Using web applications in a Ubuntu Desktop

Mozilla Prism is a tool that allows you to run your favourite web based service as if it were a standard desktop application. This article shows you the steps required to get you started.


Email, word processing, photo editing… These all used to be the domain of the desktop, but more and more these services are moving to the web. Working online does have its benefits. You can access you information from any interent enabled device (especially now that handheld devices are supporting technologies like HTML 5 and Flash), the information is easily shared, and you should have a reasonable degree of protection from data loss (assuming the host of the web service has a good backup and disaster recovery system in place).

But a lot of these web based applications don’t really fit within a browser though. Time and time again I see messages like “don’t use your browsers back button”. It can also be hard for some to switch from the desktop, shortcut, window list paradigm to a browser start page, bookmarks and tabs interface.

The Prism addon for Firefox recognises that there are situations where it is preferable to launch and run web applications like a desktop application. This gives you all of the benefits of the web, with the familiarity of the desktop. In this article we will look at the process of launching the Gmail web service from the desktop with Prism.

Step 1

The first step is to install the Prism addon for Firefox (I’ll assume you already have Firefox installed). Just go to this web site and click the Add to Firefox button to install the addon.


Step 2

With the addon installed open up Firefox and open your Gmail account. You can then click Tools -> Convert Website to Application…


Step 3

Most of the fields will be filled out for you.


In my case I wanted to modify the URL slightly (so I didn’t start in the Spam folder). You will also want to tick the option to add an icon to the desktop.


Step 4

When you click the OK button a new item will be added to the desktop called Gmail.desktop. Unfortunately this icon doesn’t work. You will probably get a secuirty warning when it is launched, and it won’t display a nice icon. The easiest way to fix this up is to copy the commands from the desktop file into a new launcher.

Before we do that though, we will need to download an icon for our launcher. Right click on the Gmail webpage and select the View Page Info option.


Then in the Media tab you can save the gmail icon as a PNG file.


Step 5

Right click on the Gmail.desktop file on the desktop and select Properties.


Copy and paste the Command string into a new Launcher. You can also use the PNG icon file you download from the Gmail website.


Step 6

Double click the new launcher. Gmail will pop up (you may need to log in) in a new window that can be used just like it was an ordinary desktop application.



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