Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror has recently been blogging about netbooks, a new class of small low-cost laptops optimized for web browsing and emailing. To date I’ve resisted investing in a laptop since I already spend an inordinate amount of time at a desktop either at work or home, so I figure my remaining waking hours would be better spent not staring at a computer screen. But after reading more, I must admit the concept of a simple (and cheap) device to surf the web and check email at a coffee shop or on the couch has a lot of appeal. However my ideal device would be a slight departure from the current netbook incarnation. Like Jeff mentions, the browser is by far the most important application, and for a device like this, I would argue should be the only application – not so much a conventional laptop but a dedicated internet appliance where the browser constitutes the entire GUI for a no-frills minimalist (almost certainly Linux based) operating system.
Turning the device on (note I didn’t say boot up), would immediately connect to the internet and load my home page – or perhaps it would remember the last set of tabs I had open. Instant on/off is a must have feature. There are netbooks on the market today with integrated SplashTop technology that allows for 5-8 second boot times, but from what I can tell, it runs as a secondary operating system. For this device, there would be only one instant-on option so the interstitial splash screen could be eliminated making the browser the very first thing you see.
The UI would be very minimal with only those buttons and controls that are critical for browsing visible which reduces clutter and maximizes the available screen real estate for displaying web pages. Clearly Google Chrome has set the bar in this regard.
Although an integrated keyboard is present, most interactions – principally clicking hyperlinks – will take place via a touch screen interface.
Interaction with web sites and web applications is the device’s principal raison d’être, but a small suite of ancillary apps would be available and would open in browser tabs. Logical candidates include a media library/player and a blog authoring tool (along the lines of Windows Live Writer).
So here, in no specific order are the features and specifications I would desire in my fictitious notebook web browser appliance:
- Time from pressing the power button to being connected to the web and my home page displaying – 5 seconds or less.
- Near instantaneous power off.
- Built-in wireless capability (duh)
- Biometric password manager – when a web page requesting a password is loaded, a notification will appear indicating that I can simply press a finger to an on-board reader which will auto-fill the username/password fields and submit the form.
- Form-fill manager to minimize keyboard usage
- Screen large enough to comfortably read text at 1024×768
- Integrated ergonomic wheel dial for easy and comfortable vertical scrolling.
- Priced at under $200
There is much speculation that Google is seeking to position Chrome as a bona fide OS replacement. In the near term, this strikes me as unlikely for a primary productivity machine where thick client applications are still the norm. But for devices such as the one I describe, whose primary purpose is web browsing and web application access (which probably addresses the needs of the majority of computer users), I think the browser OS will indeed become a reality soon. And at $200 a pop, it could be a real game changer; I know I would buy one.