Internet of the Future I: Blending the Browser

Every couple of months a tech magazine will print an article about technology in the future, covering everything from wrist-watches to laptops to cable television, but no one ever discusses what the internet will be like five, ten, or fifteen years from now – because no one knows. This is the first of several articles NeoSmart Technologies is publishing regarding the internet of the future: how we’ll use it, what it’ll be like, and where it’ll go from there.

The growth and expansion of the internet and its associated programs and technologies can best be compared to that of a living species: the laws and theorems revolving around the expansion of technology provide sufficient evidence that its growth cycles can be interpreted in the same way as that of an organism – and from there we have our first glimpse at the future of the internet.

In studying the growth patterns of such a technology, it becomes apparent that the model being followed is one of heavy and very spontaneous growth fueled my innovation and necessity, followed by long periods of stabilization and standardization. The best example would be in the 1990s when the browser wars between Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator.

In the early days of the internet, the competition between the two big guns yielded a lot of innovation and new technology, from new HTML tags to the invention of JavaScript, and all of it in a very short period of time. After a ‘winner’ was announced, the W3C came along and standardized (X)HTML, CSS, and more. And then it was 2004 and another change was brewing. Now that the “Web 2.0” revolution is nearing its end in terms of innovation and features, one can guess that the internet and with it, the browser, will also wind down back into the period of standardization until the next period.

The part that decides the future of the internet isn’t the periods of heavy innovation: almost everything that takes place then is a ‘bandwagon’ idea, and will soon enough finish its run. What matters is the standardization that follows, and what it brings about in terms of real revolutions and stability for the web.

All this brings us to the web browser of the future. After this long but very necessary foreword, the browser of the future isn’t too hard to understand or at the very least guess about. At NeoSmart Technologies our previous research and reviews of the top players in today’s browser wars has lent us a rather wacky idea that we feel is only a matter of time before it goes into play: before long which browser a user chooses will become a matter of personal taste, and will have no effect on just how satisfactory a surfing experience the user will have.

With XHTML and the W3C, browser developers and web designers alike are being driven to standardization. Standardization isn’t the be-all end-all it is made out to be and valid HTML isn’t the answer to everything, but at the end of the day, five, ten, or fifteen years from now, the web will be standardized as a whole, because even as the developers and designers continue to clean up their code, the standards committees will make new ‘standard’ ways to accomplish the very things that stopped standardization in the first place.

For example, the majority of the ‘big’ sites today break the standards in order to ensure true cross-browser compatibility. Although some of these sites (think Google) can easily be written in valid HTML while preserving the exact same layout and compatibility, many others like MSN and Yahoo! can’t compromise one for the other. But even as they use the ‘broken’ HTML, the browser developers and members of the web standardization communities are working on making valid code truly cross-browser compatible.

In ten years, it won’t matter what browser you pick. All of them will display pages the exact same way, for the most part, will offer identical features. The difference will become a matter of personal taste: the way one browser offers a feature or allows a user to change it compared to another is what will matter. The features market will have been saturated, and valid code will inevitably take over.

It may seem like a bold statement and hard to envision, but studying the current and past trends, it is indeed the most likely outcome. The web needs standardization in order to go on, as has been previously proven, and with each wave of standardization and stability, it will permeate further and further into the tangled web that is the internet, and soon enough the choice of browser will impact the surfing experience less and less.

We expect to see this perfected sometime in the next five to eight years, because there is another revolution coming along after that, one that will change the face of the internet forever by taking the trends we described above to the next level.

So what will a browser be, and if they all display pages the same way, where’s the fun?
As far as we can tell, there will always be a difference between the browsers, it won’t be something as finely defined as the difference between Coca Cola and Pepsi, the difference will be there, but only those that care will notice it.

For instance, Internet Explorer’s tighter integration with Windows and its more traditional line of add-in programming might make it the perfect business browser – after all, it ships with Windows, its very well documented, fully supported, and can be maintained over the network. At the same time, Firefox’s JavaScript-driven extension framework would make it ideal for those that want a power-horse with full customization at the tip of the finger. Opera could easily maintain its current crowd of simplicity-loving web surfers and offer enhanced integration with every transfer protocol known to man.

To sum things up: standardizing the web isn’t as extreme of a step as it may seem. Once a page displays the same on any browser, the developers can start to truly innovate and think of ways that will make a browser better appeal to the end users, without worrying about page rendering and basic features like a pop-up blocker or phishing protection: those are all a part of the core web-experience and sooner or later will permeate all corners of the web. They aren’t the focus. What makes the browsers popular today is what will keep them going tomorrow. Standardization only makes it easier to focus on what’s important, not replace it.

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