Browser atomization

There’s a post at, taking Apple to task for not integrating more specialized interfaces into its new browser Safari.

This got me to thinking. A few years ago, Netscape was predicting that the browser would become the OS. After all, you could run a Java app inside the browser and do almost anything, right?

Obviously it didn’t turn out that way. But more interestingly, things have gone the other way. Rather than one web browser that does everything, I have multiple different web apps. I’m writing this post in a specialized blogging program called Kung Log. It does one thing: post to Movable Type blogs. I read a lot of blogs in NetNewsWire Lite. Although I don’t use it much, I’ve got Sherlock for specific kinds of searches, and it has an excellent competitor, Watson I can read the funny papers in Comictastic. And I’m sure there are lots of other specialized clients out there for extracting and presenting a specific data type from the web.

And of course, I’ve got, what, four general-purpose web browsers on my hard drive.

The profusion of specialized tools makes sense in a broader picture. Each tool can focus on being good at one thing. With the availability of a reasonably fast and always-on Internet connection, the Internet becomes almost like a feature of the computer–like the CD drive or the mouse. Nobody says “if you’ve got one program that interacts with the CD drive, why would you need two?” Also, although this isn’t as polished as it could be, different applications can interact with each other so that separateness doesn’t necessarily need to get in the way of integration. And increasingly, that integration is actually between applications on different computers, communicating over the Internet. Pretty nifty.

1 thought on “Browser atomization”

  1. I see your point, and agree completely! Specialized tools seem to work better than large ‘all-in-one’ tools (bloatware). This has been the un*x/GNU ethic for a long time. An average installation of linux could have thousands of individual applications, each one doing one simple thing very very well. You pick your set of tools, and use them to do exactly what you want, instead of being handed one huge multitool, and being forced to do it in the one way that it determines is best for you. I’m pleased that this ethic is moving into other OSs now as well. Microsoft is still pushing the ‘all in one’ methods, but i find myself using my windows XP box less and less, and using my linux box and my mac more and more, due in part to the fact that I can pick and choose my toolset to do just what I want, instead of relying on a few mondo-apps to do it all for me in the method of its choosing.

    Btw, kung-log kicks ass!

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