Mozilla Prism brings power to stand-alone web applications

Over time, lots of people have developed the need to run web applications/sites in a stand-alone manner, and many major player try and cater to that.

Adobe have Adobe AIR which can offer that, Fluid has been very popular and Safari 4 used to have the option to create Site-Specific Browsers (SSB) from any URL, although it has been removed from the latest beta (no idea why).

Mozilla Prism

Now Mozilla launches its first beta of Prism 1.0, and it has come a good way from its first stumbling steps back in 2007. It offers a number of interesting features and good integration into its hosting environment.

Get started by downloading Prism and/or the Firefox extension to turn a a URL into a Prism app. When you start Prism, you get to fill in a few values for your new application:

A picture of the Prism application creation dialog

Using Prism for Gmail was a given for me, to avoid hogging Firefox down – I’m testing it now to see if it works sufficiently. So far it seems to go well with things such as links opening properly in my operating system’s default web browser.

A picture of running Gmail in Prism

If you want to, you can choose to have a navigation bar visible for your application, which gives you back and forward buttons, home button and a reload button:

A picture of the navigation bar in Prism-created applications


Without a doubt, one of the most exciting thing about Prism is that it supports add-ons! Imagine extending any web site in any way you want! This is exactly what I wanted out of Adobe AIR, buy they never offered it. I’m very happy to see Mozilla carry on in the same fashion with a strategy that has been very successful for Firefox.

Any extension which works in Firefox could work in Prism-created applications; the key word in that sentence is could. Just as with any Mozilla application (Firefox, Thunderbird etc) you need to do some developer tweaks to your extension to make it happen.

I sure hope this catches on and that extension developers will start offering versions for Prism-created applications as well. If you’re an extension developer and wants to do this, but not sure how to go about it, please read more in Jan Odvarko’s Extending Prism guide.

In the long run, I hope they will be able to port existing Firefox extensions to Prism extensions, so developers don’t have to manage several extensions for, more or less, the same thing. I also hope there will be some sort of built-in Greasemonkey support to easily add existing userscripts to applications.

Things which need to be improved

I know Prism just came out in a beta, but these are the things I wish to see improved:

  • There’s no way to change the base/home URL for an already created application – then you need to create a new one. Not hard now, but in the future, with a number of add-ons installed etc, it will be a hassle.
  • You can have a URL bar visible, put the cursor in it, but can’t type anything. In my book, naturally it should be typable.
  • At this time, there are, to my knowledge, no add-ons available, and when I click the various links in the Add-ons dialog nothing happens.
  • I’m a Mac user, and the navigation bar looks hideous to me… And yeah, I know, Ubiquity wasn’t pretty to begin with either (it is now), but I don’t think design should be underestimated when it comes to winning over early adopters.


I have to say, though, that Prism truly has potential! I sure hope Mozilla will continue to develop Prism and dedicate resources to it, because if they do and especially if add-ons for prism pan out, it will without a doubt offer the best, cross-platform, ground to create/use stand-alone web applications.


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