An excellent post over on TechCrunch got me looking once again at Mozilla Prism. For those of you new to it, Prism is an open source cross-platform prototype of functionality that lets users split web applications out of the browser and run them directly on the desktop. In essence prism allow you to spin out any particular web app (Gmail, Reader whatever) and for it to have its own window, Prism is part of a series of experiments into bridging the divide in the user experience between web and desktop apps and exploring new usability models as the line between those kinds of apps continues to blur.

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We’re all used to having our installed apps appear in separate windows (one for MS word, one for outlook etc). Now of course tabbed browsing meant a move away from multiple windows, but individual windows for web apps does have some advantage;

  • Unneeded items like back/forward buttons, generic browser menus and the URL bar don’t appear
  • Each app runs its own OS process so a crash in Gmail (for example) doesn’t bring down everything else open in Mozilla)

The other advantage, as pointed out by Raju, is that individual windows for web apps helps ease users into the cloud based era with a look and feel that is similar to what they are used to with installed apps. He used the following diagram to show how SSBs (single site browsers) are helping the transition for cloud based apps, while incremental moves from the installed apps vendors are helping the transition from the other side.

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Either way I’ve found Prism to be a nice little offering. I had it on my old laptop but hadn’t got around to reinstalling it on my new one. Nice features that are really appreciate include;

  • The ability to create a single-site browser for a website with a one-click process from inside Firefox
  • When I click on a link within Prism that would normally open in a new tab (for example a header within an RSS reader). The tab is automagically opened within Firefox, all ready for me to read, comment upon or cross post within the browser window

Adobe AIR and Google Gears both have similar functionalities, but with their own focus. Either way it looks like Single Site Browsers will be a boon to transition users from PC based, to cloud based apps.

Post script – Google Gears doesn’t seem to work on Firefox 3 at this stage – be aware!

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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