a much lower footprint on your computer than Chrome has, especially after you open a few dozen tabs. To that end, the company has forked Chromium to “integrate directly with various low-level render/encoder pipelines,” and built a networking protocol to make interactions with the new browser feel the same as using a powerful workstation with a gigabit connection to the Internet.
Initially, Mighty wanted to stream Windows, but pivoted to streaming just the web browser once they realized that users spend most of their time there. Furthermore, that approach would have emulated services like Shadow, and Mighty founder Suhail Doshi believes that to do both was unsustainable from a business standpoint.
Suhail notes that “most people want an experience where the underlying OS and the application (the browser) interoperate seamlessly versus having to tame two desktop experiences,” and that’s also why Mighty is designed to integrate well with the operating system. As of writing, Mighty is only available for macOS, with no word on when it’ll be Windows or Linux’s turn.
Currently, a Mighty browser instance runs on 16 vCPUs on a server with dual Intel Xeon CPUs and Nvidia GPUs. Mighty’s pitch is that can always change in the future if your needs grow over time, without you having to upgrade your machine to tap into that additional power (for a browser?). The flip side, however, is that Mighty costs $30 per month, so if you typically upgrade your machine every four years, that’s $1440 you’ve spent elsewhere.
There are other caveats that will immediately hit the skeptical eye. For one, Mighty requires a 100 Mbps Internet connection to feel as snappy as promised — faster than any browser on a typical laptop or desktop. And while Mighty promises to encrypt your keystrokes and never sell your browsing data to third parties, it will be difficult to earn trust on that front in a world where big tech companies with deep pockets have difficulties preventing data leaks and sometimes won’t even take responsibility for them.
Lastly, Mighty works by streaming 4K, 60 fps video to your device, which is an incredible waste of bandwidth. Knowing all this, it’s hard to recommend a cloud solution when there are alternatives in the works like Cloudflare’s Browser Isolation, which is actually designed with security in mind and works by sandboxing your browser session and sending only the final output of a browser’s web page rendering.