Chad Perrin: SOB

3 September 2008

the browser is not the computer

Filed under: Geek — apotheon @ 12:16

(This is adapted from a reddit comment of mine.)

I’ve been reading trite prognostications about how the browser is the Next Big Platform, and the OS won’t even matter tomorrow, for years. These lame predictive statements all miss some important facts. A few such facts are:

  • The browser interface style is not ideal for everything. In fact, it actively gets in the way for some tasks.
  • Sometimes, having separate applications that are visually distinct from one another is a good thing. Why do you think we have tiling window managers and tiling capabilities in terminal multiplexers?
  • Hierarchical collections of multitasking metaphors make for a far greater productivity boost than just trying to cram every task for a heavy multitasker (like me) into a single multitasking metaphor (like a tabbed browser). I have pseudo-tabbed console applications within terminal multiplexers within stacked and/or tiled terminal emulators within workspaces within my X session — which occupies just one of several TTY consoles — for instance.
  • Browsers actually tend to do a crummy job of dealing with textual interface stuff, because they’re designed for dealing with visual interfaces using pointer interaction paradigms. That’s one reason I use a Firefox extension to let me edit text fields with Vim.
  • Cramming everything into a browser ends up eating up valuable screen real estate with pointless Web-based controls for things that are neither needed for, nor of any benefit to, many tasks.
  • Conflating menus is sometimes a really bad idea — or do we plan to try to include seventy different menu types in a single application window without driving the user insane?
  • There are some processor intensive applications that may still be bottlenecked by network bandwidth and transfer speed issues if they aren’t run locally.
  • Browsers impose resource overhead in addition to the resources consumed by the apps they contain.
  • The OS can still cause problems if it sucks, even if you’re only using Web applications all the time.
  • Do you really want to deal with cross-site scripting that can directly affect whatever equivalent to a file browser you’re using? Isn’t it bad enough that stuff like that can bite you while you’re logging in to your bank’s Website? Do you really want XSS attacks to have the ability to essentially install keyloggers, too?

There are just too many shortcomings to a universal browser platform for it to take over all my computing needs.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License