Is a browser just another app? Should Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer be monitored like Word, SAP and all the other business productivity tools? Or do browsers require special attention, dedicated features, specific support?
The Modern Web
Let us start with a look back. Gmail, one of the first modern web apps, was launched in 2004. A lot has happened since!
Funny anecdote: initially, Gmail ran on a bunch of old Pentium 3 boxes that Google employees did not want any more. That is why Google had to come up with the invitation system to slowly ramp up the user count, which led to a huge demand for invitations. At times, they were sold on eBay for $150. Accidental marketing genius.
The browser is an OS for web applications
Today, the browser is an OS for web applications. Browsers provide much the same services to applications as regular operating systems do. This includes APIs, a runtime environment, and hardware abstraction with controlled access to resources like graphics, storage or networking.
The site What Web Can Do Today gives a nice overview of modern web capabilities and which of those are supported in the browser you are accessing the site with. Here is what it looks like in Chrome 70:
Browser support for the 43 capabilities listed at What Web Can Do Today varies a lot:
- Chrome 70: 33
- Firefox 63: 23
- Edge 1803: 20
- IE 11: 12
Web Apps in Disguise
Web apps are more and more morphing into desktop apps. The web is coming for you if you want it or not.
Electron is a framework for packaging web apps as native apps. Popular examples of apps that make use of Electron are Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Visual Studio Code.
Benefits for developers include a native UI and an automatic update mechanism. But most important of all, Electron apps are platform-independent. A single codebase supports Windows, macOS, Linux, and, of course, web apps.
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)
PWAs are web apps that look like native apps. Capabilities include offline usage, full-screen experience (no browser UI), add to home screen, and push notifications even when the browser is not running.
The big advantage of PWAs is that they offer many advantages of “real” (smartphone) apps without requiring the installation of an app (which many users shy away from). PWAs are still a relatively new technology. Expect a massive growth in the next years.
To try PWAs today go to mobile.twitter.com in your phone’s browser. You will be asked if you want to add Twitter to your home screen and if you want to enable notifications.
Web apps have reached the same level of capability and complexity as traditional apps. They should be monitored in the same way.