One Possible Future for the Browser

By  |  Monday, August 4, 2008 at 11:32 pm

Where is the Web going? Jesse James Garrett–the influential founder of Web design firm Adaptive Path–is in as good a position as anyone to provide smart answers to that question. And he’s just delivered some in the form of a next-generation browser interface called Aurora.

Don’t get too excited–Aurora is pretty much just a pie-in-the-sky idea at the moment, which Garrett and Adaptive Path have come up with in collaboration with Mozilla Labs, the research arm of the organization behind Firefox. It’s not the next version of Firefox, or anything else that’s going to arrive any time soon in any form. As Mike Arrington explains over at TechCrunch, Adaptive Path is releasing Aurora to “inspire and engage” the community of Web developers. Maybe folks will find it compelling enough to turn Aurora, or parts of it, into reality. Or maybe not.

In any event, it’s fun to look at what Aurora involves in its current theoretical state. Adaptive Path is releasing a series of videos about the interface, starting with one that went live tonight. Here’s that video–like most videos produced by technology companies to show how something that doesn’t exist yet might work in the real world, it has a slightly cheesy, Epcot Centerish vibe. But it does a reasonably good job of conveying Aurora’s basics…

A few quick thoughts:

One of the features described I liked most is one of the simplest. All the Aurora browser’s tools disappear until you need them, opening up more room for the Web page you’re on. Why can’t Firefox and IE and Safari do this…like now? In fact, why can’t all applications work this way? (I know that many of ’em have a full-screen mode, but it’s always optional, not the default way of doing things.)

Aurora looks like an OS/application interface, not a mere browser one. It takes over the screen, includes data-wrangling features, and even lets the user create charts–as if it could be, at least in part, a replacement for Firefox, Windows, and Excel. Which kind of makes sense, since so much of what operating systems and applications have traditionally done for us is migrating into the browser and onto the Internet.

Parts of Aurora look like a certain OS I know. Namely Apple’s Leopard–you could tell me that some of the functionality in the video is the next generation of the OS X Dock and Expos√© and I’d believe you. Again, it’s interesting to see a future browser that would take as many cues from operating systems as from current browsers, which have changed remarkably little in basic concepts since Netscape Navigator 1.0.

Parts of Aurora look confusing. Or maybe it’s just the video that’s confusing.¬† “The placement of objects in the spatial view left to right and top to bottom is largely automatic,” says the video’s narration. “The browser analyzes the content of everything that flows through it, noting semantic similarities between objects and placing them near one another…strong associations between objects are noted as clusters.” I only sort of understand what it’s talking about. Aurora would only be a successful, of course, if users found it completely intuitive and didn’t need to think about this stuff. (Real people never use words like “semantic” when discussing the data in their lives; Web geeks can’t discuss data without doing so.)

I’m not even going to hazard a guess as to whether Aurora will ever amount to anything, and based on the first video, at least, I think it’s most interesting as a conversation starter. The Adaptive Path site has more info on the project, and will link to the rest of the Aurora videos as they’re released.

 
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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Leon Says:

    That interface is incredibly silly. I picture my mom trying to browse.

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