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Your Browser in Five Years

The next big computing platform won't be Apple's Mac OS, Google's Android, or Microsoft's Windows. It's already here--and it's the Web.

  • Meanwhile, newer, faster wireless data services--including 4G technologies such as LTE and WiMax, as well as the increasingly ubiquitous Wi-Fi--will help the browser extend its reach into even more business and consumer devices. Who knows--perhaps even the Internet-enabled refrigerator, an idea that seemed ludicrous when LG Appliances introduced it in 2003, may make a comeback. In fact, LG hasn't given up on the concept. Its latest wired fridge has an LCD with a built-in browser and an on-screen keyboard.

  • Web design firm Adaptive Path, a leader in user-interface development, created a conceptual interface for Firefox maker Mozilla in 2008. Called Aurora, the concept features a Web-centric world where all data and applications reside within the framework of the browser. In a demonstration video, a man named Tim uses gestures to interact with Aurora on a large wall screen. The display includes a camera that reads and interprets Tim's hand and arm movements. Personal workspaces, similar to bookmarks, appear as large thumbnails; Tim organizes his desktop by "grabbing" workspace objects (without actually touching the display) and "pushing" them to where they belong on the screen. Though Aurora may never become an end-user interface, it does offer an intriguing glimpse of a browser-based future that today's tech-industry players--via standards groups like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)--are working hard to create.

  • Early examples of applications that run inside HTML5-compliant browsers provide a peek into the future. Flickr Explorer, for instance, allows users to zoom in and out of their images, as well as to pan through photos, much faster than they can with today's browsers. Complex 3D games will run inside browsers, too. Browsers will become more gamer-friendly as burgeoning Web standards such as WebGL--which provides a 3D graphics application programming interface (API) in a browser without the use of plug-ins--take hold. Though Aurora may never become an end-user interface, it does offer an intriguing glimpse of a browser-based future that today's tech-industry players--via standards groups like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)--are working hard to create.

  • The browser is spreading beyond the PC and smartphone to new types of gadgetry, including TV set-top boxes and printers. This is a trend that will accelerate in the coming years. Nascent examples include Google TV, the search giant's new platform designed to bring Web content to your living-room television; the HP Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web all-in-one printer, a color inkjet with a 4.33-inch, color LCD that provides access to Web-based applications; and, of course, a soon-to-arrive crop of tablet devices following in the wake of the new (and already popular) Apple iPad.

  • What will your Web browser look like in 2015? Five years doesn't always bring dramatic change to some technologies--today's desktop PC, for instance, isn't that different from its 2005 predecessor--but browsers are undergoing major changes that will alter our day-to-day computing lives.

  • Opera Software's free Opera browser which has pioneered voice and mouse-gesture browsing. No wonder that major automakers, including Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, and Mercedes, are experimenting with ways to add browsers to cars and trucks. (For more, see "Car Tech: Coolest New Systems on Four Wheels.")

  • It's unlikely that popular and widely used desktop software, particularly business-oriented tools such as Microsoft Office, will vanish completely by 2015. But the emergence of Web-based apps, including productivity suites like Google Docs and the new Microsoft Office Web Apps, could hasten a migration from relatively slow-booting desktop operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS to speedy, simpler browser-based systems like Google Chrome OS. Though Aurora may never become an end-user interface, it does offer an intriguing glimpse of a browser-based future that today's tech-industry players--via standards groups like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)--are working hard to create.

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