Site Specific Browser – Using WebRunner

I have been using the prototype WebRunner for a few days to access GMail and Zimbra. Overall, I am quite happy with the results. The webapps load fast and I like having them appear in my ALT+TAB list. I am using Firefox for browsing and not running webapps, which feels better too. Firefox stays snappy and I have not had to “kill” its process because of speed or hung webapp problems.

Of course there are things I miss when using WebRunner. Most notably:

  • Support for popup windows – Zimbra in particular uses (my preference) a popup to compose email.
  • Support for inline spell checking – Some webapps do have their own spellcheck support, but I really love Firefox’s system.
  • Support for float-over link destinations in the statusbar – Yes, I like to see where I am going if I click that link.
  • Support for a context menu – I use it infrequently, but I must use it enough to feel weird when its not there.

Adding support for popups turned out to be a 1-line preference fix. I learned about nsIXULBrowserWindow to get the link info in the statusbar. I updated the prototype for those of you playing at home:

Install (Windows-only): webrunner-setup-0.3.exe
Source: webrunner-src-0.3.zip

Next up for WebRunner:

  • Adding support for inline spellcheck and suggestions on context menu.
  • Enabling extension support so WebRunner can be tweaked or enhanced.
  • Creating an “installer” so new webapps can be installed after the fact.
  • Creating an extension to allow Firefox to “install” webapps since most of this process starts in the browser.

11 Comments

  1. Joshua H. said,

    March 13, 2007 @ 10:20 pm

    I would love to see the ability to use CTRL + (+/-) like in Firefox so I can zoom the text since I am partially sighted.

  2. pd said,

    March 14, 2007 @ 3:04 am

    So Mozilla finally employs a couple of Developer Relations guys and one goes off on a anti-web tangent like single-site browsers. How is FUEL going Mark? ETA?

  3. Nick said,

    March 14, 2007 @ 5:20 am

    Love this idea, here are a couple of bugs/thoughts:

    I get an XML error trying to download attachments from gmail.

    I’d like each window to have it’s own session. It would be really useful to have multiple gmail windows open to multiple accounts.

  4. pn said,

    March 14, 2007 @ 6:36 am

    For few months now I’ve been doing something “similar” to webrunner, but with Firefox.

    I have profiles in Firefox for some websites (gmail, google reader…) and launch them with “-no-remote -P someprofile” command line arguments (I have shortcuts for these in my desktop). This gives me possibility to use normal Firefox extensions and inline spell checking. Unfortunately links open in same window, but I don’t mind that much. I also use modified firesomething extension (modified so that it installs with firefox 2 also) in these profiles to change the title of the window to Gmail or something.

    Maybe this is a bit harder to use than webrunner (I don’t know, I haven’t checked webrunner), but it gives me same possibilities as webrunner currently.

  5. enefekt said,

    March 14, 2007 @ 8:26 am

    I don’t get the idea of WebRunner? I don’t know if a browser-based web app in a separate process is enough bang-for-the-buck?

    I thought this is what XULRunner was for? Use XUL to create a richer UI. Take advantage of the whole Mozilla platform. Is just slamming an app into a separate process worth the trouble unless it adds some significant value-add?

    And I think “Site Specific Browser” is not the best name either. We’re talking about applications here right? Not websites. And we’re talking about interacting with the application, not “browsing”.

    Ideally there would be room for all of these things, but it would be nice to see some clearer communication from Mozilla about what their strategy is for some of these endeavors. Especially with tough competition soon to be coming from one of the “adversaries” Adobe Apollo. :)

  6. therealpete said,

    March 15, 2007 @ 5:37 am

    To get popups working, use this preference:
    pref(“browser.chromeURL”, “chrome://application/content/browser.xul”);

    of course point it to your own browser xul file.

  7. Mark Finkle said,

    March 15, 2007 @ 8:06 am

    Joshua – It will be in the next version. Thanks.

    pd – I don’t see it as anti-web, but rather better web application user experience. FUEL is getting reviewed for landing on the trunk. It can be viewed using http://mxr.mozilla.org/fuel/source.

    Nick – I’ll try to get that fixed in the next version. Thanks.

    pn – Good idea. I do think the browser could be made to work better with webapps. A separate browser, like WebRunner, is not the only solution.

    enefekt – WebRunner is just an experiment, not a strategy or even a product. Web Runner *is* built on XULRunner. Part of WebRunner’s experiment is to show how XULRunner apps can be used in place of Apollo apps.

    therealpete – Yep, that is how I added popup support to this version.

  8. enefekt said,

    March 16, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

    “WebRunner is just an experiment, not a strategy or even a product. Web Runner *is* built on XULRunner”

    OK, Alright, but thats the thing. This doesn’t seem like a good demo/experiment to show off XULRunner with. If you’re just adding a separate process to the mix, and mimicking the exact same experience and interface as a general web browser, it seems more confusing than interesting.

    I liked your XUL Explorer better. Why not integrate the MDC references better with the editing process. That would be cool.

    Some of the Apollo demos showed Google maps integration with your local address book, and merging your music library with flickr and wikipedia. Maybe not as practical and down to earth as keeping gmail up when your browser crashes, but it shows off the possibilites, and gets you thinking,

  9. Kris said,

    March 20, 2007 @ 1:33 am

    >This doesn’t seem like a good demo/experiment to show off XULRunner with

    IMO this is a great use of XULRunner! I needed just this type of application to try to get ride of IE in a company Intranet. The issue is not allowing the user to surf the web because of security issues and to keep the support calls lower for non-technical users. And yes, I can (and did because I came across this too late for my client.) lock down IE but that was using a lot of registry settings and then it still is not a complete solution. I would have rather suggested using this.

    Thanks, this is GREAT little example of what XULRunner can do.

  10. Piotr said,

    March 22, 2007 @ 5:49 am

    Hello

    I have a big ask of you (question is connected with: http://starkravingfinkle.org/blog/tags/xpcom/).
    Two parts:
    First: question if there is possible (using XPCOM or other Mozilla Plugin) get connection to USB.

    Second: Im looking for any contact like e-mail ICQ or Skype to you couse of my problems with implementation XPCOM.

  11. Robert Accettura’s Fun With Wordage » Blog Archive » WebApp as Desktop App Security Model? said,

    April 5, 2007 @ 8:55 pm

    […] Site Specific Browser using WebRunner […]

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