Wednesday, August 25, 1999

Web Browser as an OS; SAP client as a web "site"?

The navigation of a web browser (URL line, back, forward, hyperlinks, bookmarks, etc.) allows a user to access a particular web page on a particular logical "site." This navigation is built-in to the web browser and, for the most part, cannot be changed; it is constant.

Every site employs its own means of navigating within the site. For example, many sites list "site categories" on the left side, such as "Products," "Support," etc. This means of navigation varies from site to site; it is dynamic.

Looking at a web browser and a "site" in this respect, is a web browser not unlike an Operating System? Is a "site" not unlike an application?

Windows 95 is an operating system. It provides the environment in which Windows-based apps "live." A web browser provides the environment in which Web-based apps live.

Now, there are huge differences between the environment that Windows 95 provides, and the environment that a web-browser provides. Windows 95 allows for much richer human-computer interaction. Applications written for a Windows 95 environment can respond to user actions in (from the user's perspective) real time. Web-based applications inherently require the user to "submit" information, which is processed by a server, which is then responded to by the server. Windows-based apps can display a "grid" on the screen that can be sorted by clicking on a particular column. Web-based applications require a page to be completely re-loaded every time a list of items is sorted. Windows-based apps can support dragging & dropping of information… . etc. etc..

Over time, it seems that the Web browsers are, however, becoming a more interactive environment. Client-side JavaScript, client-side VB-script, and Java applets are testament to this fact. If this trend continues then Web Browsers will provide an environment increasingly similar to the environment that Windows 95 provides. Dragging and dropping, "live" interaction, etc. will be made possible.

This raises a bunch of questions:

  • How will this more-interactive environment be made possible? Will HTML embrace all kinds of "smarter" controls, like "Grids," and become a GUI development environment, like Visual Basic?

  • Will technologies like JAVA beat-out HTML because of their inherent interactive-ness? (while still providing the web's server-centric advantages).

  • More and more applications are being developed for the web. Once standard client/server Windows-based apps are being made accessible by a web browser. Is a web browser's navigation paradigm (back, forward, hyperlink's, etc.) suitable for these apps? (for example, let's say an accounting package). Wasn't the Web Browser's navigation paradigm designed for navigating through hypertext (just text and links)?

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