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I disagree, while writing a web browser would be significant work, it would likely be on the same order as writing an operating functional enough for people to actually want to use it. Porting a browser would likely take less work even (while still being a significant amount of work).

This page talks about what it takes to port webkit to another platform: http://blog.cranksoftware.com/webkit-porting-tips-the-good-t...




Forgive me, but you should more specifically define the terms you use. As it stands, it looks like by "functional enough for people to actually want to use it" you seem to introduce a circular dependency -- as though an OS is useless unless it's easy to port a browser to it.

The GP post mentiones Plan 9, which is a great example here. There are real people who use Plan 9 every day (I have met some of them!) but Webkit will never be portable to that OS because there is no C++ compiler. This doesn't make the OS non-functional, but it does mean step one to porting a modern browser is "port GCC or LLVM," which is a massive task by itself.

Both Firefox and Chrome source code repositories are in the hundreds of megabytes, even without the required host OS dependencies vendored in. The document you linked to recommends leveraging freetype, cairo, and all kinds of other things that would require serious graphics infrastructure of a sort that's just not feasible.

Modern web browsers are keystones that cap off arches built of hundreds of pieces of very specific software. As time goes by, they require more infrastructure, not less -- c.f. Firefox, where to build the latest version you must also have a Rust compiler that targets your operating system. As the checklist of requirements grows ever longer, the candidate operating systems capable of meeting those requirements grows ever shorter.

Five years from now, I predict the only three operating systems capable of interacting with the web in any meaningful sense will be linux, macos, and windows; bsd and haiku et al will have been left by the wayside.

Ten years from now I predict there will be four operating systems, and one of them will be Fuchsia, because only a megacorp like Google has the resources to accomplish that.


> Five years from now, I predict the only three operating systems capable of interacting with the web in any meaningful sense will be linux, macos, and windows; bsd and haiku et al will have been left by the wayside.

That is an interesting prediction. What do you think will cause the BSDs to be left by the wayside in such a short timeframe, when they are more than capable of running the latest browsers right now?

Is the browser becoming a systemd module?

I am a little concerned about the trend to push "hardware acceleration" into everything. Graphics cards and their drivers are the biggest source of grief in PCs for me.


One intriguing direction we could take is for someone to make a self-hosting browser. Doing that would mean taking all these technology dependencies and moving as many as possible into wasm, until you're just left with the kernel, a "barebones" wasm runtime, and a browser binary. I think that is within the reach of one of the big-leaguers, albeit ambitious and full of "interesting" problems and standards that will have to be broken.


Don't forget that browsers like Netsurf might well be enough for your daily surfing.


I'm no expert, but I believe the difficulty in writing an OS lies with the myriad of different hardware configurations you have to support. Writing drivers for poorly documented hardware is difficult. You don't get around that complexity by writing a browser. That's just an additional effort you have to make.


Sure you could port webkit to your new OS, but if all the software you use effectively exists only as web apps what would be the point?


The point seems to be you could now use any system you wanted (as long as there is a compliant browser) and not worry if your needed app is supported or has all the features of the Windows/OSX version.

This lets you take advantage of whatever benefits your desired system provides you without a change of user experience.


I think I understand your argument now. Why do you think browsers as de factor operating systems is wrong? Their programming interface is highly standardized across implementations.


> Their programming interface is highly standardized across implementations.

It may be easier to have everyone use the same software and hardware platform everywhere. After all we do want interoperability and we do want everyone to play well with others, but, standardization and portability is a push to stop people from trying new things. The push to standardize everything is an unfortunate consequence of not having a separation of concerns, separate concerns such as content and UI.


Not sure what you mean by standardization vs. exploratory programming. Separation of concerns would only exist if standardized (and enforced).


A smaller contact area between implementations means we need only be concerned about compatibility at that interface and the rest is up to you. This keeps the area of software that we can't change to a minimum.




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