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The Web's unfortunate fetish with the browser

Why do we persist in looking at the Web through a browser, asks CNET Blog Network contributor Matt Asay.

It's incredible to see all the things that can be done in a browser these days. It's also incredible that we persist in exposing it all through a browser.

I don't know about you, but I don't want my 21st-century software life lived within the ugly vestiges of the 20th century. The browser, for me, is early days with "browsing." Who browses anymore? Who could?

I like the way Google does it on my BlackBerry. Can I access Google Maps, News, etc. in a browser? Yes. But I like having separate icons for them on my BlackBerry. I like to think of them as distinct applications, in other words.

My company has moved to Zimbra. It drives me to distraction, however, that I have to look at my bookmarks and other browser artifacts while I try to immerse myself in the Zimbra application. Why not "ship" Zimbra as a "standalone" application that borrows all of the browser technology but removes the browser artifacts when I click on the Zimbra icon? I click on it because I want Zimbra, not my Arsenal news feeds.

Adobe gets this right with AIR (though some disagree). The application straddles the Web and the desktop. It's neither here nor there. You need something here (desktop) and you need something there (the Web service/data). The same is true of Zimbra and other "Web" applications--they all require a local desktop application called the browser.

Why not leverage that browser without force-feeding users on it? I can't tell you how disappointed I am when I click on the Zimbra Desktop and it forces me into a browser window. I don't want the browser. I don't want the three tiers of toolbars that take up screen real estate and distract me from my application. I want Zimbra. It's an application. It's an application that sits out on a server, fine. But that doesn't mean I should be forced to look at everything that runs on a remote server through an ugly browser. It deprecates the standalone Web application experience.

This could be done with Firefox but not proprietary browsers, obviously. You can't strip away the browser artifacts from IE. (Actually, you can, but I won't go into that now.) So don't. Use the Firefox infrastructure sitting on tens of millions of computers, or make it part of the install. My own company, Alfresco, makes use of OpenOffice, but we don't force anyone to think about it. We just pull services from it and deploy them to our customers.

In short, why does the browser have to dominate the future of the Web?

Update: Someone sent me a link to this very cool Mozilla Labs project that does exactly what I was hoping Web applications could do: remove the browser vestige. It's called Prism. Check it out.