computers: I want to be browser-based

Google’s ChromeOS “nothing but web” replacement for the heavyweight PC environment is nearing release, though overshadowed by Android’s unstoppable rise for smart phones and tablets and Google TV. I wish Firefox and the Linux distributions would proceed with similar initiatives. As I wrote regarding Google’s announcement of a pilot program involving their own-brand notebook :

I’d love to run even more stuff in the browser. I hate that I access most resources through bookmarks and the browser’s smart location field, but other resources I have to go through the GUI toolkit’s file “browser”, and then launch external apps that usually lack all the browser’s niceties (View Source, Ctrl-+ to zoom, bookmarks/back/forward/history, tabs, etc.). Browser-based doesn’t mean using the cloud for all my files; browsers don’t care if they load resources from http or file:/// URLs. ChromeOS has a Content View to show you local files, supposedly integrated with the Open/Save dialog; I wish Firefox Places had a directory view along with its bookmarks and history view. I don’t want Firefox to integrate with my Linux desktop toolkit’s crappy file handling and half-hearted semantic efforts, I want Firefox to subsume them.

Desktop loyalists complain that this is a stupid idea. But what’s left that doesn’t run in a browser?

  • music player? With the HTML5 audio tag, ogg playback plus MP3 in Chrome, it’s doable
  • editor? Bespin, Firefox extensions for simple text editing, FCKedit for local WYSIWYG are good enough
  • todo list? TiddlyWiki is a complete editable wiki that runs from a single HTML file (impressive!); I use the mGSD version with action items and projects
  • photo and diagram editing? There’s Pixastic and any number of online image croppers, but the ones I’ve tried seem more like demos than tools. Svg-edit seems like it has potential for diagramming.
  • creative tools for painting, music, video? Definitely missing from the browser.

I’ve run Linux for years and besides vim and zsh, the only native app that has impressed me as much as the best browser-based apps is the Inkscape vector drawing program.

I run the Kubuntu Linux distribution on my home PC and it’s pretty rock-solid.  But sadly for its earnest volunteer developers, its particular features are irrelevant to me; it’s just the thin strip with a program start menu below my browser window. I’d probably be better off running a simpler distribution such as BrowserLinux. What I really want is for Mozilla to do the work for me.  Give me something minimalist that boots Firefox, takes advantage of all its features (it can view ZIP files! it can browse directories! it has one of the best update systems), uses the VLC plugin to play proprietary music and video formats, and integrates a folder view and downloads into Firefox’s powerful Places system. Integrate the best browser-based viewers and editors for different file types  into the browser. Alas this vision doesn’t seem high on the Mozilla organization’s list of priorities. In 2008 TechCrunch envisioned a Firefox Tablet using the right approach to software that would probably work fine on a conventional computer with a keyboard, but it seems to have stalled.

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