Sounds crazy doesn’t it? The current consensus on PC replacement is that the refresh cycle can be slowed right down on the basis that as more and more of the user activity moves towards the browser more powerful PCs and operating systems, OS, are simply not required. What ever Microsoft may think about it, enterprise PCs seem to be stubbornly stuck on XP, though recently there are signs that Windows 7 is moving in. Then there is the question of using open source operating systems, or what about Google’s much awaited Chrome operating system? Taken together the collective argument is that we are at a maturity point with a lack of real business or technology drivers to upgrade.
This whole view is based on the way we use browsers and the shift towards delivering by web services and clouds, but what happens if this also means a shift in what a browser has to do? The availability of Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer 9 beta for download is, I suspect, the first move in this game change. I strongly believe that Google Chrome packaging of a browser and an operating system will follow the same line especially as they own one of the key web sites on which they can, and will, look to deliver next generation web services.

Microsoft IE9 has two fundamental changes, the first is that instead of the browser sitting independently on top of the hardware, it is directly integrated with hardware to handle specific processor-heavy duties. That means in particular HTML5 graphics running on the Graphics Processor Unit, GPU, with the result that it is seriously and noticeably faster than any other browser, and as we know the direction is steadily towards Rich Internet Applications, RIA. The second is the way it allows websites, and therefore web services, to be designed and run more in the manner of applications, meaning a focus on processes, than pages. This really sets the scene for clouds to deliver on their claims to provide the next generation of shared front office apps.
The slight problem with this is that currently these features work best on sites that are specifically designed to exploit the capabilities. However, as one of the examples has been built by Amazon to show the next generation of how to browse and buy books, it seems that in the retail and services sector this might be an opportunity to differentiate that will get seized on quickly. This takes me back to the replacement cycle point. Consumers are more likely to upgrade than enterprises if what they want on the web changes, so as in web 2.0 and cloud services, or smart phones, or …., well just about everything, the change seems likely to be driven by consumers. The consequences at an enterprise level of external services for their customers running at a level that can’t be accessed by their internal supporting departments like sales, marketing, logistics, etc may well turn out to be the missing business case for an upgrade cycle!
I have deliberately not given my customary range of urls until now as downloading a beta copy needs to be done with some thought. First you will need to be using Windows7 with which IE9 is tightly integrated, (and no, it won’t run on XP), and on a hardware platform which has a Graphics Processor Unit set up to support HTML5. All of which is why adoption of next generation browsers is likely to be the trigger for the upgrade cycle! However the real assessment of exactly what is now possible needs to be seen by visiting a site set up to exploit the features, and that means starting with a visit to Amazon’s Bookshelf. You can run this on a current browser, but then try the difference with IE9 to see the real impact, the tying together of the visual recognition of an object (in this case a book) with the content that is available about it, is simply exactly what is needed as visualisation in Rich Internet Applications, RIAs, becomes more and more the norm. If you are hooked on how to use and build to suit IE9 then Microsoft has a blog site that carries news and support.
So there you have it, web Services and clouds moving into a really game changing set of capabilities, but in doing so making new demands on browsers, that in turn require new operating systems and hardware platforms. Strange to think that browsers will be the driver of the next refresh cycle, but in the face of the compelling evidence that you can see in the IE9 examples, and doubtless similar offerings soon from Google and Mozilla FireFox with their new browsers, it seems set to be true for consumers at least in the next year. And to sell to consumers means enterprises having to compete …….