The Web is My Computer To Go

The other day my friend bought her first Mac. She was clearly excited but also clearly a little worried. This, she knew, was going to be a really big change. Or was it?

It occured to me while thinking about what this experience must be like for her, a smart but not technically experienced individual, that in fact a lot of what would be easy on the Mac would be the Web. Why? Because the Web is everywhere and, increasingly, every thing. The Web is the interface most people think about these days when they think about using computers.

Just take a look around. Almost everything you can do on a standard desktop application you can do on web pages these days. Instant Messaging was one of the first applications I can think of (off the top of my head) that was taken to the Web with AOL Instant Messenger’s AIM Express. Yahoo! quickly followed. I remember the days when hanging around in Yahoo Clubs Chat Rooms (now Yahoo Groups, and no longer involved with the Chat Rooms feature) used to be all the rage. I played a ton of Go and Battleship back then.

These days, more and more information is being put online and is becoming easier (and more consistent) to access. Twitter is all the rage, I do all my banking online (over verified HTTPS connections, of course), and Google has integrated GoogleTalk right into the GMail window. In fact, most of my friends never close their GMail window anymore. The browser is the new IM client.

Of course, there’s a fascinating paradox that’s worth examining in all of this. Simultaneously, the Web provides a consistent interface to my stuff (like email or banking information) and yet all of my information is consistently displayed differently. The Web is my computer—to go.

So if the Web is my computer on a take-out menu, the web browser is more and more like its own little computer inside the bigger one. Indeed, AJAX has proven itself in an ever increasing number of applications, and intelligent JavaScript is finally getting the attention it deserves. If you’ll forgive the exceptionally Mac-centric analogy, JavaScript is to the Web as AppleScript is to the Mac. Case in point, here’s a JavaScript bookmarklet that will give you a “full screen” button in any compliant Web browser:

javascript:self.moveTo(0,0);self.resizeTo(screen.availwidth,screen.availHeight);

This illustrates the point that the Web browser is becoming an ever more complex platform in its own right. People have already taken this concept further and more than a dozen Web Operating Systems are already in development. When these mature, computing, for many people, will have finally come full circle and returned to the days of dumb terminals.

By the way, my friend’s doing quite well with her Mac today. She’s even using Safari instead of Firefox these days.