Home' LAPTOP Magazine : March 2011 Contents Online Editorial Director Avram Piltch guides LAPTOP’s web coverage. He devised several of our real-world benchmarks. Read his semi-monthly
column at www.laptopmag.com/geeksgeek, and follow @geekinchief on Twitter.
With more and more applications
moving into the cloud, the old
republic of installed software is
in danger of falling. A new online empire
promises security, stability, and even por-
tability, but at its head is an evil emperor,
the web browser. This is how productivity
dies, with thunderous back buttons and
multipurpose address bars.
Search your feelings; you know it to
be true. Do you really want to compose
all your documents in an application that
erases your work if you accidentally hit the
backspace key one time too many?
The goal of a content application, whether
it’s Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Word, is
to help you edit files. While you are work-
ing on a piece of content, the menus you
need to edit that content should dominate
your experience. But if you look at the
top of any browser—even the screen in
Chrome OS—you’ll see several navigation
elements that are designed to drive you
away from your document. You have an
address bar you can type into, a book-
marks menu to quickly shuttle you off
to another place, and—worst of all—a
If you’ve spent any time typing into a web
form, you’ve probably had the experience
of hitting backspace to erase some text and
watching helplessly as the browser returned
to the previous page and wiped out your
work. While some browser-based editors
such as WordPress deal with the back-out
problem by giving you a confirmation dialog
tabs by hitting the CTRL+W button to close
unneeded tabs and accidentally close the
document I was working on. Thankfully hit
save a lot.
Despite the browser’s serious weaknesses,
there’s no reason why web apps can’t pro-
vide a good content creation experience.
However, someone would have to design
a platform (don’t call it a browser) that
allows web developers to build browserless
experiences that include truly distinctive UIs
that sit in their own independent windows.
This platform would have to allow deeper
integration into the OS, including custom
taskbar icons and the ability to issue alerts—
even when sitting in the background. Most
importantly, it would be free from links to
other “pages” of any kind.
Who will save us from the tyranny of the
browser? I’m holding out for a hero, but I
don’t think it will be Google. The Chrome
OS is nothing more than a tabbed web
browser, with no way to provide web apps
that really have their own look and feel.
Microsoft shows the most promise, be-
cause IE 9 allows web developers to theme
the browser’s buttons with different color
schemes. When using IE 9 on Windows 7,
users can pin web apps to the start menu
or taskbar, where the custom icons and
jump lists their developers gave them
appear prominently in the UI. However, we
wish Microsoft would take this idea even
further by allowing developers to ditch the
browser metaphor entirely. Until then, I’ll
stick with my desktop apps.
Why ThE BROWSER iS
NOT SafE fOR (REal) WORk
How Chrome OS is productivity’s worst enemy.
box that makes you hit OK to leave the
page, this doesn’t always work and most
web apps don’t do it. But they shouldn’t
even have to. Can you imagine a serious
application such as Microsoft Excel putting
a back button at the top of its ribbon bar?
They might as well put an “erase my work
unexpectedly” button up there.
Even links within the browser window
are designed to tempt you away from your
document. You might be writing on a user
comment form on a site such as LAPTOP,
see a really compelling link elsewhere
on the page, and decide to click it. If you
don’t think to spawn a new window with
that click, say goodbye to your writing.
Perhaps the biggest threat to your work
is the lack of distinguishing features that
let you tell one browser tab from another.
I can’t tell you how many times a day I
“lose” the window where I’m composing
a blog post because it drowns in a sea
of browser tabs that all look the same.
Worse still, I’ll try to clean up this mess of
Who will save us
from the tyranny
of the browser?
I’m holding out
for a hero, but I
don’t think it will
Laptop | March 2011
NewS & TreNdS
by Avram Piltch
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