Aug 14, 2009

Browser as Desktop

I was thinking about this (old) topic for a while and finally got a chance to write about it.

This is not a new topic. It was discussed in late 90's. We even discussed about Yahoo as desktop. We all moved fwd and not much discussion in recent times about it. IMO, the time has come to think (seriously) about this topic again.

Why now?
[1] Web is ubiquitous
[2] cloud computing

Ok. Why desktop as the browser?
The common man usage of computer today is changed upside down-
[a] Primary use: Web( Browser, Email client)
[b] Secondary use: Local applications like office, photo/video editing software.

But today's deskop OS(Windows, Mac) is designed for [b] and [a] is constrained with today's browsers.(IE, FireFox, Safari)

What is the constraint?
Today's browser enables only 1/4th of full potential of web. The reason is that it can only do HTTP Get and HTTP Post.(other HTTP methods are not implemented) Then we need plug-ins like Adobe Flash, JavaScript to get richness. (audio, video, 3D)

This is a broken model at the client side to get the full experience of web! We don't have the full HTTP browser, No web push, No richness, No offline access, No storage, Less secure, etc...

It's a conflict usage model from HIE(Human Interface Engineering) perspective. In fact, I would argue that today's desktop is fundamentally broken for web usage.

The current desktop OS(Mac & Windows) is designed in 80's with focus on running local applications. Now we are in 2009 and need to think about making browser as the new X-Window system.

What is "browser as desktop"? How do we design it?
Here are some of my thoughts and I don't say that this list is accurate / complete but as a start.

Step-0: Login
The user should be able to choose a list of cloud providers like Google, MSN, including local login and login with credentials. Let's say, we choose Google.

Step-1: Web Icons
After my Google login, what I see in the desktop is set of "web icons" that comes from my Google bookmark. The examples of web icons are Gmail, Google calender, Google maps, Google docs, Facebook, Twitter, etc...It's basically my daily use of web bookmarks on the desktop.
I click on them to access it.

Step-2: Local Desktop
I have another desktop as local and can switch to it any time for using lcoal apps like office tools, photo/video editing sw, etc....

Step-3: X-Window System
Browser is the new X-Window system and it's boots with OS. We get rich experience, access to local storage for disconnected web and "web push" from the back end cloud provider for subscriptions.

Step-4: Plug-ins
I don't have to worry about plug-ins and their incompatibility.

Step-5: Security.
I can create a VPN with my cloud provider to create a specialized channel for my secure access to banks, 401(k) accounts, for any e-commerce transaction where I have to put my credit card or other sensitive information. (cloud providers can charge for it)

Step-6:Mobile desktop
I can switch my desktop easily between various devices and also carry with me where ever I go...

Basically browser is the new X-Window system and runs native with OS with web icons on the desktop.

The question here is that who can/will build such an OS? Google is top on the list followed by Microsoft and Apple. Who knows, a startup can also do it if a strong technical founding team gets a good VC. It's not impossible but need resource & time. This is my dream to see a Web OS.