The Future of Browsers


The final session of the day is a panel on the future of the browser. On the panel are Joshua Allen of Microsoft, Mike Shaver of Mozilla, and Nick Baum of Google. Noticeably missing are Opera (excused due to distance) and Apple (absent without excuse). Douglas Crockford, of Javascript fame, is the moderator.

Douglas asks is the add-on the best model for letting users solve their frustrations with the lack of capability in a browser. Joshua talks about Microsoft's goal to move toward extensibility through Web standards where ever possible and get away from native apps. Mike says that add-ons solve the problem of having multiple special purpose applications. The browser allows a piece of software to accompany the user on the Web as part of the browser experience.

Mike says there will be convergence on similar functionality but doesn't think there will be a common set of touch points for all browsers and all plug-ins. I think that means no common API, but I'm not sure.

Douglas asks if there should be a standards process around the add-on. Joshua doesn't think we need standards for convergence to happen. He says "its pretty clear what others are doing for extensibility and it's pretty easy for others to adopt it." Mike doesn't think it makes sense to codify behaviors that we might want to change later. We don't know enough to create standards yet.

The Web is under attack by proprietary platforms like Air, Silverlight, etc. They have clear and obvious advantages but they have one big disadvantage: their lack of openness. Nick says that we need to accelerate the inclusion of the capabilities of these closed platforms in open standards and browsers. "We need more stuff in the browser faster." Mike says that the competition of Web browsers has led to improvements like Javascript being 10x faster now. Joshua thinks that stories about the threat to the Web are highly overrated. The Web has made great strides over the last few years.

Joshua says that no one controls enough of the market to have veto power, so everyone needs to work together.

Douglas: the biggest threat to openness is mobile. Mobile platforms have been trying to lock into closed systems since it's inception. Now they're moving to the Web, but trying to make the mobile Web something different in order to control it. Nick thinks that the trends are toward open platforms for the Web (references iPhone and Android). This is the right direction. Mike says that we need to continue to improve the mobile experience so that it's the same as the non-mobile web.

Joshua thinks there's some wishful thinking there because with a cell phone the company that supplies bandwidth controls the physical infrastructure. Without rules that require carriers to allow competing backend services, they will continue to create walled gardens. Mike argues that as mobile platforms get more capable it will be more and more difficult for service providers to lock users into their own services.