by December 1, 2011 0 comments

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Web browser wars heated up again this year, with all major major web browser vendors bringing out newer and better releases of their offerings just about ‘every other day’ this year. Whether it’s Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Opera, each one has been trying to do one over the others with ever more functional versions, with a better user interface, better memory management, faster speed, etc.

Two key factors have led to the ‘return of browser wars’. One is cloud computing, or SaaS based applications to be more specific. With just about every type of application available on the Internet, you need to ensure that the web browser is geared up to handle them. The other major contributor is the digital revolution, which includes the onslaught of zillions of devices that connect to the Internet–tablets, STB, TVs, and even printers, apart from the regular ones like PCs, laptops, and smartphones.

Where will all of this lead to? Presented here are six key trends we think will bring major changes in the world of web browsers:

1. Web browser to encroach more OS

The speed at which functionality is being added in web browsers, one really begins to wonder whether it will take over from the OS some day. This debate has been on for quite some time now, but it’s not going to happen any time soon. However, we have reached a point where you can do just about every task through a web browser without worrying about what the underlying OS is.

Next year, we’ll see web browsers hog up more functionality from the OS, and a real good example of this is Google Chrome, which acts as an application delivery system much like an OS.

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When the browser becomes the primary application and user interface (as in Google Chrome), the line between the web browser and the OS begins to thin. Another example of this is an initiative from Mozilla called Webian
Shell, launched a few months ago. It takes the essential elements of your web browser, desktop environment and window manager and combines them into a single minimalist graphical shell dedicated to using web apps.

Another indicator of the thinning line between the browser and the OS is the video and graphics capabilities being built into the former. If you can edit images from within the browser itself, it reduces the need to have a
locally installed image-editing software.

2. More browser-managed devices

The Web Browser is bound to show up on a multitude of gadgets, and not just PCs and smartphones. The new crop of devices include printers, set top boxes and of course TV sets. We have already seen a little bit of this in Google TV— a platform designed to bring web content to your living room, and in the HP Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web all-in-one printer.

In the coming year, the web browser shall guide LCD monitors and the soon-to-arrive devices to access web based applications.

3. More Web apps than desktop apps

Remember the ‘shareware’ revolution of the 90’s, wherein thousands of applications were created for the desktop OS? Well now, the same thing is happening on the web browser, with an onslaught of web apps. For instance, the ‘Chrome Web Store’ is an online marketplace where you can discover thousands of apps that will run on Chrome web browser. Want to play Angry Birds? Do some image editing, or word processing? You’ll find an app that let’s you do that on this store. Similarly Firefox has Web Application store on, which illustrates how web apps can be used.

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We have already seen Web-based Kindle from Amazon, which relies on HTML5 to imitate the experience and responsiveness of a downloadable app. It’s the latest sign of where Web apps are heading to. Web apps can behave like native apps, and have the inherent benefit of working on any device with a web browser. It’s only natural to say therefore that in the coming year, we’ll see more browser-based apps being developed than desktop apps.

4. Browsers to get more
minimal and user-friendly

Over the last few years, all major browsers have been in the race to get more and more minimal. The designers and developers are pouring in efforts to get rid of unnecessary user interface elements to make the browser crisper to use, reduce the number of drop-down menus, and beef up the address bar, back button, and search.

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Google Chrome 15 for instance, has a revamped minimalist interface. Instead of a tool-bar, the interface has a combination address and search bar, the Omnibox, at the top with tabs above that. The few visible control buttons consist of Back, Forward, a combined Stop/Reload button, and a preferences wrench icon. That’s it. If you add extensions, they’ll show up as icons on the right of the Omnibox. Firefox has done something similar. This is just the beginning. Future versions of browsers will even be more minimalist. The next release of Firefox will carry more controls on UI elements.

For instance they are planning something called ‘Restore tabs on-demand’. For users with lots of tabs open, Firefox will add a preference to allows tabs to load on demand, resulting in faster start-up times.

Elements that are irrelevant for the end-user will be popped out. The ‘http://’ part of the URL can be done away with and similarly hiding the extensions of the web page. Does anybody really care about whether a site has been made in PHP or ASP? We can put the name of the section of the site, something like ‘>Home> Contact’ as the extension to the URL. Developers will redefine browsing experience with new UI controls and interactivity in the coming year. Google Chrome in its future releases could incorporate something called SideTabs to make browsing more easier. This is what they’re planning for the Chrome tablet.

Besides, the next version of Google Chrome will most likely have Support for multiple Chrome profiles on the same computer. This will allow more Chrome users running the same browser, just like you can have multiple users using the same Windows machine.

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This feature will let people who use a shared PC each have their own personalized Chrome. This feature seems useful in instances when you don’t want your bookmarks and settings to mix up with your frined’s or brother’s bookmarks and other preferences.

5. Social browsers

Soon, your web browser could replace the need to visit Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn on a regular basis! While Firefox, IE and Google Chrome are all talking about how fast and efficient they are, a browser called RockMelt shows how social it is. With all social features integrated into the browser, it is a boon for social users. With the number of Facebook and Twitter users growing exponentially, it’s most likely that people would love to see share feature in their browser itself.
Mozilla has something called Firefox Share (F1) in their latest version. F1- a step for fast sharing in Firefox, uses a server as a proxy to communicate between your browser and the service providers.

The add-on appears on the right edge of your location bar as a paper airplane. As you click the icon you get a drop-down that asks you to log into one of three accounts – Twitter, Facebook, or Gmail.

In the coming year, similar things will continue to evolve to help users share what they want from their browser only.

6. Web browsers to aggregate user behavior patterns

With the increasing popularity of social networking, folks have turned comfy with personalized experiences online. Today what makes web more appealing to many is the way one is offered content or search results on the basis of his browsing experience and search patterns.

The future browser will predict the next web page you’ll be likely to view based on the page you’re reading, and can pre-load it for you. Amazon Silk is claimed to be good in predicting browsing patterns and loading page in advance that the user is likely to move to next. Moving forward, we will see browsers that are clever enough to figure out pages you’re likely to navigate to and pre-load them.

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