Web browsers have come a long way since the 90s, but they still have a long way to go before they can reach their full potential.
I’ve been an Internet user since 1995, when I was just 6 years old. Back in the 90s browsers were pretty awful, at least when compared to modern versions. If you resized a window the entire page had to reload (which on dial-up took forever), designs were purely frame and table based, if a page had more than a few images it was pretty much impossible to display due to memory restrictions (16-32 megs ram), and they were insecure like you wouldn’t believe.
Let’s not forget about the “walled garden” of AOL, where you had to literally dial into the world wide web to surf any non-AOL sanctioned content. Those were the days…
Nowadays we can go on facebook and post a video of our cat jumping onto a balloon and comment on our friends’ posts with no reloading and very minimal network traffic – all thanks to the breakthrough transition to dynamic AJAX-based layouts. There was also the amazing advances in CSS that made it possible to literally create a WYSIWYG design in Photoshop. Back in the 90s you could sure make a sweet layout… but it would look nothing like it in reality… with CSS, it can.
Even the editor I am using on my WordPress install to write this now is a testament to how far browsers have come. It would have been 100% impossible to make a web-editor work this well on a browser in the 90s. Heck, an editor wouldn’t have worked this well in 2002!
However, even with the advances there are still quite a few predictions that haven’t come to complete fruition. Back in the early 00s when dynamic browsing really took off I often read tech articles and watched seminars about how all of our applications would be on the web, and the browser would be the new “desktop environment” to use these apps.
Yeah… it hasn’t quite happened that way. The biggest obstacles in the way are security issues and the lack of functionality in many of these apps.
Take Google Docs for instance – sure it does 90% of what the average person may want, but they are seriously lacking on that extra 10% of features that forces so many of us to use desktop apps like LibreOffice or worse… Microsoft Office. The other major challenge with online apps is offline access. While HTML5 has gone a long way toward solving this… it still isn’t quite there. It’ll take another generation or two of markup and scripting languages until this works flawlessly.
Until the day comes when we have a real cross-browser “compiled” language - full gaming on the browser just won’t happen. Again, this is slowly changing… but it isn’t quite there yet.
It’s a shame flash was so terrible – it could have met this need.
I dare you to ask 100 people in the general population of non-geeks if they would store their personal data on the cloud. I would bet you at least 50% of them still don’t feel comfortable with it. Despite how many statistics you quote that say it is safe… they won’t do it.
The biggest challenge with moving all apps to the browser will surely be convincing the public it is safe… especially when they are constantly bombarded with stories about malicious users going around taking down sites and stealing data.
The fact is it’s pretty darn safe. I would reckon you are more likely to get a check stolen from your mailbox than you are getting an online bank account cracked. This is of course assuming you follow common sense security procedures (long passwords, change passwords often, avoid phishing, etc), and assuming you are using a reputable service.
Sure, stuff does happen… but you know what… banks and other physical locations get robbed all the time by creeps in ski masks (or painter’s uniforms, man I love that movie!)
I think people are slowly getting more used to the idea that the Internet is safe – but I know from dealing with the general public in both my personal and business life we still have a long way to go in this regard.
Plain Ol’ Browser Views
A few months back I took on a little project for a friend. His previous developer told him it was impossible to do certain things, such as convert it to a fluid layout with anchor points so certain elements stay in place (like a desktop app – try resizing one sometime!). It was a slightly complicated layout – but in 5 minutes I did just that with some css tweaks. No problemo.
You can do nearly everything in a web view that you can do in a desktop app, as far as the UI goes. This includes creating custom controls. Whether or not the backend will work the same is another topic entirely…
Browsers have come a long way since the 90s, but they still have a long way to go before they become “the” app platform for everything. It’s getting there – but it is a slow and arduous process.