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Use Mozilla Prism to add web apps to your desktop

Mozilla Prism lets you run web apps in their own desktop window allowing a certain degree of freedom compared to running the app in a web browser, while restricting crashes to the app’s window. Follow Sukrit's step-by-step guide to find out just how easy it is…

This article is due to appear in issue 93 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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Prism is an open source project from the Mozilla team that allows you to run web applications in standard windows, just like desktop applications. They get their own icon and can be launched directly from the Ubuntu menu. Application crashes are restricted to the window they are running in. Prism comes in two different flavours: for the desktop and as an extension for Firefox. Let’s take a look at both.

1. What is Mozilla Prism?

Mozilla Prism is what is referred to as a ‘single-site browser’. It is a web browser implementation that allows web applications to be integrated with a traditional desktop and act like native applications. Launching a web app using Prism is done in the same way as launching an application installed on your computer, from the Applications or Start menu. The Prism browser is simplified to not get in the way of the web app. Aside from being able to launch and run popular web applications such as Facebook, Google Analytics, and Google Mail like desktop applications, Prism also allows you to launch websites in a similar manner. Another great thing about Prism is that, like most products that come from the Mozilla team, it is a cross-
platform application that works on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows.

2. Installing Mozilla Prism – the quick way
There are two ways to install Mozilla Prism. If using a distribution such as Ubuntu or Fedora Linux, you should be able to find a ready-to-use binary in the applications repository. You can use a command such as ‘# sudo apt-get install prism’ to install it on Ubuntu Linux. RPM packages for Fedora and other Red Hat-based distributions are available.

3. Installing Mozilla Prism manually
We looked at how easily you can install Mozilla Prism using the package manager that comes with distributions such as Ubuntu Linux. However, there are times when you would rather install applications manually. At the time of writing this article, the latest release of Mozilla Prism was version 1.0, beta 4. You can get it here. Download the file next to the Prism option, not the Firefox plug-in. Once downloaded, you can extract the tar.bz2 compressed archive using the command:

# sudo tar -jxvf prism.1.0b4.en-US.linux-i686.tar.bz2 -C /opt/prism

You can pick a different location than ‘/opt/prism’ if you like. To launch it, execute the command ‘# /opt/prism/prism’.

4. Installing Mozilla Prism apps – the easy way

Distributions such as Ubuntu Linux have had popular web applications such as Facebook and Google Mail bundled with Mozilla Prism in its repositories for a while now. What this means is that you need not bother much about installing Mozilla Prism and then manually installing these web applications; you can simply install the ready-made prism-facebook or prism-google-analytics package and you should be in business. So, to install the Facebook web application on your Ubuntu desktop (Fig 2), all you would have to do is to execute the command ‘# sudo apt-get install prism-facebook’. Simple as that. You can install several other applications in a similar manner. Here’s a list of some of the other web applications packaged with Mozilla Prism that are part of the Ubuntu repositories: prism-google-mail, prism-twitter, prism-google-docs, and prism-google-analytics.

5. Installing Mozilla Prism apps manually

As we mentioned in the previous step, there are a number of popular web applications pre-packaged for you to download and use. However, should you come across a web application that is not available as a ready-made package, Prism allows you to manually install web applications to your desktop. Once you have installed Mozilla Prism, you can launch it from the menu by going to Applications>Internet>Prism. A window will then appear for you to add your new app. You will need to fill out the details of the app you want installed here…

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