Browser wars over, say Microsoft, Mozilla, Opera and Google

Vendors now see browsers as a development platform, despite challenges

SAN FRANCISCO -- The browser wars are over, and now Microsoft Corp., Mozilla Corp. and other vendors plan to focus on positioning the browser as a development platform. That was the consensus yesterday of a panel of representatives here at the O'Reilly Web 2.0 Expo who help develop Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera and the Google Reader.

Instead of trying to trump one another by adding features in point releases, the companies that developed these browsers are instead intent on advancing their use as platforms for a new generation of rich Internet applications and for tackling the hurdles that will come along with that shift in strategy, the panel said.

"We're moving from putting up [on the Web], 'Here are me, my mom and my cat' to 'Here is a rich application,'" said Charles McCathieNevile, chief standards officer at Opera Software ASA. "As the Web itself grew, you had these little communities building these cool things. The explosion was enough that these little communities were running into each other. As the Web has become a really big platform to build on were seeing a lot of sharing that wasn't happening before."

Chris Wetherell, user interface engineer for the Google Reader news aggregator, said that he likes using the browser to develop applications because he can solve problems without having to learn how to install software.

"I could suddenly deliver this help desk application I wanted to write without having to mess with the installer," he said.

However, there are several challenges to using a browser to develop Web applications. First, Wetherell noted, "we're creating applications all over the place that are resource hubs or are pushing what browsers can do. I love to run all these applications at the same time, and I want them to behave the same way desktop applications behave and not to interfere with each other. That is one of biggest challenges."

Brendan Eich, chief architect at the Mozilla Foundation, agreed that more work needs to be done to help applications written in JavaScript to scale better without crashing.

"When you use JavaScript as it is used today, it is very hard for browsers to optimize," he said. "If you're going to have [a Web] application crash with a machine fault, not just a controlled JavaScript error, you are in trouble because that can be exploited as a security hole."

In addition, security models for Web applications are immature, McCathieNevile added. "In an OS and traditional programming environment, you have real security models and infrastructure for security that the Web just doesn't really have yet," he said.

Chris Wilson, Microsoft's platform architect for IE7, noted that the problem with crafting a security model for the Web is that while many developers may look to provide an easy way for users to submit their own content, others may want to use the browser to create applications with more restricted access.

"The most secure system is the one that is not plugged into anything including the power," Wilson said. "Coming up with security model that actually works for billions of users is the trick."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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