Is the future BrowserOS?

It’s been a while since my last post – it has been an exciting period both at work and for my PhD (more on that later) with some really cutting edge stuff I had the chance to work with or learn about. But now I’m back :-), not because work got more boring, but rather because I started to really miss blogging.

What triggered this post is an over-the-dinner debate I had with some colleagues the other day in Silicon Valley. One of the theories floated was the in a few years all we will need is a computer with a browser that supports HTML5; everything else will live in the cloud, occasionally cached locally for those – rare – moments when connectivity is unavailable.

Is this our future? Is the future called BrowserOS?

Surely, cloud computing and personal smart devices are all the rage right now. I strongly believe that on enterprise and business side, cloud computing will play a pivotal role, as soon as current concerns – network performance, security and availability – are reliably addressed. The benefits of cloud computing are well known and those are indeed real ones, primarily in terms of cost control and cost reduction.

On the individual side the picture is less clear. Online collaboration and storage tools – such as Google Apps, Dropbox and similar – have a clear use case and are handy in many cases. However, there’s another powerful trend that is likely to counterbalance this shift towards clouds for individual usage: personal devices (formally called phones) are becoming so powerful and will have so much storage, that essentially all a person needs can be handily stored on a phone or tablet. Couple this with emerging solutions that allow anyone to setup a low cost personal  private cloud accessible anywhere and you have a solution that limits dramatically the appeal of general providers of data storage and replication – simply because people still want control over their data and storing it on a device they always have with them, along with a personal solution to share it with others.

What about services and applications? The picture is again foggy; as Apple’s model has shown, locally installed apps have proved hugely popular. On the other side, Google apps and on-line games are widely used by many and are often used as main examples of browser based software service delivery. Where will we end up? Will apps survive or will we  be happy users of software as a service?

I think there are two factors that will influence the outcome: first, processors will be so powerful and connectivity (still) so costly and slow, that keeping applications local will be more productive for many applications. Second, intellectual property protection concerns will limit the usage of open HTML and favor the usage of compiled or encrypted software solutions.

Thus complete shift to BrowserOS looks improbable – whenever good connectivity is available, browser based solution will be used, but, for a long time, people will be reluctant to rely on browser based solutions alone and providers will be reluctant to make all their code available offline without proper protection. We’ll see a mixture of the two approaches with one or the other emphasized based on personal preferences or usage context, all relying on ever-more powerful personal devices.

One Response to “Is the future BrowserOS?”

  1. […] Google would obviously not agree with the conclusions of my post a couple of days back – they’ve just launched yesterday their ChromeOS and a couple of […]