Visionaries from Microsoft, Netscape and Sun agreed on at least one thing during a keynote panel discussion at the Macromedia International User Conference this week--that the browser as it is currently known is in its infancy.
"Browsers may be the momentary user interface," says Marc Andreessen, vice-president of technology and co-founder of Netscape. "Building hypertext into the operating system is a solution, so all the applications will be hypertext enabled."
Netscape and Microsoft, among other companies, are racing to combine the functionality of the World Wide Web browser with that of the underlying operating system, although each firm is approaching it from a different angle and leveraging the technology where their strengths lie.
"It makes a lot of sense to integrate the browser in with the operating system," says John Ludwig, vice-president of the Internet platform & tools division at Microsoft, where the path to success was paved with Windows.
Meanwhile, Eric Schmidt, Sun's chief technology officer, predicts that non-PC devices that offer Internet access at lower prices than PCs will become popular in the coming years. "I'd put my bet on cell phones" as the first widespread device, he says.
As for their speculation on a "killer application", software that enables users to more easily access information was the answer. "The next big killer application will be customised software that brings the information to you," such as intelligent agents or personalised info screens, says Norm Meyrowitz, senior vice-president of engineering at Macromedia.
"What will be the next big killer app? Applications and technologies that help people build a community," Ludwig says.
Schmidt agreed, drawing applause when he says, "No one would confuse the current products we use with ease of use. Even the Mac, which is by far the best, has a way to go. We've got to make the technology easier to use."