I've been messing around with a variety of browsers, though Mozilla Firefox is my favorite. Several experimental Mozilla extensions point to the way to the way we will use our browsers and personal computers in the future. I especially like Snowl (pronounced snow owl – like the bird) and Prism.
Snowl is pretty neat. It is an experiment in messaging within a browser. The idea is to integrate different types of messages feeds, such as Twitter and RSS, in a browser based interface. It would appear that the goal is to include other forms of messaging such as email and newsgroups. I would guess that social networking feeds from the likes of Facebook are also on the list. If this is realized, a complete view of all the communications a person engages in can be head right in a browser page. What is fascinating is how, if successful, the need for a separate email client will finally disappear. Messaging is slowly being integrated into browsing but this takes it a leap forward.
Prism is also a recognition that the world of the browser has changed. It allows you to create desktop shortcuts to web sites and format the browser window to make it look more like a desktop application. Google Chrome does this too. If you access web-based applications such as e-mail, or social networking, this helps create the look and feel of a desktop application, rather than a web page. I use it for Internet messaging applications as well as on-line, SaaS office applications such as Zoho Writer.
These extensions point to one view of the future of computing. In this world, little to nothing is happening on the desktop computer. File storage and certain high intensity applications (like games) will be local but applications themselves will be on-line. Functionality might be split between on-line and local resources. Google's Picasa is a good example of this type of software. Cataloging (storage) and editing happen in a desktop application while viewing and sharing are on-line.
The iGoogle homepage takes this idea even further. Nothing really happens in the browser itself. It's all put together on the server and the browser only displays it for you. You can arrange a bunch of widgets that do all kinds of cool things like display your Twitter feed, access your Gmail messages, and show Calendar entries.
Is this the future of computing? All of our applications and messaging needs contained in a complex browser tool? Maybe it will all reside on a server somewhere, accessible from a very simple browser. The two things these views have in common is that a personal computer will be little more than a home for the browser and broadband networking is ubiquitous. Or maybe all this will happen on my phone...