Vivaldi has always been one of the more interesting Chromium-based browsers, not only because of its emphasis on building power-utility tools in a privacy-centric package, but also because of its pedigree, with Opera’s former CEO Jon von Tetzchner as co-founder and CEO. Today, the Vivaldi team launches version 4.0 of the browser, introducing a number of new features that include the beta of new embedded email, calendar and RSS clients, as well as the launch of Vivaldi Translate, a privacy-friendly translation service that is hosted on the company’s own servers and is operated by Lingvanex.
Vivaldi is not new to email clients. The company has long offered an online mail service, for example. However, building an offline email client in the browser ̵
“We have chosen to say, ‘OK, we do not want the business model to decide what we do. We rather focus on what the users want. ‘And I think that’s a significant value [in a built-in email client]. “Most of us use e-mail – at different levels, some use it a lot, others less, but everyone basically has at least one e-mail account,” he said. “So having a good client for that, that’s where we come from. And I mean, we obviously did a lot of these things at Opera – some of them we did not – and we fill a gap with what Opera used to do. And now at Vivaldi we do these things, but also much more. We never made a calendar at Opera. ”
It is clear that many of the decisions around Vivaldi Mail and Calendar were driven by the team’s own preferences. This means, for example, that the e-mail client does its best to remove the usual folder structure in an Outlook, for example so that the filtering system allows a message to be displayed in several views. Since Vivaldi has always been about customization, you can choose between the traditional horizontal and wide views you are probably familiar with from other email clients. A nice feature here is that you can also control which messages you see through switches that allow you to exclude emails from mailing lists and custom folders from the default view, for example. I like the fact that Vivaldi Mail also distinguishes between unseen and unread emails.
As expected, you can use almost any email provider here that supports the IMAP and POP protocols, but there is also built-in support for Gmail as well.
The new built-in calendar also supports most common calendar providers, including Google Calendar and iCloud. An interesting design twist here is that the team decided to display all available data for an event directly in the calendar instead of just one or two lines per event. Von Tetzchner tells me that this is very much his preference.
“I think we have done things differently. We will see what people think, ”he said. “But one of the things I wanted with the calendar, I wanted to be able to see all the content. Usually, with the calendars used today, the size of the space available for the text depends on the time size. It does not have to be this way. It looks better when the time slots are even, but functionally it is better that you can actually read more of the text. ”
Von Tetzchner noted that he obviously wants to steer users away from Google and Microsoft, but he believes that offering alternatives is not good enough – they must be better alternatives.
As for the RSS reader, which is still quite basic and does not offer features like the ability to import and export lists of feeds yet, the idea here is for example to help users leave their respective echo chambers, but also to avoid news readers who are focused on news suggestions. The overall implementation here works quite well, with the feed reader providing almost all the features you need from a local feed reader. When the browser finds an RSS feed while browsing the web, it will also highlight that in the URL bar, so subscribing to new feeds is about as easy as it gets. You can also subscribe to individual YouTube feeds (because although YouTube does not highlight this, each YouTube channel is still available as a feed).
“Feeds are also about getting away from it all [data] collection, ”he said. “The news services now, they look at what you read and build profiles on you with the excuse that you then get more relevant news. But in my humble opinion, you subscribe to certain channels, and that should be enough. We basically try to give you – as a user – control over what you read, what you subscribe to, and not learn about your habits or preferences. It’s them your habits and preferences and none of our business. ”
All of this comes down to Vivaldi’s core philosophy of not being driven by advertising as a business model. “We have no need or interest in collecting data about our users,” von Tetzchner told me (although it does collect some basic aggregate data about how many users it has and where in the world they are). In fact, he believes that gathering detailed telemetry about users only drives a company to build a product for the average user.
This is also where the new translation feature comes in, which is hosted on Vivaldi’s own servers, so none of the data is shared with any third party service. Vivaldi uses Lingvanex’s technology for this, but hosts it on its own servers. The results are quite good and mostly at a level comparable to, for example, Google Translate (with occasional subtle differences between the two where Google Translate often provides a more accurate translation).
A feature that very much recognizes that everyone has different requirements from a browser – and that it can be nice to build a ramp to Vivaldi for non-powerful users – is Vivaldi’s new onboard flow that allows users to choose between three standard layouts. It’s an “essential” view for those who just want a basic and very Chrome or Edge-like experience, “classic” for those who want to use some of the browser’s more advanced features such as panels and status bar, and “fully loaded” For those who want access to all available tools, it is this latest view that also activates the new Vivaldi Mail, Feed Reader and Calendar features by default.
As of now, Vivaldi is not profitable. It generates some revenue from pre-installed bookmarks and search engine partnerships. But von Tetzchner claims that Vivaldi only needs to increase its user base a little more to become a sustainable company. He seems comfortable with that idea – and the fact that revenue per user is relatively low. “We have done this before and we have seen it. It takes time to build a company like ours, ”he said. “I hope people like what we build – that’s the kind of feeling I get – people really like what we build. And then we’ll gradually get enough users to pay the bills, and then we’ll take it from there.”