Thursday, April 03, 2008

The future of the browser

Years ago when I connected to the internet for the first time I was quite happy for some time working with all kind of applications without having a browser installed. There was no immediate need for a browser, working with sendmail, telnet, ftp, gopher, usenet and IRC was providing me more than enough information. Then I started to use browsers to explorer the World Wide Web part of the internet, text based browsing and my first graphical web browser Netscape which I received from a friend at the computer department of the University of Utrecht.

From that moment on the World Wide Web got into a rollercoaster ride. Today most applications do have a web interface build in or can be applied to it as an extra. Browsers and browsing itself becomes more and more a second nature. One of the downsides of using a browser on a specific client which always annoyed was that you have all your browsing information locally, tools to synchronize between several clients are available however this is always a pain to maintain and run.

Now Mozilla labs is working on a project called Weave which should easy this pain. The Weave project makes your browser talk to a central point to store information like bookmarks, browsing history and such where you store this. When working on another, for example home, client you will have the same bookmarks and other information as at your work. Mozilla-hosted online services will take care of storing this information and possibly more. This would also make Mozilla an ideal partner for Google so they can incorporate a lot of Google applications from the start, get even tighter with the Mozilla development teams and give Mozilla the change to make use of the extensive knowledge and infrastructure of Google. So in my opinion it is only a matter of time that Google incorporates Firefox.

An other project currently running at Mozilla is Prism, an XULRunner based browser that hosts web applications without the normal web browser user interface. Prism is based on a concept called Site Specific Browsers (SSB). An SSB is an application with an embedded browser designed to work exclusively with a single web application. It doesn’t have the menus, toolbars and accoutrements of a normal web browser. Some people have called it a "distraction free browser" because none of the typical browser chrome is used. An SSB also has a tighter integration with the OS and desktop than a typical web application running through a web browser. Also here we see already a lot of Google bundles for applications like Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Groups, Google Analytics and Google Reader. However there are also bundles shipped for Facebook and Twitter. These are the bundles shipped by Mozilla, there are also numerous User Contributed Bundles for a long list of services including Google and NON-Google services. Google Page Creator, Google Webmaster Tools and Google Notebook are included alongside bundles for for example rememberthemilk, Anywhere.FM and SeeqPod.

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