The coming browser wars

Next gen browsers are the high ground on the maturing cloud battlefield, whether at individual or collaboration scale. Permissions, groups & filters configurations could be centralized in future vendor specific proprietary formats
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

All aspects of enterprise technology are now firmly focused on persuading you to host your business materials on vendor servers, with complex real time interactions around it enabled by on demand mobile and social functionality.

Putting aside for a moment where most companies actually put all their stuff today, with their materials hosted on their own hard drives, the clear thrust and implications of most technology vendor enticements is to encourage them to move everything into their data centers somewhere on the planet.

This future moves the epicenter of business workflow from owned applications and patches running on owned servers to the utility model of computing on tap - you've probably already been bludgeoned by relentless marketing messaging on this topic - but what is less discussed on this topic is that the epicenter of where we interact is the digital device browser.

Microsoft already fought a bruising round one (originally instigated by Novell) with the european union climaxing at the end of the web 1.0 era, and there are current redux rumblings of another anti trust browser clash

At $199, Google's new Acer ChromeBook is a qwerty keyboard lightweight laptop with Google products built in, with their Chrome browser obviously at the epicenter of the experience. It's ironic that the typewriter/ Celeron chip/ trad hard drive technology is an option alongside their various Android mobile devices as Microsoft attempt to blur the lines between old Windows perceptions and their new tiled, cross platform interfaces.

Connected, always backed up, painlessly pushed out updates to technologies - the concierge approach to computing takes hands-on installations and trouble shooting out of the hands of the masses. Arguably pioneered by Apple, the expensive high end has now become ubiquitous in the individual lower end end user world, and being telegraphed as the future of enterprise technology provisioning.

With their impressive Azure backbone and global infrastructure coupled with the latest generation of Sharepoint and Office 360, Microsoft are at least in theory well equipped to take on the competition, whether newly cloud native Oracle or born cloud natives like Salesforce. The differentiators between players in the enterprise space have currently shrunk dramatically, and with the move to cloud concepts and realities, the front end consumption and interaction device is once again tactically highly important, whether a physical digital device or browser/app.

For the individual, who may also run a small business or be able to use their own device for work (which is increasingly a stateless idea, as likely to be on the kitchen table as on a plane or in a cube) the access point to all their online technology options is also increasingly through their choice of browser.

This sets up future browsers - which also play an increasingly important role in the digital advertising industry's future - as being at ground zero for differentiation between services as our ever more connected world matures. Just as the cut throat mobile device world has no clear leader over time, it seems likely that browser choice and development will be a major battleground again.

Baking exclusive functionality into the software that receives the streams of data and information has been big business for destination 'apps' running on the various operating systems that power modern devices in recent years, whether mobile or desktop.

We are likely to see increased functionality that is unique to specific browsers again. This gets interesting when we look at browser stats and trends: depending on who you believe the race is essentially between Microsoft and Google for dominance, with Firefox and its derivatives as the still strong third party pure play.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer has gone from dot com era global dominance to dropping to second place to Google Chrome in May of this year if stat counter is to be believed: at the end of the 1.0 era Explorer enjoyed over 80% market share according to W3schools user stats.
Firefox/Mozilla have suffered since losing their Google search revenue when that deal ended in November last year at the very time when Chrome really started to gain traction and much greater user numbers. (Edit: I've heard from Mozilla's pr people that the Google search deal was renewed but with undisclosed financial terms).

Chrome is continuing to gather strength at a time when browsers are growing increasingly important - it' s fortunate Google Apps productivity tools are a rounding error in their global business revenue, but still potentially a huge problem for Microsoft as they attempt their long climb back to browser dominance. The prevailing wisdom has been that focused 'discrete task' apps are replacing browsers, but html5 as it matures is arguably changing that perception, along with new realities around the 'last mile' to user eyeballs and fingers for enterprise software as a service.
Non profit Firefox and the Mozilla foundation uniquely have your personal best interests at heart with unimpeachable credentials in comparison with Microsoft and Google, but they are also under pressure to remain relevant and viable as the role of the 'browser' evolves and mutates. Attempts to launch new browsers such as the (Chrome based) Rockmelt have proved very tough, even with high profile backers such as Andreessen; the earlier Flock (Mozilla Gecko based) multimedia browser unsurprisingly failed back in 2011.
With the social media bubble having peaked and software vendors killing the potential golden goose with dozens of noisy, unfilterable and incompatible free activity streams, browser developments seem likely to take center stage again as parent devices during this era of platform 'frenemy' tactics between vendors. It's likely to get very interesting in the coming months as the lure of application providers applying pressure to also host information and data is weighed up by prospects as they contemplate potentially having too many eggs in one not agile or flexible enough basket. Could future browsers also become the control panel for configuration of permissions, groups and filters across all digital devices? This could become a major issue again, and so could designer whack-a-mole with future browser wars rendering inconsistencies ….


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