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Browser the new desktop in cloud era?

india Updated: Dec 13, 2010 14:56 IST
N Madhavan

Network computer maker Sun Microsystems had a smart slogan a decade ago, that sounded like a mission statement for the Internet: “The network is the computer.” Last year saw the rise of “netbooks” — light-featured computers that access files, applications and content over the web.

The two logically lead up to the current hot theme — “cloud computing”, which is essentially about using applications, storage or content from the “out there” cloud — for all practical purposes a reference to the internet.

So what is really the new desktop? The term “webtop” is fashionably used to describe the screen view one may get from the Web, but a significant part of the cloud is clearing: it seems that the browser is the new desktop.

This became evident last week when search giant Google unveiled a test version of its impending operating system, the Chrome OS – which would be free. The Chrome OS directly challenges Microsoft Windows not only as a free alternative but also in the way things are done through the cloud.

Google says the Chrome browser, which it launched ahead of the OS, is critical to making the most of the latter in a new philosophy of cool network-centric computing.

By a coincidence, on the day Chrome OS was launched, I was having dinner with Jon S. von Tetzchner, co-founder and former CEO of Norway-based Opera Software, which makes the namesake browser that has 150 million installations.
Opera is respected for its innovations. While Tetzchner held forth on the growth that Opera is driving via partnerships, two things
struck me.

One, Opera’s mobile browser has application icons that makes the opening page of its browser look much like the old-fashioned desktop on which you click and access dozens of applications.

Secondly, Opera Unite, a feature launched last year, helps you convert your home computer (provided it is switched on and linked to the Net) into a network computer and share photos and files with friends through a web link.

I mostly work on Firefox, a browser that enables excellent “tabbed” browsing that helps me switch back and forth between various sites.

Between tabbed sites, file sharing and a cloud-friendly OS from Google, clearly, the browser is the new desktop in a world in which the game is increasingly about not where a file is, but how you can access it over the Web.