Like an oncoming rain shower, you can smell it in the air. Its clouds darken the sky on the horizon, its distant rumbling thunder promises to bring new life to the parched earth under your feet. Or perhaps that’s not a weather pattern but the pungent, salty stench of war wafting in upon us?
Whichever, it is the Internet OS; and it is very nearly upon us.
A few months ago I reported on how the imminent version 3 of the alternative web browser Firefox will provide a ready bridge between the web and your desktop. This would solve the problem that many users of web technologies currently face: how to access your web data when you can’t get online. If you’re a Gmail user, for example, how do you browse your messages while on a plane?
Firefox 3.0 promises to solve that problem by enabling you to discreetly download your Gmail to your desktop so that, internet or no internet, you can still look up that muffin recipe your mom sent you two years ago (whew!).
This desktop-to-internet bridge concept has become key to the future of the web as a legitimate computing platform. After all, what use is a web-based word processor if you can’t sneak into the can during your family vacation to catch up on the report that’s due the day after you’re back in the office?
Answering the call of workaholics everywhere, a variety of software developers are toiling to ensure that the web will soon be your companion wherever you might choose to disrespect your family.
Earlier this year monster software publisher Adobe announced Apollo, a development environment that will run web applications locally without an internet connection.
And just last week, at their first web-based “developer day” conference, Google announced Gears, a new tool that is designed to let you use the company’s web apps even when you’re not hooked up to the internet.
While the Internet OS on your desktop sounds like a great idea in concept, the variety of solutions being presented by Adobe, Google, and Firefox collectively present some pretty serious problems. Primary among them is the question of compatibility: like, will Google’s Gears give the gears to Firefox, or blast Apollo off into space?
It’s very unlikely they’ll play nice; this is not evolution, it is Web War 3.0.
At least in their first few incarnations, the various bridge solutions will no doubt provide endless pain to the web’s most adventurous users for a minimum of gain.
In essence, Adobe, Google, and Firefox are very much creating a new universe of conflicting software environments such as we already have in Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
That doesn’t sounds like much fun.
So it’s not surprising that we find that the Kings of Desktop Software, Apple and Microsoft, abstaining from the Internet OS party, at least for the time being.
The two giants have been very stand-offish, displaying a haughty “been there, done that,” attitude. Meanwhile, the young ‘uns battle it out like so many testosterone-driven youth joy riding the same streets their parents used to haunt.
Google, Adobe, and Firefox very well may be reinventing the landscape of computing, but they might also just be reinventing the wheel.
Over the years Microsoft and Apple have perfected the desktop computing paradigm. Both Windows Vista and (more so) Mac OS X have reached such a level of functional and stylistic maturity, one can understand why their owners would be so apprehensive about venturing into the trenches of the War of the Internet OS.
Better to just stand back, let the bloodbath ensue, and then buy whatever penniless warrior seems to emerge victorious from the melee.
So that storm that’s brewing over yonder mountains is most likely a torrential monsoon that will soak anyone to the bone who’s so fanatical as to embrace its full force. Better for reasonable folks like you and I to find a nice shack with a nice desk to hole up in until the storm is over. Then we can emerge when the sun shines again to survey how the heavy dump of water has changed the landscape for better or worse.