The Lurker

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posted by ajf on 2007-10-25 at 10:53 pm

A horrible phrase keeps popping up in blogs I read: site-specific browser.

I like web apps that need to live on the network, and are a good fit for the web — bug tracking applications like Bugzilla or Jira, for example. Most good web applications involve collaboration between people. I find web apps intended for a single user — webmail being the typical example — are generally less useful than the standalone applications they're intended to replace.

I accept, however, that my opinion isn't a common one, and that a hell of lot of people like, for example, Gmail. Some of these people have slightly confused, shall we say, feelings about Gmail: they like that it's a web application, but they hate that it's in a web browser window. Some of these people (and you'll note I'm experimenting with faux politeness for tonight's rant) are capable of writing software. Such a person might create a very simple application, consisting of one window containing a toolbar and an embedded web browser, which when the application starts launches a web application like Gmail. Unlike a normal web browser, this application is only able to show Gmail. The term "site-specific browser" was created to describe this new class of pointless application. A Mozilla Corporation employee has put together WebRunner to encourage people who are so inclined to use the Mozilla development platform to build these pointless little applications. I don't particularly want to pick on Mailplane — no, wait, I do now that I've realised they're going to charge US$25 (!) for the privilege of wrapping Gmail in window that doesn't have "Safari" or "Firefox" in its title — but go and have a look, because their screenshots really do illustrate the, uh, phenomenon.

[Updated 2007-10-26] Coincidentally WebRunner has just been renamed Prism which suggests that the Mozilla project is going to throw a bit more weight behind it. Not everyone is impressed; there's an inexplicable discussion on how Prism relates to Silverlight and Air (short answer: not even the same fuckin' sport), but this is obviously my favourite comment:

Im sorry but I installed this and I just don't get what there is to be excited about. A webpage (ie gmail) now has an icon and runs in a firefox window without any buttons. wow.

(As a moderately interesting aside, my current employer uses Mercury Quality Center for bug tracking, which features exactly the opposite stupidity to what I've described above: it's a desktop Windows application that you can only run inside a web browser window. I'd be less disgusted if they'd just accept that it's a Windows application and install it accordingly, but it'd still be the worst bug tracking system I've ever seen. "Software turd" indeed — where was that phrase when I was writing about Clearcase?)

Oh, and on a related note, a couple of years ago I was going to add a category to my blog called "I told you so", in which I would post blindingly obvious statements that the conventional wisdom studiously ignores. If I'd ever bothered to get around to doing that, I would have posted "Yes, Web 2.0 is another Internet bubble!" some time ago. I'm glad to see that more people are finally admitting it.

Related topics: Rants Web Mindless Link Propagation

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