Mozilla’s Prism project blends Web, desktop

Mozilla Labs, a research arm of Mozilla Corp., has released software that lets users strip a Web application from its enclosing browser and then work with the app as if it were a traditional desktop program.

The software, formerly known as WebRunner but now recast as Prism, is still in development, said Mark Finkle, a platform evangelist at Mozilla. “It’s experimental,” said Finkle, who, along with Alex Faaborg, a user interface designer, announced the name change and release last week in a blog posting. Mozilla Labs also opened up Prism as a Mozilla project, which means it’s soliciting volunteers to work on the code or interface, or simply bug-hunt.

Although Prism is currently in prototype, the software can now separate a Web application from its browser, drop it onto the desktop in its own window, and manage its icon and placement on the desktop like any locally installed program.

“This is more than just a chromeless browser,” Finkle said in an interview today, referring to another approach, sometimes called distraction-free browsing, that strips away toolbars, colors, menus and other navigational aids that are typically part of a browser’s interface. “We’re going a different direction.” Rather than simply splitting the application from the browser’s interface, Prism separates the processes.

“If I’m using a browser [to run a Web application] and the browser crashes, it takes down my app, too. If the browser crashes when you’re running Prism, the app’s safe,” said Finkle.

By separating the application from the user profile associated with the browser, Prism also protects the Web app, added Finkle. “In a browser, you’re sharing the same profile, but [running the app in] Prism separates the profiles so that if I’m running my corporate e-mail from a Web app, I don’t have any concerns about malicious Web pages because I can’t browse to them from the app inside Prism.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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