Quick Look: Creating and Using Site Specific Browsers

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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.

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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.

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