Can Firefox Last Five More Years? Forecast: Cloudy

By David Coursey, PC World |  Internet

In a world where computing goes "cloudy," can Firefox survive? What if Chrome OS successfully merges browser with operating system to create a new Google world order?

This is all highly speculative, but on Firefox's fifth birthday, I fear for the browser's future. (I am not alone; Tony Bradley also worries over Firefox).

The coming war between Microsoft and Google is likely to be fought in the cloud, perhaps with browsers tuned to support each company's vision--and defy the other's.

Google's Chrome browser and OS seem to be a step in this direction, to a desktop that is optimized for software and data that reside in the Internet cloud. In such a world, operating systems--as we know them today--might not matter so much.

That plays to Google's strength and against Microsoft's. Whether it is a good thing for businesses and their users remains to be seen. For many, cloud computing forces a reassessment of what they expect from applications and how they are used.

I am thinking specifically about the feature gap that exists between Google Apps, hosted online, and Microsoft Office, which resides on the user's computer. This gap may not exist forever, but somehow I do not see Google ever competing with Microsoft on a feature-for-feature basis.

The biggest danger to Firefox, as it enters its second half-decade, is the changing role of browsers, from surfing the Internet to running applications. This makes me wonder whether Firefox will be a casualty in the battle between Google and Microsoft.

Chrome OS may be an environment specifically built to run Google's cloud apps and those built to some future Google specification. I can see Microsoft moving in the same direction, though it is unlikely to abandon Windows for something more Chrome-like.

If the two superpowers are going to fight it out in the clouds, with browsers and browser-based operating systems their weapons of choice, what is a mere open source browser to do?

It all depends on how things play out and is, of course, dependent on cloud computing actually becoming if not the dominant business-computing model, at least something close.

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