If you read yesterday’s post, you know that at least one of my students thinks that the Internet is an operating system. It’s kinda funny, but it really got me thinking. I have been seeing these patterns emerging in the recent years and it seems that for many people Windows is just a bloated background process for running Internet Explorer or Firefox which they use for everything else.
I already mentioned that email clients are virtually unheard of amongst college students. If you ask them about their favorite email client, they will probably tell you about Gmail, Yahoo or AOL. Besides, email seems to be something you use to talk to your mom and grandpa these days. To a lot of students email is a dead medium and they much prefer to use tools like IM, Facebook or Twitter for rapid communication.
Social networks are of course browser based. Those who still use email, usually choose webmail interfaces over old fashioned clients. IM is also slowly moving from the desktop space into the browser space. Meebo was probably the first foray into this market, but with the explosion of Web 2.0 and the AJAX craze, all the major IM networks provide web based clients these days. Gmail has one built right into their webmail client. AIM offers AIMExpress, Yahoo offers their WebMessenger. Even Microsoft jumped onto this bandwagon with their own brand of MSN web messenger.
Btw, don’t you guys miss the days when you could prevent your employees and/or student from chatting on your time by simply giving them user level privileges instead of admin, so that they couldn’t install the clients. Sigh… These days are long gone – now if you want to be a BOFH, you need to do content filtering. :(
But that’s not all. There is like a dozen of AJAX based office versions that let you create basic documents, spreadsheets and presentations and export them into several different formats. Abundance of pastebins and services such as Jottit eliminate the need to use the good old notepad for quick notes.
Virtually, every aspect of average users daily life is moving off their desktop and into the online space. All this user needs these days is just a browser and perhaps a rudimentary file manager. In my UI Evolution piece I theorized that the line between web and desktop applications will be blurred via the use of tools like Google Gears and rich AJAX based interfaces. Now I’m not even so sure – why blend the two if you could simply provide users with a browser and internet connection and let them worry about everything else on their own?
This is why the cheepo Walmart Linux laptops are selling like hotcakes. If you told me something like this would happen two years ago, I would not believe you. But it’s true, clueless people are buying Linux machines and are loving them. Why? Because for these customers desktop applications are really becoming irrelevant. All they need is a big icon on the desktop that says “double click for internets” and they are good to go. And since a lot of users got burned by the scary new look of IE 7.0 the might actually think that nicely skinned Firefox or Opera is a nice return to what they knew from IE 6.0 rather than some arcane evil magic as before.
Of course geeks like you and me will still have strong opinions about operating systems, file managers, browsers, email clients and etc. We will still tweak our systems and learn how they work. Gamers will still purchase crazy ass rigs with all the newest bells and whistles. But the general public seems to be blissfully drifting towards a thin-client like infrastructure where their local resources are fully focused on running some kind of browser and everything else is done online. And as long as that browser looks and feels like other browsers, and can deal with the Web 2.0 things, the brand of the browser and the type of OS won’t really even register for them.
[tags]internet, client, email, social networks, ui evolution, browser, pastebin, jottit, meebo, aim, yahoo, msn[/tags]