Emerging Technologies: New Developments in Web Browsing and Authoring
Godwin-Jones, Robert, Language, Learning & Technology
In this new decade of the 21st century, the Web is undergoing a significant transformation. Supplementing its traditional role of retrieving and displaying data, it is now becoming a vehicle for delivering Web-based applications, server-stored programs that feature sophisticated user interfaces and a full range of interactivity. Of course, it has long been possible to create interactive Web pages, but the interactivity has been more limited in scope and slower in execution than what is possible with locallyinstalled programs. The limitations in terms of page layout, interactive capabilities (like drag and drop), animations, media integration, and local data storage, may have had developers of Web-based language learning courseware yearning for the days of HyperCard and Toolbook. But now, with major new functionality being added to Web browsers, these limitations are, one by one, going away. Desktop applications are increasingly being made available in Web versions, even such substantial programs as Adobe PhotoShop and Microsoft Office. Included in this development are also commercial language learning applications, like Tell me More and Rosetta Stone. This movement has been accelerated by the growing popularity of smart phones, which feature full functionality Web browsers, able in many cases to run the same rich internet applications (RIA) as desktop Web browsers. A new Web-based operating system (OS) is even emerging, created by Google specifically to run Web applications. In this column we will discuss recent developments in Web browsing and authoring and what the implications may be for language learning. We will touch on what has changed since LLT columns surveying the state of the Web five years ago, "Ajax and Firefox: New Web Applications and Browsers" (2005), and ten years ago, "Web Browser Trends and Technologies" (2000).
WEB BROWSERS AS OPERATING SYSTEMS?
In Internet time five years ago is ancient history, so it may not be surprising that the discussion of browsers in 2005 included the recent release of Netscape 8, while 2000 marked the appearance of Netscape 6. This first widely-used browser finally gave up the ghost with Netscape 9 in 2008. But the big news in 2005 was the surge in popularity of a newcomer, Firefox, which actually arose from the ashes of Netscape in the guise of the Mozilla Foundation. In 2005, Firefox was making inroads in gaining market share over Microsoft's dominant market leader Internet Explorer (IE). Still, IE at that time was capturing about 84% of Web users (all such statistics are approximations). Today the percentage of IE users is considerably lower, around 63%. Firefox (now at version 3.5) continues to gain in popularity, usually attributed to its fast processing, security features, user-friendly interface, and the large number of add-ons available. Opera (from Norway) and Safari (from Apple) have considerably smaller percentages of the market. Yet these two browsers have more importance than their numbers suggest. They tend to support emerging Web standards early and implement experimental features, which often subsequently make their way into other browsers. The fact that IE no longer has a virtual stranglehold on the market has led Microsoft to be more responsive in adding user-requested features and, in some instances, in complying with Web standards. The current competitive browser market, in fact, is leading to much more development than was the case in recent years. Without competition in the browser market, it is not likely we would be seeing the host of new features now being incorporated into "modern browsers," often defined as Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Google's Chrome.
The Chrome browser was initially released in late 2008 and in the short time since, has become the third most widely used browser (after IE--versions 6,7, and 8 combined--and Firefox). This is in part due to innovative features such as the merging of the address bar with the search window, and a new, minimalist interface. …