Blog Post

Quick Look: Creating and Using Site Specific Browsers


The advent of the cloud over the past few years has meant that a lot of the tasks that we were used to doing on our Mac have now moved to the web. This brings with it a host of issues, from data ownership to reliability of services (see recent Sidekick fiasco) and whether the web can deliver a Mac-like experience.

Putting all that aside, however, a more mundane problem is managing all of those sites and getting to them quickly and easily. Individual apps conveniently come with their own icon on your dock, web apps do not, forcing you to dig through the myriad of open tabs in your browser to find the app you need.If you’ve truly made the jump to cloud computing there is, thankfully, a better way: site specific browsers (SSBs). The basic idea is simple: Create a separate web browser, complete with its own icon on the dock, to browse to a single site. We’ve covered an excellent example of a site specific browser here on TAB in the past, Mailplane, which is used to access Gmail’s online interface.

The beauty of an SSB is not only do you get the bonus of neatly having your own icon for a single web application, but it also allows that site to integrate with OS X more completely. For example you can have things like address book access and dock badges, all things that Mailplane does for Gmail.

That’s great if you use Gmail, but what about all the other great web-based applications out there? Although there are not specific SSBs for things like Twitter, Google Calendar, Remember The Milk and other web services, there are two different programs that will let you take any web site and turn it into a site specific browser: Fluid and Prism. The major difference between the two is that Fluid uses Webkit to power its SSBs, while Prism uses the Gecko browser base that runs Firefox.


Aside from these underlying technologies, the two programs offer remarkably similar functionality. Simply enter a web address, choose an icon (or just use the site favicon), and voila, a new program based on that site will be created for you. What’s more, each browser can accept various scripts to add functionality like a dock icon and even Growl notifications. You can even make an SSB your default email or RSS program.

In many ways SSBs may represent the future of computing. Just look at Google’s upcoming Chrome OS, where the browser is the operating system. In such a situation it makes no sense to continue using the outdated system of web pages and browser bookmarks. When a website is a program unto itself you can argue that it deserves to be treated as one at the operating system level.

8 Responses to “Quick Look: Creating and Using Site Specific Browsers”

  1. While I agree with the other opinions for simple functions like email or chat, i see a potential use for Site Specific Browsers that has not been discussed.

    I happen to enjoy both Pandora & Slacker internet radio while working on web design. Anyone who has opened Apple’s Activity Monitor may have noticed that while streaming music in your browser, the broswer will “eat” resources like a crazed zombie at some specific websites. I’ve had multiple different browsers crash on me after hours of coding, html validating, page previewing and running a music streaming site in a tab along with my other 8-10 normal tabs.

    To solve this problem, I’ve used Fluid or the iCab browser to create a Site Specific Browser application. Now, instead of my web browser crashing while i am working on web design due to a given web site’s “hunger” for resources, i’m running Pandora in an SSB. Even if that should crash, I’m on a Unix based OS X system, big deal. My work continues in my broswer of choice, and worst case, I restart my SSB to continue my “tunes”.

    I believe this is where the SSB & the Cloud will shine: apps that might stress a browser, causing a crash, will simply be migrated to SSBs. This avoids the problem, and with most web sites, has been working fine for me so far.

    And yes, I use any number of different tabbed browses. I simply don’t believe that an end user should need to run mulitple browser windows, with multiple tabs per window, creating a logistical nightmare. It’s why Apple’s Mail application is my email client of choice, even for Gmail. When i want that function, I use that app, otherwise I can leave it open, or quit it, as i see fit, without interrupting or modifying my work-flow. That, I believe, is where SSBs will shine in the market place. Just my 3 cents (adjusted for inflation after the multiple major bailouts offered to the financial industry in the US).

  2. Same here. I used Fluid for some sites with specific settings but in the end there was no real advantage. With OmniWeb and their concept of tabbed windows and workspaces I have one app for all!

  3. I have used Fluid for all kinds of Google services and did not find any advantage at all over keeping these services in separate browser tabs. In fact, much more clutter on my desktop. So I reverted back to using Google browser-based and am happy with it.

  4. Personally I don’t really get the point. I’m not sure why I would pay $25 for Mailplane, for example, when the only additional functionality over accessing GMail in Safari is an active dock icon. It would be much more effective for OS makers (Apple/ MSFT) to provide APIs so websites can update the dock/ taskbar icons. Fewer applications, less complexity.

  5. I use a Fluid based SSB for Yahoo mail, but honestly I’ve never really felt it was it’s own application. While the badge showing the number of new emails is a nice touch, other than that it simply feels like an awkward Safari page.

    I really wish that more “cloud” companies would do like Evernote and create their own native apps for Mac and iPhone. Call me a Cloud-skeptic, but I like having a native app that is customized for the site and integrates with the OS in ways that even a SSB does not. Sure I could access GMail and Evernote thorugh their websites, but I’d much rather use native apps to access that data ( works great with IMAP capable email).