Devices for the internet

March 23, 2023

Google Chromebooks are here to stay wether we like it or not. If they are only an internet browser in a notebook, why is that? Or as Chase McCoy says in its posts Where it all began:

There’s something about that which makes me feel a bit melancholy. It feels like the days of computing devices being objects with personality and conviviality are fading. The computer is no longer a centerpiece, it’s an accessory, a thin client for some other machine or machines which are hidden away from us.

But this is not only happening in the hardware side. When was the last time that you changed your wallpaper? Or customized the theme of your operating system. Or even changed an icon for another? There was a moment when this was the norm, everyone wanted to tune their computer as their likes. Make it their own thing, not only rent it as an accessory. Like Maggie Appleton in Teenage Skeuomorphic Desktop Designs. Im taking about the general user, in the unix world they still like to share what their desktops look like. They cant even stop talking about it.

I think its because Chromebooks came in the right moment. A few tried the same things in the past but things werent ready yet. Nowadays everything we do is made through a website. The world has moved online. Or is it because being a Google product, its easier to use as they already had stolen all your data and you only need to login to view it?.

In 1996 Microsoft tried something similar with its MSN TV, although it was more of a set-top box, the concept is similar. A device with enough power to only navigate the web and nothing more. But it wasnt the time, people werent ready yet. Heck, it was even classified as a weapon by the US goverment because it used strong encryption.

Web Computers also tried something similar in 1999, but this time in the lines of a personal computer

Mozilla being a great incubator of research and experimentation but terrible at making products also tried themselves. The same foundation that gave us things like Rust, a memory safe language that nowadays all the big companies are using and Servo, a browser engine that showed that was possible to make highly parallel engines.

This product was called FirefoxOS. Although it was focused as a mobile operating system. But again the things werent in place yet. Webapps didnt have the technology yet to fight side to side with native apps, neither the performance that engines have today.

But i think they showed the way providing apis that today are standarized, like Webshare, Webshare Target, Service workers (although using an old encarnation of the concept, called AppCache), Manifest files. Even things that today chrome is experimenting with, like the Contact picker api and probably a lot more that i dont remember/cant find.

Around the same time as the launch of the FirefoxOS, the Chromebooks arrived. Why is that today we see chromebooks around, but not a single FirefoxOS phone?. I think its because Google wants to profit from you. Having money on its back, allowed them to survive till the web was ready. Two started building the garden, but only one was able to collect its fruits.

But being a firefox project, it was open source. A new fork called KaiOS arrived in town a few years ago. Now with a more powerful engine, with apis that allow webpages to compete with apps. Currently is only targeted to low powered devices. There is also a another fork but it seems a personal project than a product.

Having the web evolved that much, and being one of the first decentralized and global platforms (words that were trending in the last months/years in the BroScene), why are we still using products that doesnt put the user first, and only want to make a profit of you?

There is a great talk by Christian Heilmann which summarizes this. Sadly its from 2014, and we still have the same problems.

But all hope is (NOT) lost. 2023 seems to be the year of personal websites as Matthias Ott says. Maybe in the following years we could also make a shift back to a time where we owned our computers and apps, and not the other way.

This just a collection of links i found in my feed reader this week, joined with a rant about how today we are not making the devices ours, merely using them. How sometimes you have an excellent idea, but its not the moment. Yet you still can pave the way for others.

Leave your comment on the github issue, sending me an email or DMing me on twitter