Could I?

… live in a browser?

That was the question that I posed to myself the other day as I was reading some of the reviews from folks who are testing the Google CR-48 Notebook computer.  I’m physically minutes away by car from applying to the test program so can’t even apply so I’ve just been living vicariously through others as they experience the machine and share their results.

To set the stage, it is important to understand just what the hardware is.  Google provides a glimpse of the specifications here and the ChromeOS site talks about it here.  Now, I don’t own or have access to a physical computer with those specifications, but I do have a Netbook that’s currently running Ubuntu.  The specifications of my Dell Mini-10v are less than those in the review.  From what I’m reading though, the key is, of course, in the operating system, ChromeOS.  The reports indicate that the key is the interface looks just like Chrome, the browser.  That has been my browser of choice for a long time now so it seems that a reasonable replacement would be to experiment with just living in that browser.

I didn’t quite know what to expect.  Like most people, I have a whack of software installed on my computer.  They all seemed to be important to install at the time as I use them for a specific purpose and then, quite frankly, forget about them.  It’s kind of sad to think of everything that I’ve installed that I just don’t use regularly.

All of this came to a head when Google released details of their Web Store.  The concept of a web store seems to be taking off as developers use these sites to draw their users in to a central location where resources are accumulated for easy access.  Chances are you’ve used the iTunes store or the Android market to get new content.  I regularly check out the Seesmic Marketplace to look for applications to add value to a base product.  Now, it comes to Chrome.  We’ve had access to extensions for quite a while now but the presentation was always geared to the technical type.  With the announcement of the Web Store, it now becomes an integrated part of the browser.  Just click to add a new tab and you’ve got your access.

Find a resource that suits your needs and it’s quick and easily a part of your browser.  Now, the key to all of this is connectivity to the internet.  The CR-48 includes both wifi and 3G connections.  In theory, this should allow for a connection anywhere.  What seems important to me is simply the inclusion of wifi.  In my world, I seem to be always somewhere where wifi is available.

I’m up and running now and connected so it’s time to dress up my Chrome browser.  Mentally, I went through the sorts of web activity that I’ve done in the past couple of days.  The key to this was doing everything in the browser without minimizing it or switching to another application.  It must give me everything that I need in the browser.

  • I blog.  Therefore, I need to grab Scribefire for this purpose;
  • I’m working on a couple of documents and a presentation.  Google Docs and Microsoft Live are now added;
  • I like to stay in touch on Twitter.  I decided to make a concession and try out Tweetdeck.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work but quite easily added Hootsuite and Seesmic Web;
  • I need a screen capture utility and Awesome Screenshot was needed;
  • Once you do a screen capture, a little editing is necessary and the Picnik application fit that need;
  • I needed some driving directions and Google Maps comes to the rescue;
  • I’m always bookmarking and sharing resources and so Shareaholic was a natural;
  • And, of course, for family connections because of a birthday, I had to have Facebook.

These “apps” install themselves as buttons on a new tab screen or as buttons right in the browser itself.

Now, web applications should come as no revelation to anyone in this day and age.  All of the major browsers have had the ability to extend basic functionality for a long time now.  What’s so special about all of this to me is the ease with which they become part of my browser and I’m extending that to the Chrome operating system itself.  The only thing that I couldn’t do immediately was play music in the background.  It required an add-on so I had to go old school and visit their website and stream it from there.

As a result of my little experiment, I could indeed live inside the browser for what I did yesterday.  My biggest hitch was part of the computer skills that have been ingrained in my habits.  I had this overwhelming urge to alt-tab to switch to a different application.  If this is a sign of things to come, I’m going to have to learn how to ctrl-tab instead.  Or, maybe there’s an remapping of the keyboard that would help out.

Where will all of this potentially head?  My context is education and personal use.  I’m sure that there’s going to be some pushback from those who wish to do video editing or desktop publishing of big documents locally.  However, if your needs can be addressed by a web application that’s available on the web just a click away, I see a huge potential for this approach.  If you’ve been a good web citizen and developed accounts for specific purposes, you’re prepped and ready to go.

The Apps and Extensions list provide a great start for the sort of functionality that is in demand.  Most importantly, it really is software that’s available on demand.  If you need a piece of software, just open a new tab and find it immediately.  Imagine a world where you don’t have to have a Plan B or to go looking for a piece of software, download it, install it, and then realize that wasn’t what you needed.

This approach is off to a great start.  I’m envious of those who are in the pilot program and encourage them to continue to blog and share their successes.  In the meantime, I challenge anyone who reads this.  Install the Chrome browser and look for web apps and extensions and force yourself to work entirely in your browser.  You may be pleasantly surprised at how easily it’s done and how a browser may be the only platform that you need.


links for 2010-12-18