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The Browser Business Model

Let's just jump ahead a few years -- maybe more than a few, maybe not -- into a world in which Software as a Service (SaaS) has made the operating system a commodity, if not totally obsolete.

This doesn't really take that much imagination, does it? What with Google Chrome lining up against IE and Firefox (and Safari, we suppose), it's clear -- and has been for a while, really -- that the forthcoming battle in the software industry won't be over software at all but over online applications, SaaS, cloud computing ... whatever you want to call it. So we're not going too far afield here. We all know that this is happening.

What we're wondering, though, is how important the browser (already a market share headache for Microsoft) is in this whole scenario. Very important, you say? Well, sure, because it's the conduit to the applications and data that rest on some far-off server. Again, in our hypothetical world, the OS is a commodity if it exists at all. Really, all we do in this future world -- and this, of course, is really possible today -- is hop on a terminal of some sort, open a browser (or just go straight into it) and get working.

Right now, in 2008, the browser itself is a big deal. Security, interface, stability -- they're all important factors that the new combatants in the browser wars are trying to improve. What we want to know is: How long will it be this way? After all, nobody really makes money off of browsers, right? They're free. And it's hard to imagine anybody paying for one now that they've been free for such a long time. There's no real browser revenue model.

So, in our brave new world, we can see the browser itself being kind of like the operating system: a commodity, or just a window (as opposed to a Window). Everything will happen in the "cloud," at the datacenter -- even the basic browsing functionality. Right? Doesn't that make sense? Surely lots of other people have observed this.

What "it" will really be about is the applications residing on a server in a data center somewhere -- the word processor, spreadsheet, video editor, security applications, whatever -- all available on a subscription basis with some level of storage. You know the stuff -- Google Apps and Office Live Workspace (sort of, although the idea of the death of client-hosted office must still scare Microsoft to death) bundled with whatever add-on applications or functionality partners can create and host or have hosted.

So, the point is this: Enjoy the new browser wars while they last because, just like the OS wars, they won't go on forever. In the post-browser-war reality, it'll be the cloud that matters, not the aircraft that gets us up there. That's why Microsoft shouldn't freak out too much about Chrome; it should figure out how to use Office to compete with Google and others on both cost and functionality in the cloud.

What's your vision for cloud computing? What role do you see the browser or the OS playing? Let us know at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 09/04/2008 at 1:22 PM


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