This is a guest post by Zach Katkin – entrepreneur, web developer, designer and writer – co-founder of Florida Web Design Company Atilus. Additionally Zach also owns a number of web properties including Promana.net, a resource for Small Business Software News including Basecamp Project Management.
I rarely make predictions, but after over a decade in the professional world of web design, I’ve recently seen a convergence of a number of different technologies and companies that are about to drastically (sort of) change the web, and how we operate computers. Before I get to where I believe the future is heading let’s review something:
XHTML & CSS
8 years ago XHTML & CSS were revolutionary. I won’t go into TOO much detail about my past (not that I want to be mysterious, it’s just mostly irrelevant), but I was lucky enough to get into web design with the addition of XHTML & CSS. You see, back then everyone used TABLES to build websites (some still do). The problem with tables was that you had to adjust EVERY page on a website in order to make a change, this took a lot of time, money, and just didn’t make sense.
Those problems all disappeared with the adoption of XHTML & CSS. No longer did a developer have to update every page in order to adjust the design or style of a site. Instead, CSS (cascading style sheets) told the browser what various XHTML elements needed to look like. In one tiny spot, you could define the background of a site, of a column, the color of text, etc. The seperation of HTML (markup/content) & CSS (the design), let to an explosion in web design. There were a few drawbacks (developers had to learn a new way to develop websites and a new way of thinking), but overall it has been a phenomenal change for devs, and site owners alike.
HTML 5 & CSS3
HTML 5 is the latest version of HTML (hypertext markup language) – the language for structuring and presenting content on the web. Most important within the context of this article is understanding the HTML 5 adds a number of new properties, namely APIs that allow your browser and websites to do things that were previously very difficult (requiring a myriad of other technologies to implement):
- 2D drawing
- Timed media playback
- Offline storage database (offline web applications)
- Document editing
- Cross-document messaging
- Browser history management
- MIME type and protocol handler registration
Where are we heading with all this? There’s a point here… I promise!
The Modern Computer
The modern day computer is [mostly] a means to access the Internet. A majority of users, even power users, use their computer to access online services and applications. And, even in the cases where some users continue to setup and install desktop software, many times that software already has an online counter part that competes with – if not exceeds – the capability of its desktop counter part. From email, through managing an organizations contacts and daily business all the way to managing bookkeeping and finances, there are MANY online tools for individuals and businesses alike.
Enter the Chromebook & Chrome OS
With all of the above in mind Google announced the development of Chrome OS back in 2009 – an operating system (an extension of Google’s Chrome browser) that continued this idea through to it’s final conclusion – THE OS IS ONLY A WEB BROWSER. There is little to no local storage (no downloading and storing files/music/videos) you simply open it up, turn it on, and visit websites.
Watch This Quick Presentation by Google:
Google’s understood the blurring lines between web applications and their stodgy desktop counterparts for sometime… they pioneered the space with their Google Docs/Apps solution for small businesses (an online document creation/editing/storage tool). The idea of centralizing applications is nothing new. In the early 90’s IBM spearheaded (successfully) the adoption of “thin clients” by many corporate customers whereby an organization would install a giant central server and then computers would connect through cheap terminals.
This is that idea on a grander, more decentralized scale. Now you can open up a Chromebook (the nickname for a computer with Chrome OS installed on it) and, once logging in via their Google Account, instantly be shown a customized experience based on the data in your Google Account – including bookmarks, web apps, etc.
99% of users today need their computer for little more than surfing the web (and using the powerful applications that have sprung up on it) and the Chrome OS is the best solution for these individuals and businesses. While building the Chrome OS Google kept the following in mind:
- Instant-On Technology – Just pop open the lid and it turns on, no more waiting for your computer to start (typically 1.5 minutes)
- Super Small/Fast – Using the latest mobile technology Chromebooks are super fast for web browsing and general multimedia activities
- Inexpensive – This is probably where things will need to change for successful adoption. Chromebook’s which were very recently released, must come down in price. They are currently inline with similar tablet based solutions, but will need to drop in order to become a viable alternative.
- Security – Built from the ground up to be secure, Chromebooks are useless without a Google Account, and can instantly be replaced without ANY fear of your data being compromised.
With all of the above in mind, it’s clear that the future of the modern computer is almost complete cloud adoption, with decentralized software and user data. Instead the computers of the future will connect to the websites users feel best accomplish their tasks and the idea of installing software will be a thing of the past.