The web browser evolution

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Just when you thought browser wars were a thing of the past, here comes Google Chrome. In a bid to increase its browser’s market penetration, Google announced Quick Scroll, a Chrome extension that enhances Google’s search results by highlighting matching passages that may not be easy to find otherwise.


For those who do not have Chrome, Google offers a short animation of how it works:

Speaking of those of us who don’t have Chrome, one wonders about the motivation of making Quick Scroll a Chrome extension without offering similar capability for other browsers. Surely the majority of Google users do not use Chrome, and so a Firefox extension or IE plug-in would improve the lot of many more Google users that an extension for Chrome, given that the stated reason for introducing this extension was to save people time.

It’s also interesting to note the swing of the interaction pendulum that this extension (and others) represents. While “initially” we interacted mostly with dedicated applications (some of which might be connected to online resources), over the last ten to fifteen years the trend has been for more and more pure web applications for everything from word processing (EtherPad, Google Docs) to image editing (Photoshop). But this extension is pulling the pendulum in the opposite direction, toward more purpose-built applications that consume web content, and away from neutral containers (the traditional browsers) that merely render it.

Of course this is not a new phenomenon, but to me it crystallized a trend that is likely to become more prominent in the future: content or service providers who also offer custom interfaces that need to be installed on end-users’ machines to offer interactions that are not delivered directly through or with the content. We have seen this in iPhone applications as a way to leverage the interaction capabilities of that device. We are now seeing the beginning of a new trend in this direction in the desktop browser.

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  2. …content or service providers who also offer custom interfaces that need to be installed on end-users’ machines to offer interactions that are not delivered directly through or with the content.

    When that happens, the browser morphs into a platform for software installation. And my feeling is that once this is realized, people will stop developing for the browser, and simply develop for the OS, directly. If you already have to write four separate plugins — one each for IE, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome — why not just write three separate web-enabled desktop apps, one for Mac, Win, and Linux? It’s less work, and you can offer richer interactions and speed.

  3. There is an issue of trust — browsers can be made more secure than just installing any ol’ app on your computer because they can sandbox plug-ins to some extent. Also, in many cases, computers are locked down to prevent users from installing software on them. I am not sure whether that lockdown also affects browser plugins.

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