Death to the Web Browser! Long Live the Web Browser!

To borrow the parlance of that chic geek magazine, Wired, I’m going to
declare the web browser “tired”, even borderline “expired”.

A friend said to me the other day, “I don’t even use my web browser anymore.” This struck me as quite shocking, as everybody knows that the web browser in contemporary society is essential to basic existence, right up there with vitamins and water.

As I thought more about his comment, however, I began to realize how true it was for myself as well. I rarely use my web browser anymore, at least not for what I used to use it for.

My life changed forever a little while back when I discovered a new internet protocol called “RSS,” an acronym for Really Simple Syndication. This is a new method of delivering information to Internet users efficiently and directly. It’s used by everybody from the BBC to your garden-variety blog.

With RSS, you subscribe to a certain information resource, and forever after it “pushes” information at you as it’s published. So, instead of having to visit a web site a dozen times a day to get the latest news, with RSS your computer is automatically updated with stories as they’re posted online.

It sounds simple, as the name suggests, and it really is. As the web becomes ever more bogged down with cheesy Flash intros, overwrought interface designs and advertising out the yin yang, RSS is a refreshing breeze that makes the Internet user’s life a pleasure again.

RSS is actually a derivative of the web. Often, the information you receive through RSS is also published on a web site and, if you’re interested, there’s a link available to go and read more.

RSS is also a good example of the next stage in the evolution of the Internet. The web, as an entity, is going to be left behind. Information will instead be parceled out in a wide variety of specialty environments. The web browser will become irrelevant as a result.

Besides RSS, there are other examples of breakaway information resources on the Internet.

The iTunes Music Store is the biggest one. In essence, it’s a web site, but it doesn’t run in a web browser, it runs inside Apple’s iTunes software. To maintain full control over the user experience, Apple couldn’t depend on the endless flavours of web browsers, and all of their inconsistencies, in common use today. So they built their own application to run their own web site.

Real did this as well. The RealPlayer, while a multimedia player at heart, has significant portions that are designed to run Real’s custom content in a controlled environment. Or, in other words, it’s a custom-built web browser that displays special Real web pages without risk of error.

We’ll see more of this in the future. Specialized Internet applications, such as banking, gambling, and stock trading, will find they can’t depend on the disparity of web browser environments commonly in use today if they want to deliver quality services to their users. So they’ll each develop and release custom browsers to support their applications.

Some of the old web’s key companies will be the first to adopt this new method of interacting with Internet users. Expect to see Google, eBay and Yahoo applications available for download soon.

So, say good bye to the multi-purpose web browser and get ready to download a new piece of software every time you want to do something online. Ironically, everything will still be on the “web”. You’ll just need a different web browser to do each thing.

As much as they might whine and complain about this new Internet model, the web browser manufacturers, especially Microsoft, only have themselves to blame. They’ve had over a decade since the web was born and they’ve ultimately failed to deliver a consistent, secure, and dependable web experience to Internet users and web developers.

It’s really just a matter of web businesses being fed up with their incompetence and taking matters into their own hands.

Andrew Robulack is an IT Business Strategist and Architect based in Whitehorse.

Originally published in the Yukon News on February 25, 2005.
Copyright Andrew Robulack 2005