Sizzy is the latest custom browser for a particular niche, this time design. Blisk is another that targets developer use cases. Ironically, it’s tagline is “One browser to rule them all” when, in fact, maybe it paints an alternative picture.

Time for an Eclipse

I remember a trip that Ben and I took to Ottawa. It was in the winter, and happened to occur at the same time as a visit from Obama (so, you know, in the good old days ;). We were visiting the core team at IBM behind Eclipse (and SWT and OSGI and ….) such as Steve Northover. The topic was web based IDEs, since we were working on Bespin and they were building Orion.

They were great to talk too, because they have so much experience in the world of tooling, having worked on them for decades.

One of the lessons I learned was that Eclipse was originally a foundation. If you look at the layers: SWT as a native widget toolkit, OSGI as a way to dynamically modularize, and Eclipse as the IDE bits…. you had a way to customize and build an IDE. Maximum flexibility.

But many Java developers downloaded Eclipse and used it. Many appreciated it, but many also found it far too confusing (Perspectives?). The IDE platform was being used as the end product. Since then, custom IDEs have been build with Eclipse, using the power of the platform but delivering a custom and opinionated view for it’s users.

I reflected on this as I played with niche browsers and wondered….

What if we had more browsers in our lives, not less?

What most think of as their “browser” is the Web platform with a product surrounding, and integrating with it. The main feel of the browser hasn’t felt that different for awhile. You still see the URL bar up top, still use tabs, etc.

A browser expected to be baked into an operating system, but we still see new browsers looking to innovate and find their own niches, such as funding models and verticals. So far, the browser itself feels familiar.

Unless you consider the “app browsers”. The apps that deeply embed the Web as a core part of their experience, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google’s Search app, and on and on. These have taken a particular view that is less of a blank slate that allows you to put in a URL (well, or search, or leap from a new tab page that has a feed too… ok there is some innovation there!).

Imagine how a browser would be different if it was oriented in a particular way? E.g. a developer browser that didn’t focus on speed for users, but on getting you as much data to help you debug and develop?

Just as with Eclipse, there are many ways to get there. You can customize through plugins, or you can have a seperate distro that is fully setup and ready.

It does make me wonder though…. can we find a new bar that allows for much more innovation in the product space, while we all work together to push the web platform forward, in a way where developers can ship to reach as many users as possible.

What would you like to see?