Prism is now Chromeless

Lloyd Hilaiel

The Prism project was launched in 2007 with a primary goal of Integrating Web applications into the User’s desktop experience. The project realized this goal for some prominent applications, and many user contributed bundles have been produced which make it possible to launch popular websites directly from your desktop as separate applications in a distraction free browser window. The Prism project itself, and the ways that it has been applied, have given us deep insights into this void between traditional desktop applications and the Web.

An Evolving Web

Since 2007, however, a lot has changed. Recently, browsers have begun to explore ways to solve a lot of the same problems that Prism set out to solve: specifically, improving the discovery and launch experience of the Web applications that you care about the most. Our own Open Web Apps experiment is a move in this direction, allowing users to install Web Apps for frequently used sites to afford better launch and desktop integration.

In addition to this new notion of Web Apps, we’ve learned a lot about Web extension platforms – ways to safely offer Web code deeper hooks to interact with a user’s desktop. The add-on SDK is one example of our move to use standard Web technologies to rapidly build user facing tools that do more than we can safely allow in webpages. Technically, there are some important innovations present in the add-on SDK which make it easier for developers to use code written by others, and to generate sharable modules themselves.

Finally, Web technologies have come amazingly far in these three years. We now have a usable flex-box layout optimized for interface design, we have native video and audio rendering support, more options for local data storage, 3d acceleration of Web content, and a whole lot more.

The Shoulders of Giants

The Chromeless project was announced in 2010 and was built with the goal of “Making it possible to prototype browser applications in Web technologies”. The project itself is technically very similar to Prism: it is a task focused layer on top of XULRunner (the platform upon which Firefox is built). Chromeless, however, has become a more general project than Prism which may ultimately make it possible to author desktop applications that are indistinguishable from applications written with native technologies.

If Chromeless sounds more ambitious than Prism, that’s because it is. We can afford this ambition given all of the advances discussed above. Chromeless had a huge head start which has made it possible for the project to progress rapidly: the learnings and ideas of the Prism project, the mature Firefox application platform (XULRunner), and the code and rich community behind the add-on SDK project.

The World’s Changed, so Should We!

Given the vibrant community interest in Chromeless and its rapid progress, combined with Open Web Apps and the movement toward built-in browser support for “installable” Web sites, Mozilla Labs has decided to stop maintaining Prism. Instead, we’ll focus this energy into these other two complementary projects.

Obviously the Mozilla community is a much larger force than Mozilla Labs alone, and we encourage interested community members to continue working on whatever projects they feel are most important. At the same time we’d like to ask that you jump on our forums and give us your thoughts on this change.

More than just Browsers

The final change we’re announcing today takes the form of widening of the goal of the Chromeless project, that is specifically, we now want to Make it possible to build desktop applications with Web technologies. This change emphasizes two things: first we’re interested in ultimately building Chromeless into something that can be used to ship real products. Second, we want it to be possible to build standalone desktop applications in addition to browsers.

Thanks for reading, and we eagerly look forward to your continued ideas, and contributions. Stay tuned, as we’ll have some exciting updates in the coming month on the progress we’ve made with Chromeless.

Join the discussion on the Mozilla Labs forum.