Saturday, April 12, 2008

Prism: Bridging the gap ...

I've recently become aware of a desktop application called Prism. This application (6.66MB) in size installs as a desktop app, when you run it, it prompts you for the following information:

After you add the URL of the website, and give it a name you are good to go. From there, you have a shortcut icon that starts that site up every time - just like its a desktop application.

Why is this useful? Let's backup a bit ...
I have long been a fan of Meebo - as well as other sites like google documents. In fact, they are among the FIRST that I startup on any given day. Firfox Browser (with certain "startup" sites), Internet Exploer, Safari, Thunderbird, SQL Enterprise Manager, Query Analyzer, Eclipse ... but this also leads to an eventual problem. Firefox (my browser of choice) gets bloated and needs a restart every two or three days. While I love the fact that FF has so many developer tools, from the ability to add / edit cookies, to being able to inspect and modify the source code of a page using firebug - and even intercepting and tampering with page requests ... (we'll come back to this in a sec)

When I found meebo, I fell in love with it for a couple reasons:
1) I never have to update Trillian (or whatever software) again!
2) It supported everything I used.
3) I could use it at the library or on a friend's computer without hosing up his configuration.
Okay, for those that care, that was three and there are more reasons to like it, but I don't really think you care right now - let's tie this back into Prism.

What I didn't like about Meebo was the fact that when I closed my browser, it knocked me off the grid! It also hindered my development efforts when I was tampering data. (Read more about that when I finish writing the entry) Meebo continuously sends requests back and forth with the server - hence the concept of "instant" messaging. Google Mail or reader is just as bad, even if you don't have chat enabled on it. This is because of the way AJAX works - but this hindered the ability to get meaningful tampering / inspection done.

Moving these "web applications" off as Prism apps is the solution I've been looking for! I can close / reboot my browser (or even let it crash) without being annoyed that its dropping me from the grid, or interrupting that email to my Aunt. I can focus on developing applications without someone "pinging me" and interrupting me by having the tab flash their message (drawing valuable seconds away from my code). Speaking of rebooting the browser, at some point in the future ... I'm planning on featuring FFox and some tools I have found to be useful as a developer.

A few random thoughts about this:
- I don't like that there is only one icon for Prism, and it doesn't use the website icon (if there was one to begin with).
- I don't like the fact that ads pop up in a new prism window, but then again, if I wanted a site to pop up in a new window, this is helpful.
- There is a menu in the bottom-right corner to "Install to Desktop" - this puts the current page as an icon on your desktop, so if you were looking to "control" your kids browsing with this tool - forget it. They will just litter the desktop with thousands (or dozens) of shortcuts.
- This doesn't replace Adobe AIR, which allows for more feature-rich use of apps - like the ability to use the application offline. Prism is an on-the-grid-only application.
- If you setup the site as "https://" - it gives you the padlock in the bottom-right menu, but it doesn't allow you to inspect the security certificate. That's a bummer, but most people won't ever look at one, even though they should.
- If you setup an icon for Gmail on one account and setup an icon for Gmail for another account, they will NOT share the same session.
- Interestingly, if you setup an icon for Gmail and one for Google, they DO share the same session. If anyone knows how to make sure they do not share the same session on the same profile, fire away!

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