They'll encroach more OS territory, become the main interface for more devices, support more web apps, and become more minimalistic and feature rich. So we obviously have more expectations from this powerful piece of software next yearBANGALORE, INDIA: Web browser wars heated up again this year, with all major major web browser vendors bringing out newer and better releases of their offerings just about 'every other day' this year. Whether it's Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Opera, each one has been trying to do one over the others with ever more functional versions, with a better user interface, better memory management, faster speed, etc.
Two key factors have led to the 'return of browser wars'. One is cloud computing, or SaaS based applications to be more specific. With just about every type of application available on the Internet, you need to ensure that the web browser is geared up to handle them. The other major contributor is the digital revolution, which includes the onslaught of zillions of devices that connect to the Internet--tablets, STB, TVs, and even printers, apart from the regular ones like PCs, laptops, and smartphones.
Where will all of this lead to? Presented here are six key trends we think will bring major changes in the world of web browsers:
1. Web browser to encroach more OS territory
The speed at which functionality is being added in web browsers, one really begins to wonder whether it will take over from the OS some day. This debate has been on for quite some time now, but it's not going to happen any time soon. However, we have reached a point where you can do just about every task through a web browser without worrying about what the underlying OS is.
Next year, we'll see web browsers hog up more functionality from the OS, and a real good example of this is Google Chrome, which acts as an application delivery system much like an OS.
When the browser becomes the primary application and user interface (as in Google Chrome), the line between the web browser and the OS begins to thin. Another example of this is an initiative from Mozilla called Webian Shell, launched a few months ago. It takes the essential elements of your web browser, desktop environment and window manager and combines them into a single minimalist graphical shell dedicated to using web apps.
Another indicator of the thinning line between the browser and the OS is the video and graphics capabilities being built into the former. If you can edit images from within the browser itself, it reduces the need to have a locally installed image-editing software.
2. More browser-managed devices
The Web Browser is bound to show up on a multitude of gadgets, and not just PCs and smartphones. The new crop of devices include printers, set top boxes and of course TV sets. We have already seen a little bit of this in Google TV– a platform designed to bring web content to your living room, and in the HP Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web all-in-one printer.
In the coming year, the web browser shall guide LCD monitors and the soon-to-arrive devices to access web based applications.
3. More Web apps than desktop apps
Remember the 'shareware' revolution of the 90's, wherein thousands of applications were created for the desktop OS? Well now, the same thing is happening on the web browser, with an onslaught of web apps. For instance, the 'Chrome Web Store' is an online marketplace where you can discover thousands of apps that will run on Chrome web browser. Want to play Angry Birds? Do some image editing, or word processing? You'll find an app that let's you do that on this store. Similarly Firefox has Web Application store on https://apps.mozillalabs.com/, which illustrates how web apps can be used.
We have already seen Web-based Kindle from Amazon, which relies on HTML5 to imitate the experience and responsiveness of a downloadable app. It's the latest sign of where Web apps are heading to. Web apps can behave like native apps, and have the inherent benefit of working on any device with a web browser. It's only natural to say therefore that in the coming year, we'll see more browser-based apps being developed than desktop apps.
4. Browsers to get more minimal and user-friendly
Over the last few years, all major browsers have been in the race to get more and more minimal. The designers and developers are pouring in efforts to get rid of unnecessary user interface elements to make the browser crisper to use, reduce the number of drop-down menus, and beef up the address bar, back button, and search.
Google Chrome 15 for instance, has a revamped minimalist interface. Instead of a tool-bar, the interface has a combination address and search bar, the Omnibox, at the top with tabs above that.
The few visible control buttons consist of Back, Forward, a combined Stop/Reload button, and a preferences wrench icon. That's it. If you add extensions, they'll show up as icons on the right of the Omnibox. Firefox has done something similar.
This is just the beginning. Future versions of browsers will even be more minimalist. The next release of Firefox will carry more controls on UI elements.
For instance they are planning something called 'Restore tabs on-demand'. For users with lots of tabs open, Firefox will add a preference to allows tabs to load on demand, resulting in faster start-up times.
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