The Internet has evolved from a military information machine (1987), to an academic resource (1991), to the information superhighway (1995), to a commercial publishing platform (1998), to a flop (2000), to an interactive connection engine (2005).
So what’s next? What comes after the so-called Web 2.0 era?
Whatever it is, it seems likely that the biggest player in the game, Google, will have something to do with it. And my guess is that Chrome will too, Google’s latest innovation.
Chrome currently is a mere web browser. It does the same job as Internet Explorer (Microsoft) and Firefox (Mozilla), or for that matter, Safari on a Mac. The purpose of a browser is to bring the Internet to you, on whatever device you use, be it a computer, a PDA, an iphone… without a browser, a computer is a stand-alone device with no global interactivity and without the web.
So Google’s plan is to change all that. With Chrome OS, it aims to turn the model on its head. i.e. instead of running a browser on Windows, the browser *is* Windows. The browser itself is the operating system and all the programs we currently use on our local machines, like word processors, spreadsheets and email clients, are actually run far away on webservers.
If you have an account with Google’s mail service – Gmail – you might already be familiar with the Documents feature. With this, you can accomplish almost everything MS Word and MS Excel do without paying for them, all through your web browser. And if your web browser happens to be Google Chrome, then you might experience a slightly faster service using these tools than with other browsers.
With the backdrop of these services behind us, its not difficult to see where things might lead. New lightweight computers – netbooks – are already on the market. At the moment they are loaded with Microsoft Windows, like virtually every other PC which is sold. But in the future, it looks likely they, and other light-weight devices, will come pre-loaded with Chrome OS. When this happens, we will all be using remote applications and storage to generate and save our files.
And when that happens, a new level of interaction and search will become available. One which makes the current method of Internet search almost, but not entirely, obsolete.
Imagine, for example, what the implications would be if whenever you saved a document you could choose whether to make it public to your associates, to senior management, to your friends or to the whole world. And when you save it, that’s it. Its done. You don’t have to FTP it to a website, or publish it as a blog post or attach it to an email.
And when you have saved a document like that, it becomes immediately searchable, but only to the group you made it available to.
The broader implications of this are huge. Especially when you consider all the new devices which are bound to come through for viewing the Internet with. When local processing power isn’t necessary, we could begin using a device like the current ebook readers from Sony and Amazon to do all our work on. They, at least, have a big enough screen. Alternatively, we may find technology leans towards paper-like screens which are foldable yet still touch-sensitive and equipped with high-speed wireless access to the Internet.
There will always be corporate websites. But in this new Internet generation, they will need to be a lot more interactive than they are now. The traditional website-as-a-brochure method will simply not be enough for companies to compete, and for organisations to work, efficiently.
But there are still some crucial outcomes required for all this to become reality:
1. Can Google really get away with it, or will its monopoly be too much for the world to swallow?
2. Will security issues prevent it catching on?
3. Will people be ready enough for it?
4. Will bandwidth speeds be fast enough?
5. Will the broadband network cover enough of the population?
In my next post, I will aim to answer each of these. If you have any more, please post them in a comment below.