Bridging Desktop And Web Applications – A Look At Mozilla Prism: Here’s an article about what are being called “Single Site Browsers” (SSBs), or little standalone browsers that let you browse and interact with a single Web app in a desktop app-ish environment.
Surf to Gmail, for instance, choose “Convert to Application” in the Firefox menu, and a shortcut with the Gmail icon appears on your desktop. Clicking the icon launches Gmail in its own window. Extensive customization options are available to add things like dock badges, system tray icons and popup notifications. Web developers can add special hooks to their code so that these bells and whistles are automatically included whenever someone spins the app off onto their desktop. Prism is still very much a work-in-progress, but it has already met with some early success; recent Yahoo acquisition Zimbra, for example, is using it to deliver a desktop version of their popular web-based mail client.
I’d like to take this second to say that I wrote about this years ago in a post called Owning the Container:
In a browser, remember, your page is only in the viewable area because the user has put it there. Your page can leave just as quickly — the user could reload it, they could click on a bookmark, etc.
A browser is a container. Your app is poured into one page at a time, and can just as easily get poured out, sometimes at inopportune times.
This leads to times when you need your app to do just a little bit more than a Web app can do. These are the times when you think, “Should I do this as a compiled, installed app instead?” But that’s a big leap — there really needs to be a middle ground.
Good to see some progress is being made here — the article profiles Mozilla’s Prism (which I use for Gmail), and several others.
(You can actually approximate the Prism experience with regular Firefox. It’s not hard to make Firefox launch under a separate user profile in which you shut off all the toolbars, etc.)
What I’d like to see in these apps is a way to give Web sites “superpowers” that they wouldn’t normally have, like access to your local file system or registry. While the security implications are daunting, this is one of the last miles to bridging the gap between local and remote applications.