Will the browser matter in Web 2.0?

Market players say more avenues need to be made available for users to have rich Internet experiences, but are divided on the browser's relevance in the Web 2.0 age.

Look beyond the Web browser to experience the Internet--that is what Microsoft wants online users to do.

The software giant's Web 2.0 strategy includes, but does not revolve entirely around, its Internet Explorer (IE), according to Dilip Mistry, Microsoft's general manager and DPE (Developer and Platform Evangelist) lead for the Asia-Pacific region.

"There's a lot of attention that's being put on IE…but we must also remember that people's Internet experiences [go] beyond the browser as well," Mistry pointed out.

"In order for enterprises to have an online strategy, which really [impacts] their customers, partners and employees, you need to build rich experiences on the multiple devices which give them the Internet experience…so it's beyond the browser," he added. "Any enterprise needs to be cognizant of these different Internet technologies that allow you to have a rich Internet experience--sometimes in the browser, and also outside the browser."

Equating Microsoft's IE efforts to its Web 2.0 strategy would therefore be a "limited view", he said. "We really are trying to come out with software across the board, both in the browser and out of the browser on the PC, or different types of software on the PC [such as MSN] Messenger [so users] have these rich experiences."

To that effect, Microsoft has partnered the U.K.'s BBC in a pilot involving 5,000 homes with broadband access in the United States. The trial allows users to access BBC content directly from the desktop, without the need to launch any browser window.

The maker behind Web browser Opera, also noted that the Web 2.0 movement for the company "isn't just [about] our browser". According to Thomas Ford, Opera's PR manager for desktops, the company's strategy revolves around "creating tools and services" that support a Web 2.0 environment.

But, the company believes the Web 2.0 revolution will bring about an increased emphasis on the browser, noted Ford in an e-mail to ZDNet Asia. "We're preparing for the day when all you need is a browser [on any device] and you can run any type of application on top of it," he said.

Opera's desktop browser currently supports Web 2.0 technologies such as AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript and Extensible Markup Language). The company also uses "widgets", which allow developers to create Web 2.0 style applications that run on browsers across different devices.

Opera has also introduced a mobile AJAX framework that can be used to create mobile applications, or to tweak Web applications for mobile devices so the software can run on any mobile operating systems.

Ford explained: "Web 2.0 demands more from Web developers than the first stages of the Web did--now [these developers] can take information from different places around the Web and mash it together to create new services.

"This relies on skilful coding of technologies including JavaScript, XML, CSS, HTML, and so on," he said.

Browser or not, both Microsoft's Mistry and Opera's Ford noted that enterprises can benefit by offering their customers a faster, richer and more interesting user experience.

Ford noted: "They can also create tools much faster because they're relying on open standards that developers are already familiar with, from their days of creating Web sites.

"This also means that most software can be moved online and be accessed from any connected device. That's a huge improvement over [having to deal with] pre-installed firmware," he said.

Microsoft's Mistry added: "Whether it's kicking or screaming, the enterprise [community] will be embracing next-generation Web technologies."

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