There was a time when computer use meant “terminal.” The network computer. That’s what defined computing for many years.
That era died with the PC, which became both personal and networked. Is this age about to end, too, replaced by browser applications?
Yes. Even Microsoft recognizes that the network becomes the computer, and standalone desktop PCs may be dinosaurs.
Since the beginnings of the public internet as we know it, and the advent of the browser, pundits have counted the days until the network rules and desktop PC dies.
Much of that thinking stems from Netscape’s original vision for the browser platform back in 1995.
What’s the reality over 11 years later? Microsoft crushed Netscape’s browser-as-platform, but not the network or the browser.
Today, the browser rules with email as the top two killer applications of the internet age, and standalone PCs and their applications may be in danger again.
Why? Many computing tools we find valuable are leaving the desktop and taking up residence inside your browser.
Allow me to start with the obvious. Email. Today, Yahoo, Google and others provide a wealth of attractive online email solutions—in browser form.
Not quite so obvious but growing in popularity are Google’s online applications.
From email to calendar to word processor to spreadsheet and other useful tools, Google is spearheading the drive to make Microsoft’s Office obsolete.
Can the two be compared? Yes. Let’s say that Google brings their tools together—all online applications that run inside a browser window—and they call it Google Office.
Microsoft Office does word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and email, and with substantial expense and training required.
Not so with Google Office, which shows up online, free and easy. It could be considered the perfect set of tools for the rest of us.
To be fair, the breadth and scope and robustness of the vision of Google Office pales in comparison to Microsoft Office, right?
The answer is an unqualified “yes.” Today. What we already know and Microsoft has learned, is that their Office is expensive to buy and maintain.
Office is loaded with far more features than most of us need. Reconginzing that the future can change quickly, even Microsoft is looking for ways to take Office online.
Outside of a handful of basic utilitarian applications, what else is showing up online as a browser tool of worthy consideration?
Adobe recognizes the value of using embedded Flash within a browser and presents Kuler. If you’re into graphics, you’ll like Adobe’s step into browser applications.
What are the advantages for browser-based applications? Easy distribution, lower cost, platform independence, standards-based are a few.
Why would a developer create utilities or applications that are browser based? Is there any money there? Good questions.
Can you say, Subscription Model? Instead of owning a copy of Microsoft Office, and installing it on your PC, it may be economically feasible to pay a monthly or annual fee to use a “lite” version that’s web-based, browser-based, and not installed on your PC at all.
That model has yet to gain traction, though businesses are used to paying license fees by the seat and on an annual basis.
Even Microsoft recognizes that the future begins now, hence Windows Live.
What of the Mac? Can you envision an online version of Apple’s iLife for the Mac and Windows?
For years to come I see a very hybrid computer world, even for Macs and much like Toyota’s ambitous move into hybrid powered automobiles.
Network bandwidth will continue to grow faster. Browser and network-based applications will continue to improve in quality, scope, and capability.
In the not too distant future, your Mac’s browser may have access to more applications than you store and use on your Mac.
What do you think? Could it be that Firefox, or whatever browser is ruling in a few years, will give you most of what you need to do your job?
Will you give up desktop applications for online, browser-based applications?