I have long waited for the day that the platform I use would be primarily the internet browser. Years ago, I installed a Linux based desktop distribution and stripped out much of the software aside from Firefox. This was when Google Docs had yet to become Google Drive and Google’s Chrome browser was in very infantile stages. It sort of worked. There was not much for web based services for video editing, software development, or photo management the way there is today, but I did not really expect it to fulfill all my needs at the time. I just wanted to see how far we had to go. I ended up using it as my baseline, adding software as I needed it after the browser when nothing available through the web sufficed.
Today things are quite different. I have been using a Chromebook for about a year now and I have not found that I need to go back to a full desktop for anything that I use a computer for on a personal level. Those three things I mentioned above are now taken care of through web based applications. I do all of my writing on Google Drive. I use a service called Codeanywhere for coding. I use WeVideo to edit together video clips. And Google Photos works great for photo management and editing for me. If I do need access to a desktop computer, I have a headless Mac mini sitting in my living room that takes care of some automated tasks. I can use remote desktop to get at it, but I have not used it for anything that I couldn’t do with Chrome OS. Maybe someday I would put a Chromebox in it’s place, but the Mac is doing the job fine right now.
The reason I have been so excited for the web to be operating system rather than merely another application on your main operating system (Windows, OS X, Linux, etc.) is because every platform has a portal to the web. At this point it makes more sense to build a web app before any platform specific app. In fact, a lot of the apps that can be attained from the various app stores of the modern mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and others) are little more than a native app wrapper around code that runs in a web browser. This does not always mean that the device needs to be connected to the web for the app to function. Many offline apps are built using web browser technologies as the core. Many websites can be placed on the homescreen of your device and be indistinguishable from an app store app to the untrained eye, even without going through the app store. I like this idea since I do not believe that any app store curator be it Apple, Google, Microsoft, or whoever, should be the czar to the digital media we enjoy.
Another positive reason to celebrate the web as a platform from a developer’s perspective is that an app hosted on the web can feature the ultimate piracy protection. Using a system that the user has to log into and pay if they want to continue to get certain features means that there is no way that a pirate can use your software without paying. Now I do believe that users should be allowed to try before paying, and I think that is one of the main lessons we have to learn from the state of piracy today. However, individual developers are free to try other models.
Problems with the web as a platform at this point are mainly the complexities. Most people are used to the world of software being something installed locally. Though web apps can be installed locally, most do not require it. The expectation is that you will likely be online when accessing these services. Many people are not comfortable with this. I can use Google Drive offline to some extent, but I cannot edit video from within a tunnel on the Metro. I think that some of the heavier web apps will evolve to work offline, but our connectivity will also evolve to a point where we will not be offline ever. It may still be a while, but even as I write this I am hardly ever away from access to the internet. I almost have to go out of my way to make it so that I am totally outside the boundaries of an internet signal. I went to a cave on my recent vacation and they had wifi hotspots in there. Seventeen hundred feet underground and I still could not escape internet access. Even with my example of the Metro train, I would not be surprised to see wifi installed in the near future. And if not, do I really need to be doing heavy web applications from within a Metro tunnel?
So the web is the platform. Some people are currently stuck using a more fully featured version of Microsoft Office or Photoshop, but I think it is silly to think that every feature of those software packages would not be available through a web app one day. I think someday soon native software will be dwarfed by what is available as a web app.
Kirk has settled into his virtual cubicle at SeedSing. He is curious if future space tourism will have good wifi coverage. Follow him on twitter @kirkaug.