It is a theory that has been talked about for a while: why use an operating system on your desktop, when everything you need can be run through your browser?
Theory is about to become reality, due to a confluence of a number of critical factors – notably the prevalence of cloud computing, new coding technologies and social software.
Recent estimates suggest that many individuals often use no more than five native applications on their desktop, such as word processing, email and a messaging client (see further reading, below).
Most other applications are increasingly being run through the browser. The move to the web is already considerable. Just think of your favourite social networking, music streaming and photo sharing applications – rather than click an icon on your desktop, you enter your browser and login to your chosen site.
The transition is only likely to become more prevalent. Cloud computing – the use of software and services on-demand over the internet – is currently more about hype than real life implementation. Expect that to change.
Leading firms – notably media companies such as the Guardian and the Telegraph – are using the Premier Edition of Google’s Apps product to access key enterprise applications online.
Other businesses are beginning to explore how they can use the cloud as a cost effective test bed for development projects, where failures are forgotten and successes quickly rolled-out across the rest of the business.
The success of the cloud will depend on the willingness of companies to try new business models. Another crucial factor that is sometimes overlooked is the importance of protocols and standardisation.
Because of a legacy of off-the-shelf packages and unwillingness to give up market share, too many vendors remain welded to specific products and technical flavours. It is a short-sighted view.
The world is moving online and what will help push the success ofon-demand computing through the browser is the willingness of vendors to work in a more open and collaborative manner.
Companies need to adopt consistent coding technologies, such as HTML 5 – the next revision of the web development language. Consistency will allow users to run web applications that include core functions, including drag and drop and offline storage, without the need to run plug-ins.
Microsoft recently announced its plans to release the European versions of its forthcoming Windows7 operating system without the Internet Explorer browser, in order to comply with the European Commission’s laws (see further reading).
For those celebrating choice and openness, the move is a step in the right direction. But in the long-term, the significance of any operating system is likely to be curtailed by the power of the winning web browser.