Originally published for my current employer at the Whatever Media blog…
As a Web Developer and Computer Scientist, I’ve had to deal with research on both web browsers and operating systems and how each piece of software deals with hardware (memory, hard drives, processors, etc.), users, security and the interaction between all three. What has only been a recent development, with the invention of smartphones (iPhone, BlackBerry, Google Android), tablets (Apple iPad, BlackBerry PlayBook) and netbooks (more compact versions of Windows and Linux), is the merger of the web and operating systems.
Internet in its infancy
Computer research exploded during World War II when we needed faster ways to calculate artillery trajectories and later, a way to exploit the German message-encrypting machine called The Enigma.
Later, but before the Internet was invented and exploited by the public en masse, operating systems handled many scientific and business operations, such as intensive mathematical computations, spreadsheets, accounting ledgers and maybe the occasional game.
When the Internet was in its infancy, it was still used for manly scientific purposes – researchers sharing scientific documents – but it didn’t take long for companies and organizations to setup homepages for their businesses with contact information, store hours and store locations.
By the mid-to-late 90s, websites began to display and work with relevant information of user’s interest, including news websites and online stores. Think CNN, BBC, Amazon, eBay, Google and so on.
The Internet today
By the mid-2000s, smartphones such as the BlackBerry and iPhone began to take foot and now, in 2011, are the main source of communication between individuals in the Western World. We text, e-mail, check Facebook, write Tweets and catch up on the latest news, all from this little magic box attached to our hip. But have you ever encountered a data-outage where you can no longer use these services? Many people feel lost without their smartphone, especially when its Internet capabilities are disabled. It’s how we keep connected.
Enter Google, Chrome & Chrome OS
Google entered the web browser war in late-2008, against Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Apple’s Safari and Opera by releasing Google Chrome. Many people wondered why the world needed yet-another-browser, but little did they realize the importance of such a development. Google postulated that in the next few years, the majority of citizens in first-world countries will completely rely on the Internet for day-to-day operations. Google is a web firm, with their income entirely based on the web through their online search engine, online advertising, e-mail (Gmail), office suite (Google Docs) and so on, so why wouldn’t a company that relies entirely on the Internet, create a program to view and explore the Internet, the way they want?
Google is now going one step further and releasing their own operating system based on Google Chrome, called Google Chrome OS. As you may have noticed, operating systems have slowly been merging with the Web for some time. Although researched since the mid-90s and before, Google is the first major corporation to put their money on the further integration of the two and to start selling devices based on their software.
Will Google Chrome OS do everything I need?
You are probably already using a device that is heavily reliant on the Internet, such as your smartphone, tablet or workstation at work. However, your workstation at work probably has a lot of other important applications other than your web browser, such as Photoshop, Microsoft Office, Quicken and so on. So what good is an operating system that is only a web browser?
Well, did you know that most of those applications now run on the web? Adobe Photoshop has been replicated to a great deal of accuracy through a website called Pixlr, there are online applications that mirror Microsoft Office like Google Docs (with many others following suit), and Quicken has been emulated by your bank (CIBC, Scotiabank, BMO, etc.) and third-party websites such as Mint.com.
So, not only will you be able to use all the same applications you’ve been using since the 1990s, the data you work with will be saved by these third-party websites, so if your laptop gets lost or stolen, none of your data will be lost and will in fact be safe from unwarranted parties so long as they don’t know your password. Even further, Google has a sync program that will allow all your bookmarks, extensions, themes and data to be synced across all your computers, so long as you’re using Google Chrome. So you can have Google Chrome on your home and work PC (running Windows, Mac or Linux), on your phone or on your tablet and your experience on one computer will be the same as any other computer or device you use.
No lost data and seamless integration across your devices. Sounds pretty good to me.
With technologies such as HTML5 bringing patent-free video to our fingertips (which means streaming Netflix for Canadians) and the integration of OpenGL-3D for 3D data display (think engineering, computer animation and 3D video games), there’s no telling where the Web will go. One thing is for certain and that is our reliance on the Web will not be lessened by this evolution, but rather tightened, hopefully making a less painless computing experience for everyone.