Mozilla Prism: Am I missing something?

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Although they did­n’t cre­ate the con­cept, Mozil­la pop­u­larised tabbed brows­ing with the release of Fire­fox. Tabbed brows­ing is, of course, a very good thing; the old IE mod­el of hav­ing a sep­a­rate win­dow for every instance of a site you open became unman­age­able when com­put­ers got more pow­er­ful and web­sites no longer slowed down the whole machine. Now all of the major browsers fea­ture the tabbed interface.

Which makes Mozil­la’s lat­est inven­tion, Prism, seem a bit of a weird step backwards;

Prism is an appli­ca­tion that lets users split web appli­ca­tions out of their brows­er and run them direct­ly on their desktop. 

In oth­er words, it puts web pages into a new win­dow, but with­out the nav­i­ga­tion but­tons, menu options and address bar. Maybe I’m just a bit of an old tra­di­tion­al­ist, but where’s the advan­tage in this? What rea­son would I have to run, say, my Gmail in a sep­a­rate win­dow rather than a tab? The main advan­tage seems to be that you can run appli­ca­tions from a short­cut in your desk­top envi­ron­ment, but you can do that already by drag­ging and drop­ping a URL from Firefox.

I don’t know, per­haps it’s not aimed at me; per­haps there are some big enter­pris­es that would find this use­ful, or peo­ple who only ever run a few web­sites (and real­ly don’t like the address bar). Or, per­haps it’s unfair of me to judge this as it’s only a tech­nol­o­gy pre­view at the moment and there are a load of excit­ing fea­tures on their way.

But I’ve read the tech­ni­cal notes and the user expe­ri­ence puff piece, and I can’t get past the fact that it’s just a brows­er win­dow with no but­tons or menus. You know, I’m not say­ing it’s a bad project; I’m just strug­gling to see the point of it.

Per­haps there’s a killer app on the way which will make it all clearer.

4 comments on
“Mozilla Prism: Am I missing something?”

  1. i’m glad to see your post since i’ve post­ed the con­trary ;-) ( )

    Every­body says that tabs sys­tem is an improve­ment but i’m not sure of that.
    Tabs are often an improve­ment : for peo­ple run­ning a desk­top with poor functionnalities.
    But since today desk­tops have great func­tion­nal­i­ties, tabs sys­tem may not be an improvement.

    Here are some thoughts, from an user point of view :

    - Tabs sys­tem is con­fus­ing for new users : desk­tops already have a sys­tem to switch between instances (i.e. appli­ca­tions but­tons in GNOME). Cre­at­ed a con­cur­rent sys­tem doing the same thing is confusing.
    — Most tabs sys­tem func­tion­nal­i­ties are in mod­ern desk­tops (i.e. in GNOME 2.20 you can rearrange appli­ca­tions buttons)
    — Desk­top func­tion­nal­i­ties are often bet­ter than tabs sys­tem (i.e. with com­piz fusion the scale effect allows you to choose between your win­dows in a graph­i­cal way (like Expose on Mac) ; you can dis­trib­ute instances through spaces in GNOME)

    + Some­times tabs sys­tem is bet­ter (you can load a page in background)

    Besides, from a devel­op­per point of view (which i’m not), tabs sys­tem allow you to con­trol the way instances are man­aged on dif­fer­ent OS. But func­tion­nal­i­ties have to answer user needs, not devel­op­per needs.

    I enjoyed hav­ing tabs on my PC run­ning Win­dows XP. But today i’m run­ning Ubun­tu and tabs does­n’t seem to me as effi­cient as win­dows regard­ing to Ubuntu/GNOME/Compiz functionnalities

  2. see also

  3. I think Prism will only become real­ly use­ful when you can dou­ble-click files on your com­put­er and have them open up in a Prism web app. Until then, I don’t think it has much prac­ti­cal val­ue to me. But, as I said, maybe I’m not the intend­ed user.

  4. Well I see a func­tion­al­i­ty in this, unre­lat­ed to the actu­al UI:

    Say you have to devel­op a dynam­ic and well-look­ing appli­ca­tion for a com­pa­ny, and you’re more of a web-devel­op­er than pro­gram­mer. This solves the thing; make a good web appli­ca­tion designed to work in Fire­fox, use all mod­ern fea­tures FF sup­ports, and make it into a stand­alone executable!

    Yes, I’m propos­ing some­thing much less resource-effi­cient than, say, Java. But you don’t even need to tell that to any­one! :D

    I remem­ber mak­ing an appli­ca­tion in Visu­al Basic that was basi­cal­ly a bar-less brows­er point­ing to a web app. Did any­one notice? NO :D

    Camilo Martin [November 9th, 2009, 15:28]