Browsers are the new OS, says Google

Windows Vista or OS X? Who cares, says Google. The future of software will transcend operating systems.

That was one of the main messages of the company's I/O 2009 conference, which kicked off today in San Francisco. The two-day event brings together web developers to discuss, share, and encourage breakthroughs in online applications.

This morning, CNET's Tom Krazit noticed both Google CEO Eric Schmidt and vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra hyping their vision of a post-OS future.

"It's time for us to take advantage of the amazing opportunity that is before us," said Google CEO Eric Schmidt ... referring to the growing sense that the Internet and browsers--rather than a computer's operating system--will be the future foundation for application development.

The notion takes a current Web trend to its logical conclusion. Unlike most of the software available on store shelves, Facebook will run on (pretty much) any computer. It doesn't matter if you prefer Linux, or an older version of Windows, or even a cellphone. All Facebook needs is a browser. But on top of that, Facebook allows for third-party programmers to make applications designed to run in Facebook. This new level of app is now several times removed from the battle over which operating system is best.

Google's I/O presentations imagine what will happen as this trend develops. The company showed off ways that browsers could soon adopt many of the features of traditional operating systems. Yet, as Krazit (and Google) points out:

The industry isn't quite ready for that yet. Many of [the] applications demonstrated before the crowd of around 4,000 developers will require the widespread adoption of HTML 5 technologies, which are still under development by a consortium of companies and organizations.

Aspects of HTML 5 (the next upgrade of the Web's base programming language) have seeped into current browsers – especially into Firefox, Opera, Apple's Safari, and Google's Chrome.

But even when HTML 5 is completed, Microsoft's Internet Explorer could be a major roadblock. The browser, which enjoys 66 percent market share, has been slow to adopt new standards – thereby frustrating many forward-looking webpage designers. If Microsoft decides to tiptoe into HTML 5 – or worse, if few IE users bother to update their browsers, as is already the case – Google's post-OS future could be a long time from now.

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