Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Prisms Do Bend

Late in 2007, Mozilla introduced a project that aims to bring the web closer to our desktops. Lo and behold, Prism!

As I understand it, Prism is a mini browser stripped of its browser navigation controls and all those mumbo-jumbo to make it appear slick. It wraps the web app in itself and enables the webapp to be treated as any desktop app. Every instance is run in its own process so it doesn't compete with other loaded web apps, as opposed to web apps loaded in multiple tabs of a browser where everything competes for anything.

I tried it out this morning, in the hopes of having a slicker browsing experience (because my two GMail tabs hog the resources) and found the following quite apparent:

  • It launches its own window. It's an external program just like a browser, so it naturally starts up in a separate window.

  • It doesn't have any menu bar, tool bar, search bar or even a bookmarks bar. I told you it doesn't have those browser mumbo-jumbo. It does, however, have a status bar to notify any browsing activity.

  • It uses a different set of cache. I always tick the Remember Me feature whenever I log in so I was expecting my home page to pop right away. Well it didn't, and so I figured. I checked the ~/.prism directory and all those data I was looking for were there. It's really no fuss, so I just re-entered my credentials.

  • You can't have multiple instances of the same web application. I tried loading two instances of GMail, one for my office account and another for my personal account. The second instance just loaded the same stuff in the first instance. I may be wrong, there probably is a workaround for this.

  • It doesn't have tabs. No can do, tabs are part of the mumbo-jumbo stuff they cut off. Sheesh, just when I needed to open some in my favorite Facebook apps.

  • It doesn't load external links in the same browsing pane. External links are opened in a separate browser instead. The web app owns the window and nobody from the outside can drive it away!

So what's in it for me? Well, it did make my browsing experience slicker by driving my hogging GMail tabs away from the browser. Yeah, it bent my perception that it is better that way. However, it degraded my power-browsing mania by limiting certain browser features like tabs, page source viewing, development bookmarklets, quick searches, page text search, etc.

All in all, it did good as a preview beta project. In my experience, it can be used effectively in full-blown ajax web apps because you won't have the need for tabs and lotsa external links. It looks promising even in it's early stages, but somehow it still needs more stuff in it than stripped off. I'm still considering sticking to using the browser, especially when Firefox 3 is just right around the corner.
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