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October 12, 2021

Web browsing in the OS of the future

Before we get into the future of the OS, I have a new project to share with you.

Longtime subscribers already know of my fond love for music. In the last several months, I’ve been working with songwriters from various genres to record a new podcast.

The show blends discussion and music, as I sit down with songwriters to talk about their work and their biggest inspirations. The songs we discuss play within each episode.

The show is called Songs I’m Made Of, and it begins next Friday. To find out more, or to sign up for updates, head the website:

Songs I’m Made Of »

There’s a lab note I’ve had in the works for some time now on web browsing in the OS of the future. A concept I prototyped allowed users to browse the “static web” without javascript (and some other things). If a user wanted to allow javascript on a page or domain, they could enable the URL as an “app,” causing the system to treat it as such, both in its behavior and how you might navigate to it.

When using “the static web,” I’d land on news articles that didn’t jump around as ads loaded; I could simply read the content. Cookie banners and other popups stopped covering the things I was trying to read. And the few sites I wanted to behave like apps within my system would be specifically identified.

It was transformative… for today’s web.

Over time I’ve begun to wonder if the thinking is simply too short-sighted for the project.

When you go back and read Bush’s As We May Think (1945), Engelbart’s Augmenting Human Intellect (1962), and similar visions of the past’s future, you’ll find plenty of things that we often describe as “predicting the web,” and though true to an extent, those articles illustrate so much more; some of the most compelling thinking — illustrated more than a half-century ago — hasn’t yet materialized in widespread technology.

The best analysis I’ve read on this came from Alan Kay, one of our industry’s pioneers who has helped make computing what it is today (among other things, Kay is also a professional jazz guitarist & composer).

In response to a question asked on Quora, “Should web browsers have stuck to being document viewers?” Kay responded with a wonderful analysis on how we got to where we are today, and the missed paths along the way. His answer begins clearly, “Actually quite the opposite.”

Read it in full here:
Kay’s answer on Quora »

What should the future of the web look like, how should it relate to the future of the operating system, and how does today’s web map into that vision, if at all?

When you read my Lab Notes on the future of the operating system, you can start to see some clear hooks into these concepts for a compelling “web of the future” that could begin to materialize some of yesterday’s unrealized visions.

This is all “food for thought,” as I want to spend some months exploring the topic more deeply while continuing to prototype my operating system of the future.

Two other notes:

If you’ve emailed me recently, I apologize for not responding yet! There’s been an uptick in responses to my lab notes. Every time I get a thoughtful email, I’m excited to dig in. I will read what you’ve sent me & continue the conversation shortly!

And one thing I’ve noticed with my work is that as a new project shifts from being consumed mainly by hobbyists to professionals, engagement shifts from the weekend to the workweek. This work seems to be making that shift, so starting with this edition, I’ll experiment with sending these letters on weekdays.

As always, I hope you’re well.

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