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10 reasons the browser is becoming the universal OS

Peter Wayner | Nov. 19, 2013
Extensible, mutable, and rapidly evolving thanks to open source roots, the Web browser reigns as a platform for users, developers alike.

If that's not enough, the best new browsers are tightly integrated with video cards and offer almost every feature to the JavaScript programmer. While game designers still need native code to pull off some extreme tricks that push video cards to melt down, almost every one of their software features is available in some form or other to the JavaScript programmer. Animated SVG, the canvas object, and some video can do almost anything. There's even a 3D layer called WebGL that handles three-dimensional rendering. The browser will never be able to compete with the consoles or native games, but it'll do a good job when the graphics aren't too complicated. That's more than enough for great games.

All of this means that building a user interface for a Web page is now much simpler than creating one for a basic app. Designers can work with HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, three easy languages that are much simpler than the Java, C++, or Objective-C used for native apps. Once again, easier coding attracts more programmers who create more code and make the platform dominate.

Browser as ultimate OS reason No. 10: Node.js
Perhaps the ultimate proof of the success of the browser as a platform can be found in Node.js, the server-side framework that enables browser programmers steeped in JavaScript and closures to write instructions for the server without learning PHP or Java.

The package offers spectacular performance for some jobs simply by tossing aside the threaded model common in past generations. Instead it adopts the callback function, one of the idioms of browser programming, to juggle the workload. In the right hands, programmers can sidestep the dangers and produce a clean mechanism that dishes up the information from the server quickly and efficiently.

This is a bit of a victory for the JavaScript world because many sneered at the complicated closures and callbacks of browser programming, viewing them as convoluted and overly nested. Yet now that the results are fast, people are being more accepting. Speed and thrift have a way of winning over converts.

Is there anything left for JavaScript, HTML, and CSS to conquer? If PhoneGap colonizes the mobile world, the browser controls the desktop, then Node.js represents one last, big piece. Heck, IBM mainframes often run instances of Linux, which means they also run Node.js.


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