Developer. ❤️ Linux & FLOSS. Sometimes I share my rambles about anime, manga, games, tech, privacy, or whatever comes to mind.

Use VS Code? Consider moving to VSCodium instead!

If you're a programmer, you've most likely heard of and used Visual Studio Code before. It's a lightweight Electron-based (never thought these 2 words would go together!) text editor with an amazing extension marketplace. It's also by Microsoft and open source! Well... sort of. Let's get on to VSCodium.

VSCodium is a FLOSS version of Visual Studio Code that is built from the open source vscode repository. Unlike Visual Studio Code, which is not licensed under a FLOSS license and features telemetry and tracking, VSCodium is entirely free of that. It doesn't phone home to Microsoft, nor does it have any Microsoft-specific functionality or branding.

I recently moved over to it myself to be fully free of Microsoft, and boy has it been an eye-opener. First off, speaking about the transition itself, it has been fairly seamless and most of my extensions work perfectly and were available on the Open VSX Registry, which is, as quoted from their site:

A Vendor Neutral, Open Source Marketplace for VS Code Extensions

Bear in mind, extension developers have to manually publish their extensions there, and some aren't available for various reasons (e.g. proprietary, or relies on Microsoft services). For those unavailable, you can switch to the standard VS Code marketplace and get them from there, but there's no guarantee they'll work. Here's where we reach the interesting bit: using VSCodium actually brought to my attention how reliant VSCode is on proprietary nonsense, despite VS Code itself (not the binaries available to download) being open source.

You see, if you develop for C# you'll quickly realize that you don't have access to the C# debugger. Why? Simply because Microsoft doesn't want you to. The C# debugger is licensed to only work on the Microsoft-distributed Visual Studio Code. And this isn't the only extension, there are several that face the same issue for the same reasons. C++ debugger? GitHub Copilot? And the list goes on. It really shows how dependent VS Code actually is on closed source, proprietary components. All of this may be a hard pill to swallow and I can understand why one would stick with Microsoft's VS Code because of this, but I would strongly recommend reconsidering your text editor, or how you debug your code. Personally, I'm sticking with VSCodium for everything I've mentioned already, and I'll just use an IDE for debugging.

For those who need a suggestion on a text editor comparable to VS Code, I recommend Kate. Aside from the cooler name, it's also a native, Qt-based application, so if you want something even more lightweight and yet still powerful, it's definitely worth a shot!

Choosing a browser in 2022, what to use?

To preface this post, I strongly recommend avoiding Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Opera at all costs. If you care even the slightest bit about your privacy (and you should!) and not using spyware, there are much better alternatives out there.

Most people these days tend to stick with their default browser, especially those less tech-savvy. It's convenient and gets the job done, and that browser generally ends up being one of the ones mentioned above. With such a wide selection of browsers these days, there's no real reason to not explore and try out some of the other options, especially for the benefits they may provide. I won't be going into too much detail about the browsers mentioned in this post as I want to keep it simple, but for those interested you can easily search posts on them for more information.

To begin, my personal recommendation for the average user would be Mozilla Firefox.

Why? It doesn't contribute to Google's monopoly over the web, and while out of the box it doesn't do much for privacy, it can be hardened to be the best-in-class browser out there when it comes to privacy (second to Tor). It's also the most customizable browser, allowing you to theme every aspect of it and even hide extensions from your toolbar completely (a missing feature that greatly irks me in Chromium browsers)! Most, if not all, sites work on it and it has unique features, such as containers, that allow you to e.g. keep multiple logins for one site. For Linux users, Firefox is undoubtedly the most well-supported browser, working well on things like Wayland.

Now, if for some reason or other you can't or don't want to use Firefox, my next recommendation would be Brave.

Brave is a Chromium-based browser that adds some much needed privacy improvements to it, in addition to running and looking better (in my opinion). It also reduces fingerprinting compared to any other Chromium-based browser (outside of Chromium itself or Ungoogled Chromium) by changing the user agent to something generic.

However, it comes with caveats: first off, it's Chromium-based, which means it's still ultimately at the mercy of Google, allowing them to dictate the web. If you hate ads, that is not good (see: Manifest V3). Secondly, Brave has done some shady stuff before, including replacing links with affiliate versions without the user's consent. Thirdly, Brave has Brave Wallet and is tied closely with cryptocurrency, though this can be disabled for the most part. Lastly, while they do add some great privacy improvements to Chromium, not everything is well-implemented, such as the Tor windows (never use this!), giving their users a false sense of privacy.

Finally, for those who greatly value their privacy, I would recommend LibreWolf.

LibreWolf is a fork of Firefox that strips out all the Mozilla telemetry and tracking (something you can't fully avoid even in a hardened Firefox setup), as well as offering a hardened setup out of the box. The reason I don't recommend it for most despite being the best option currently is because the hardened setup can cause some breakage on sites, and you need to have the patience and technical know-how to fix it. In addition, things like window sizes, light/dark mode, and your browser's timezone are all set to a pre-determined value to reduce fingerprinting. I don't find these things to be a big hassle given the privacy trade-off (which is immense), but I figure the average user who only wants to browse the web will.

Of course, the best-in-class browser for privacy would be Tor. However, the reason I don't list it as an option here is solely because I don't believe it's usable for daily browsing for 99% of users, even those who care greatly about their privacy. Instead, I find LibreWolf to be a good balance between the trade-offs and privacy benefits, but I'm sure some will have different opinions and that's fine. Ultimately, this post is just some recommendations based on my personal opinion and experience. I hope it has helped shed some light on the many options we have for browsing the web, and maybe even inspired you to give another browser a go!

P.S. I'm well aware of Chromium and Ungoogled Chromium when it comes to Chromium-based browsers. For those curious, I didn't recommend them for two reasons: fingerprinting and slow updates (applies to Ungoogled Chromium only). To achieve the same privacy benefits as Brave, you'll need to use tons of extensions and that makes you more fingerprintable.

P.P.S. Chromium does have some benefits over Gecko (Firefox's engine), such as better security and sandboxing. This, of course, comes at the cost of privacy (not to mention the whole monopoly thing), so it's up to the user to decide which they value more.