Thin is in - and I'm not talking about servers, clients, or body types. I'm talking about monitors. Flat-panel LCDs are getting more popular and more affordable every day - and the technology may have an unexpected effect on the Web.
It used to be cool to have gigantic 26in cathode ray tube displays bathing you with electromagnetic radiation.
Of course, you also needed to have a massive desk to support this kind of display, so that may be why such monitors have mostly been limited to design professionals who really need them and executives with cash to spend on impressing their peers.
These days, executives prefer to show their alpha status through pricey flat-panel monitors. The attraction may partly be that these monitors are still several times more expensive than CRTs with comparable display areas. But the fact is, flat-panel displays of all kinds are easier to look at for long periods than CRTs.
Laptop users know this. I prefer to surf the Web on a laptop, provided it has a large enough screen and a high-speed Internet connection. That's because a good active-matrix LCD screen is easier on the eyes than a flickering monitor.
Flat-panel monitors bring the same advantages to desktop PCs. And as prices for these LCDs fall, such monitors become more readily available to ordinary folks as well as executives. Currently, 15in LCD monitors are going for $US700 to $800 from online retailer Buy.com.
At the same time, LCDs used in handheld computers, such as 3Com's PalmPilot VII and Windows CE computers, will improve, acquiring colour and greater resolution.
So what does this have to do with the Web? Everything.
When LCD technology becomes more widespread, people will increasingly be surfing the Web via displays they feel comfortable looking at for long periods. Instead of scanning Web pages quickly, people using LCD monitors will be more inclined to spend time looking at those pages the way they do a book, a magazine, or a television.
Not only that, but LCD technology is the common denominator that will facilitate other kinds of compact Web-browsing devices. When these appear, many more people will be "surfing" the Web from Internet appliances on their kitchen counters, from cell phones, and from handheld wireless devices.
Don't look to the PalmPilot VII for a glimpse of how this will work. This wireless personal digital assistant has some clever innovations, but is hampered by its reliance on a proprietary network and its lack of a standard Web browser. Instead, imagine a device the size and shape of a legal pad, with Web pages displayed (in colour) on its touch-sensitive screen - and a wireless connection to your office or home network and the Internet.
Such devices will cause dramatic changes in Web design and Web application construction. Microsoft implicitly recognised this when it announced late last year a new display technology aimed at improving the appearance of text on LCD screens.
With the new displays, Web application designers will be freer to provide long stretches of text or high-definition video and multimedia content.
And, more profoundly, they will be competing for users' attention not just on a desk at the office, but in those users' kitchens, living rooms, cars, and backyards.