Mozilla Prism: Am I missing something?

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

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 ;-) ( http://libre-et-ouvert.blogspot.com/2007/10/prism-du-vent.html )

    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 http://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=480784

  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]