The web browser is taking a giant leap forward. The average user has yet to see the difference it will bring, but on every smartphone and desktop, there is a roaring tiger waiting to come out of its cage. The most important change is that the biggest player, Microsoft, had to change its stance.
If software runs on your desktop operating system and you own 90% of the browser market, you can be excused for not wanting to drive your users away from the desktop to run their apps. But when you fall below 50% with a negative trend, and people are fleeing to smartphones and tablets you’ve got to act. And this is where Microsoft shows its strategic skills. Although its size, it has always been agile to chance stance rather than gown down with the ship. When Microsoft and IBM tried to introduce OS/2, it was Microsoft who made a 180 degree turn when they discovered that the older Windows was picking up unexpected momentum. They left IBM in the cold and implemented their OS/2 version 3 stuff in a product they dubbed Windows NT. Same thing when they abandoned MSN for the Internet or accepted Visual Basic defeat in its move to C++ syntax garbage collected languages (J++, J# and C#). Once it decided to play catch-up, the results were nothing short of amazing.
As it turns out, the other browsers have evolved, so Explorer have had some catching up to do. Availability of new browser technology has traditionally been arriving at the speed associated with political committees. Now, with real competition and the catching up frenzy on Microsoft’s behalf, we are making progress weekly. The end user adoption has been helped by automatically updated iPhones and subscription channels of modern browsers. With the upcoming Windows 8 release and the decision from Microsoft to make browser upgrading a default, we will soon have reached critical mass for software developers to release the tiger.
So what is this tiger like? Why will it change the game? The list can be made long, but there are three categories of changes that all play a part in the revolution:
1) Thick client. The browser is the new desktop. Local storage, maintained state (flip between pages while remaining in a single local “page”).
2) WebSockets. Interact with servers in real time. Instead of a fixed and slow requests/response pattern, servers and clients can now communicate at a blazing speed in any way they want. This is a must for games and in desktop style applications that interact with a server.
3) Availability. No chain is stronger than its weakest link. And the weakest link, Internet Explorer, has made the most progress relative to its resent incarnation. This means that we can finally put the last years of Browser progress in the hands of our users.