One of the things I hate is getting into a discussion on another blog and then not being able to get back to it until a few days later (after everyone's moved on). That's what happened here and I wanted to follow up on my own blog rather than toss it into a thread that will never be read again.
The article itself, written by Matthew Gertner of Mozilla Org, was a comparison of what the author calls "Single Site Browsers". A term he defines as...
Single-site browsers (SSBs) aim to bring the best of the desktop to web applications. Rather than running programs in normal web browsers like Firefox or Safari, wedged in a tab between New York Times articles and TechCrunch posts, each app is given its own dedicated browser, which is customized to include many of the desktop features that users know and love. Some of the advantages are obvious. Apps like Gmail and Facebook get an icon in the dock (on Mac) or the taskbar (on Windows) for easy access, and in the case of Gmail the icon can be “badged” with the number of new emails, a popular feature of traditional mail clients. Superfluous elements like the back/forward buttons, generic browser menus and the URL bar can be hidden away, reducing user interface clutter. Other benefits are more subtle. Since each app is running in its own operating system process, for example, a crash in one program won’t bring down your whole browser.
Despite the fact it doesn't seem to fit the description above, the author also includes Google Gears in his comparison.
Now, I don't want to be too rough on the article but, as I saw it, the comparison seemed to go out of its way to omit all features that the Mozilla product doesn't support (e.g. cross browser support, the local storage/offline abilities, etc...) while boosting the meager features of Prism.
So there are really two issues: Mozilla Prism itself and what I feel was clearly FUD on the part of a Mozilla Spokesman.
Mozilla Prism: This is probably where my bias shows because I have to admit to thinking Prism is little more than a joke. It's essentially a pop-up window that you can assign a desktop icon to. Here are the projects stated goals straight from the Mozilla wiki...
- Separate process: When the webapp goes down or locks up, I don’t want anything else affected. Thankfully, Firefox does have session restore, but that is beside the point. When I open many tabs and have several webapps running in a browser, things get slow and unstable after a day or two.
- Minimal UI: A generic browser UI is not needed for webapps. If any UI is present, make it specific to the webapp I am using.
- Basic desktop integration: Create shortcuts to start the webapp, add ability to show specialized icons in the tray or dock and ability to display notifications.
- Platform with extensions: I don’t want to download a full browser runtime for each webapp. I do want to be able to add some custom code/features that are not directly supported in the webapp. I should be able to install one runtime and then get packages or extensions for each webapp. Think Firefox extensions or Greasemonkey scripts. These extensions should be able to tweak the SSB UI as well.
- Open external links in real browser: If I click a link in the webapp that opens a new site, don’t change my webapp browser window. Open all external links in my default/real browser.
Again, not much here. In fact, even if it were more impressive I'd still have serious doubts because I don't think its wise for developers to use technology tailored to one specific browser.
So to me, this is a fun way for users to create browser shortcuts and not much else. It certainly isn't anything in the same league as Google Gears or Adobe AIR.
Mozilla FUD: With apologies to the author who may not have intended it I still think the whole article was straight out of the FUD playbook. Had Microsoft published something similar about Silverlight the blogosphere would be on fire with condemnation.
Take this excerpt...
By integrating Prism into a future version of Firefox, Mozilla could quickly get its technology into the hands of its 150 million users. AIR, on the other hand, has the advantage of using Flash and Flex to add sizzle to web app user interfaces, at the price of requiring potentially significant adaption on the part of the web app developer.
Beyond that both packages would require an upgrade on the user's part (Firefox users would need a new version of Firefox while AIR users would need to upgrade their Flash player to the AIR software). So claiming Prism would "quickly be in the hands of 150 million users" as an advantage over AIR is disingenuous.
The truth is, I can't point to one single advantage that Prism has over Adobe AIR and its one advantage over Gears (the ability to open in a separate windows) is pretty insignificant.
Which is the problem. The Open Source community is terribly insular and they'll shout down anyone who disagrees with them. So opponents don't even bother anymore and that's how products like Prism get through the pipeline without anyone asking what exactly the point of it is. The Techcrunch article sets up a straw man argument that's painfully easy to tear down but since it largely preaches to the open source choir no one really questions it.
(For the record, Mr. Gertner was nothing but accommodating and polite when responding to criticism even if it was just to restate the biased points he'd already made)