Browser as OS

The OS is becoming increasingly irrelevant as we near the end of a multi-decade shift from desktop to web apps. Now even applications you install (Slack, Notion, Figma, etc.) are often made with Electron, which is largely running the engine of a browser.

From the user's point of view, the browser is the operating system. That's where they spend their time and where apps run. Obviously operating systems will continue to exist, but they will shift into more of a background role.

That's from the blog of Mighty, a software company that is creating a version of Chrome that's streamed in the cloud. Of course that's a generalization. There are some fascinating implications that could come with such a cloud browser. As mentioned in the above blog post,

If most of the time people spend is in a browser and most of the processing and system resources are offloaded, their computer won’t feel slow as apps become more demanding.

You might not need the best computer specs if the other computer you're using is in the cloud. Therefore, we think prices will drop over time and computer lifetimes will lengthen encouraging manufacturers to focus on other differentiators: durability, weight, displays, design, and battery life.

To me, what Mighty is doing is one way to answer the question of the browser shifting to become the OS. There are many other ways people are interpreting this that are equally intriguing if implemented. One that I've written about a lot is TabFS. Here's creator Omar Rizwan discussing this “browser as OS” distinction:.

There are two 'operating systems' on my computer, the browser and Unix, and Unix is by far the more accessible and programmable and cohesive as a computing environment (it has concepts that compose! shell, processes, files), even though it's arguably the less important to my daily life. how can the browser take on more of the properties of Unix?

TabFS is Omar's answer to that question. If the browser is becoming more of an OS, let's subsume it into the OS as a file system.

Then there's the idea of bringing the ability to code beyond what's possible in the developer console. Glitch and Replit are great in this regard. If the browser is becoming more of the OS, than it should be an OS you can extensively create programs on. Tom Critchlow also has interesting thoughts about this in “Why can't I write code inside my browser” (link).

The implications of the browser as OS is a garden of forking paths. Perhaps they come out at the same end, perhaps at different parts. If one thing's for certain, it'll be a hell of a garden to explore.