I’ve blogged in the past about how the browser will become less and less relevant as your primary portal to information that is not stored on your computer. A whole slew of technologies are readying us for the ability to get information in a more targeted and painless fashion. From Mozilla’s XUL which lights up the chrome on Firefox to products like Konfabulator and Dashboard that allow for smaller-sized “widgets,” there’s a concerted attempt to rely less and less on the browser.
I think the success of such a push relies on a few things, and one of them is how seamlessly these widgets get to your desktop. Right now, downloads like Konfabulator and Google Desktop require a download and install (8MB and 5MB respectively).
For this to happen on a large scale, the steps to getting there needs to get a lot easier. My mother may love my Konfabulator weather widget, but if I left her to rely on herself to get it on her desktop, it would never happen. Why? It requires the download and installation of Konfabulator first. Then the user is expected to go back to the Konfabulator site, find the desired Widget and finally download and install it. Just as the RSS experience is broken (it’s jumble of XML to most), this process is completely non-sensical to the average user. This is partly why there is a lot of oohing and ahhing at AJAX these days. To experience it, all you had to do was visit a web page.
In my opinion, the player that eliminates or greatly reduces that barrier is the one who wins. There are two players that can totally nail this one: Microsoft and Adobe. Microsoft because they hold the cards on the buttons and levers that make the operating system work and are best positioned to light up your desktop in a frictionless way.
Adobe has the famously lightweight Flash player. Despite it’s compactness, the Flash player is pitched and perceived as a browser add-on. That needs to go away. The step of getting functionality (or grouping of functionality) to your desktop should be simple and seamless. Of course, not all content and features make sense, but a lot does. Imagine visiting My Yahoo! and selectively dragging the widgets you value most right to your desktop. Very sweet.
With Flex, Adobe has a great starting point. The notion of containers and canvases can prove to be an ideal demarcation point for developers to allow the “detachment” of certain components from the larger canvas. I admit I don’t know the technical challenges at play here, but I can’t imagine them being insurmountable.
More broadly speaking, we’re heading in a good direction from a user experience perspective. Today, information is relegated an siloed in your browser. You go someplace to get what you need and then come back to your workspace. Beyond weather widgets and headlines on your desktop, we need to shoot for intruding into real workflows with pertinent information. That’s where a lot of untapped power lies. Now it’s up to some of the big players to make that leap a more seamless one.