Waiting for the next Internet Browser Revolution

When we log onto our computer these days there is pretty much only one place we want to go,where we want to be, on the internet.  When we are in the internet there is really only one application that matters, our browser.  After years of being an Internet Explorer only kind of guy I decided it was time to branch out. At my current place of employment I have loaded all 4 browsers on my Dell Laptop and I even bought an iPhone. As I have played around with them it strikes me that not any one (Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Chrome) really “wows” me in any meaningful way.  But a few interesting habits have come to light.  On my laptop I spend most of my time in Firefox and Chrome, not sure why but it just seems to be comfortable to me.  In the world of mobility I am pretty much forced via my iPhone to be a Safari user and it does what I need so I am not upset, I frankly could care less..

I could go through a review of each browser but at the end of the day that would be, in my view, a pointless effort.  There are enough reviews out there and I cannot really add any value by doing one. Each has certain things that are nice and each claims to load pages faster.  The latter being something I could not verify from an end-user perspective.  they all seem about the same to me.  Chrome and Firefox have sites where you can get plug-ins for the browser, but so far the one’s I have seen are in the “geek world”.  Nothing very sexy or appealing about them, I may be proved wrong, but I am just saying..

Right now the browser has become the application of choice for nearly everything we do with a computer.  For the average home users it’s where we stay connected with friends, get our email, real-time news updates, do online shopping, and now we are starting to use if for word processing and online spreadsheets.  In corporate America  every internal corporate application is browser-based.  With the browser being so ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives it raises the question of what next?  What more can it do?  I think there are several areas that we will see these changes take place,

One of the hot topics is video.  By some estimates in 3-5 years 90% of internet traffic will be video, both on demand and streaming live events.  It;s not that far-fetched, when you look at popular content coming YouTube and Netflix it seems rather obvious.  The ability to have the entertainment when we want and how we want is pretty compelling and been sort of holy grail for years.  Of course it’s not quite that easy.  One of the big discussion in technology and what seems to be certain is the standard to play video will move to the browser based on the next specification for HTML; HTML5.  Today most video content is Adobe Flash based.  People in the industry make a big deal about open (HTML5) versus closed (Flash).  It’s a nice debate but at the end of the day what is ever the easiest for the average consumer will win out, because Joe average does not give a rip about versus open or closed and they should not have to.  In my opinion the biggest impact this will have is how we interact with our television or don’t interact.

Another change being driven primarily by Google is the browser as platform.  To the non-techies what this means in short is when I create an application I do not need to write it so that it run son Windows, but to the “cloud’ to use a popular current term.  In concrete terms in may mean you will by a personal computer that runs Chrome as the operating system.  Or maybe to quote Marc Andreeson, “Windows will just be a buggy set of device drivers”.  This is happening and is very real.  Over 75% of applications that are developed today are web-based applications.  Can  it be constrained to one browser?  Probably not, we will not see a Windows domination in the browser.  History is against that happening, but those that do not try will become history.

Finally the tablet  growth is driving significant changes in browser market share.  With an Android you are obviously getting Chrome as the browser of choice.  Likewise with a iPad you will be using Safari.  My view is with either and with not any huge difference between browsers there is not going to be a huge incentive to move to another browser.  The tablet to me is really about freedom to be where you want and freedom from your keyboard and desk.  I mean the last point in the physical sense.  If I can make my workplace where I am the most comfortable if that fits into my daily personal life, that is what freedom from technology is.  The point is with technology as much as it has liberated us it has constrained us and we get caught up in work and though we think we are being more productive, we are working longer and are less fulfilled in life.

In the end we may be blessed with a truly competitive browser environment where each iteration provides something very compelling.  With the growth in video content that possibility exists.  Mobility will take us to life scenarios yet to be imagined.  There will be downsides.  In Paul Theroux’s travel book through Africa “Dark Star Safari”  he started by saying he wanted to take a journey where there is no email, no cell phones he just wanted to be disconnected.  With the great promise of the future, the ability to browse wherever and whenever that desire will be very hard to achieve.  But the browser will be central to all those dreams and horrors for better or for worse.

Good Night and Good Luck,

Hans Henrik Hoffmann February 13, 2011