’Tis the season to be browsing. … Web browsing, that is. With more holiday shopping done through the Web than ever before, it’s safe to say that we spend more time using our browser than using any other software. Yet for many, Web browsers are an “open whatever you have on your desktop” experience.

But that’s changing in a hurry. Get ready for the browser of the future.

Customize Away
Let’s begin with customization. There are thousands of the Mozilla Firefox add-ons and Google Chrome’s extensions created to enhance and simplify what you do online.

For example, two Google Chrome extensions that I am partial to are Quick Scroll and Awesome Screenshot. Quick Scroll inserts a small rectangular box at the bottom of your screen that helps you find your search terms on the page you are viewing. Unobtrusive and lightning quick, this tool brings me to where the search words appear throughout the site. As for Awesome Screenshot, imagine the ability to annotate and clip content from any portion of your screen and turn it into a jpg with a few clicks. Pretty awesome, you’d say? I agree.

Firefox add-ons can be found through the Tools → Add-ons menu, or from the Mozilla site. Similar to Chrome Extensions, these extras can save time and hassle, or just add a new look to your browsing. The IE Tab add-on, for example, ensures that those stubborn Web pages that load properly only with the Internet Explorer browser can be loaded through Firefox.

About a month ago, a Firefox add-on caused quite a stir. Firesheep was released to make the online community better aware of security lapses in many Web services, including social media. Firesheep allows the user to access the online accounts of computer users nearby who are on a public network with nonsecure connections (such as Facebook or Twitter). Needless to say, while it accomplished the goal of increased awareness, it has made many very uncomfortable. (Note: Think twice before using password-protected accounts on public networks!)

Don’t Live Under a Rock
If you like to use your browser more on the social side, check out the beta version of Rockmelt, which integrates Facebook, Twitter, and any of your favorite social media and RSS feeds into the borders of the browser screen. Want to know which of your Facebook friends are online? Just look at your Rockmelt browser to find out. Want to share an online article with your Twitter followers? Just click the “share” button built into the browser. Designed on Chromium, the open source project driving Google Chrome, it may become the hottest tool of 2011.

The New Hottest Tool, Anyone?
Unless, of course, the browser of the future becomes the browser of today. Adaptive Path has put out a few concept videos of Aurora, its vision of what the browser will become. Socially based, seamlessly integrating your entire computing experience, movable from device to device, this may not be exactly what your browser looks like five or 10 years from now, but don’t be surprised if it does have a lot of this functionality. Check out the videos, and let me know what you think.

Nothing You See Is Real
Augmented reality browsers for mobile devices have interesting implications for show organizers. With both Layar and Wikitude, users view what is around them through the camera on their phone. The “augmented reality” part comes in as real-time information is layered onto what the camera sees. Imagine a trade show attendee using an augmented reality browser to view the booths in the immediate vicinity. What if exhibitors could place additional content over their image, providing added information for the attendee (not to mention added revenue for the show manager)?

So who said browsing isn’t exciting? It very well could be the most interesting tech development to watch in 2011.

Happy holidays, everyone.