Pushing Prism on Ubuntu

One of Ubuntu's most useful but rarely discussed features is one-click installation of a variety of popular webapps via Mozilla's Prism. Here's a look at what Prism can do in Ubuntu, with some thoughts on why Canonical should work harder to push features like this.

In Mozilla's words, "Prism is an application that lets users split Web applications out of their browser and run them directly on their desktop."  In practical terms, that means you can have individual browser windows dedicated to specific Web applications--like Gmail, Facebook or Twitter--without having to worry about them becoming mixed up with your other Firefox tabs or needing to be restarted if you restart your browser.

Pretty much any website can be set up to run in Prism, but since Ubuntu 8.04, the Ubuntu repositories have offered a number of preconfigured Prism packages for popular Web applications.  In Ubuntu 9.10, these include Facebook, Twitter and Google Mail, Analytics, Calendar, Docs, Reader, Groups and Talk.

That means installing Gmail via Prism in Ubuntu is as easy as clicking the prism-google-mail package in the Software Center, or typing "apt-get install prism-google-mail."  After that, accessing Gmail is as simple as navigating to Applications>Internet>Google Mail, like so:

Why it matters

Prism is not very new, nor is it a revolutionary concept.  And it doesn't provide any functionality that's not already available from Ubuntu by default; it just makes things a little more convenient.

Nonetheless, it's stuff like this that Canonical should be pushing as Web applications and other aspects of "the cloud" move to the forefront of desktop computing.

If Ubuntu wants to prove that it's easier and more convenient than Windows, and if Canonical hopes to compete with emerging Web-oriented operating systems like Google's Chrome, Ubuntu developers should focus on demonstrating how quickly and simply Web applications can be installed as if they were standalone desktop programs.

One of the things I don't like about Chrome is that it wants to force everything into the browser.  Sometimes I still want the flexibility and discreetness of standalone applications.  Prism is a good compromise between the two extremes.

The fusion of the traditional desktop with services hosted remotely is the future, and Ubuntu's packages for Prism are a great example of how convenient that development can be for users.  But the users need to know about it first.

Discuss this Video 13

animaster (not verified)
on Dec 16, 2009
I'm not supporting any side here, but Chrome also has Prism-like feature. It is located at the menu beside the WRENCH icon and click on Create Application Shortcuts.
Jef Spaleta (not verified)
on Dec 16, 2009
animaster: Yes I expect that as Chrome OS matures, the Create Application Shortcuts in the Chrome browser are going to become more important with a UI redesign to make it more obvious. Chris missed it, so that's a good indication that other casual Chrome users have missed it to.
Chad (not verified)
on Dec 16, 2009
9.10 broke Prism for me. Doesn't work in UNR either. The other problem with Prism is that Noscript or Adblock don't work. I had a windows machine that almost got infected with bad javascript from an ad network that was supplying Slacker Radio with ads
d0od (not verified)
on Dec 16, 2009
I wouldn't exactly say Chrome's webapp feature is badly placed - it's at the top of option icon! It also, imo, works much better than Prism. There are no faffy icons or status bars just width-to-width, height-to-height webapp. Pixlr, google tasks, twittergadget all look divine in it and just like native apps! Changing icons is a cinch, too. With Prism you have to manually replace the icon in /usr/opt/mozilla/prism_XUL (something along those lines, been an age since i used Prism). The best part of using Chrome webapps over Prism is that -ALL- your extensions work in it - adblock, userscripts, the works. Makes for a seamless experience. Prism can support extensions in theory, but all have to manually downloaded, extracted, hacked, repacked and then installed. Much fuss.
Malte (not verified)
on Dec 17, 2009
Can't really see what's wrong with using Firefox and hitting F11 for full screen and prism.
David Sugar (not verified)
on Dec 17, 2009
Prism, at least in Karmic, is partially broke at the moment. While it is possible to change default (and minimal) font settings and sizes in Prism, I find it necessary to do so to be able to see or read. However, these settings are not saved between invocations, making Prism captive web applications a chore to try and use. Prism is not the same as F11 full screen, in that it is a desktop window, just minus all the toolbars and firefox application menu. This could make it ideal in an environment for using pre-bundled web apps on netbooks (for example on Ubuntu UNR), where screen space is limited, especially vertically.
chrisinspace (not verified)
on Dec 17, 2009
I like Prism, but Mozilla needs to pull it out of the lab and give it more attention. It's not always stable and I have come across some quirky bugs. The think I can't understand at all is why you have to hack Prism to make it work with Gears. This would be an ideal pairing and a major selling point if the integration was easy or maybe even default. At that point, your web apps that support Gears would truly become a hybrid of cloud-based and stand-alone.
on Dec 17, 2009
I have to echo the Chrome sentiments. I had been using Prism apps for a long time but Prism has been neglected bu Mozilla. It's a pain to set up, hasn't worked correctly in recent Ubuntu releases, and won't use extensions. Making a "stand alone" web app with Chrome is so much easier, runs so much more smoothly, and uses any applicable extensions already installed in Chrome. Why anyone would "push" Prism now is beyond me.
Jef Spaleta (not verified)
on Dec 17, 2009
scotty: Uhm just because it doesn't work correctly in Ubuntu... doesn't mean Mozilla is neglecting it. Distributors make choices that can impact how an application works. Have you tried the Prism binaries directly from Mozilla? -jef
on Dec 17, 2009
I think that as more and more Apps become WebApps... that this Prism and the WebApp browser window will become more popular. It would be TRIVIAL to great a bunch or Google Short Cut WebApp menu links, pointing to not only Google WebApps, but everything else too... In fact, it would be interesting for someone to collect all WebApps, make a HUGE menu for it, and see just how many WebApps have been made, which can replace ( to some extent ) local installed Apps. Example is Bespin ( a canvas code editing WebApp which you can edit any type of file, with code completetion, syntax highlighting and all that jazz. )
Links 17/12/2009: Many Mint Reviews, MySQL Update | Boycott (not verified)
on Dec 17, 2009
[...] Pushing Prism on Ubuntu One of Ubuntu’s most useful but rarely discussed features is one-click installation of a variety of popular webapps via Mozilla’s Prism. Here’s a look at what Prism can do in Ubuntu, with some thoughts on why Canonical should work harder to push features like this. [...]
Colin Dean (not verified)
on Dec 17, 2009
Prism is great for me on 9.04. I use it for company Zimbra and Meebo, and have used it in past for Gmail and GCal. It's disappointing to hear that it's broken in 9.10. Hopefully it'll be fixed in 10.04. Looks like I'll be trying out Chromium's feature in the meantime.
Turn Websites into Desktop Icons laquo; E-WOT (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2010
[...] can read up about Prism here. It really is a nifty [...]
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