Webian Shell: A full screen web browser built on Chromeless

Havi Hoffman

(This is a guest post from Ben Francis, a member of the Mozilla community and a contributor to the Chromeless project.)

Webian Shell 0.1 is a full screen web browser for devices that don’t need a desktop. As of today you can download a prototype built on Mozilla Chromeless which you can try for yourself.

A Graphical Shell for the Web

If you’re anything like me then you’ll find that most of the stuff you do on your PC these days happens in a web browser, and the desktop environment you used to depend on is now just getting in your way. Modern web applications can do just about everything traditional desktop applications can do (like flashy graphics, sound, video and offline storage) so often all you really need is the browser.

The idea of the Webian Shell project is to replace your computer’s interface with something much simpler, which treats web applications as first class citizens and does away with all the un-necessary clutter.

Download the screencast in theora, webm or mp4 formats.

Rapid Prototyping with Mozilla Chromeless

Shell started as a simple design concept with a few static mockups, but when Mozilla Chromeless came along it was suddenly possible to rapidly develop a working prototype using standard web technologies like HTML, CSS and JavaScript. As a member of the wider Mozilla community this was an opportunity I couldn’t resist so I quickly got to work on putting together a prototype using the technologies I already knew from web development.

This initial early release really just gives you a minimalist, full screen, tabbed web browser with a clock and a rather empty looking home screen. I hope this is enough to convey the basic idea behind the project and that with the open source community’s help we can quickly iterate this prototype to encompass lots of exciting ideas about what living on the web could really be like.

Future Directions

These are some of my ideas for future directions to take the prototype, but I’d love to hear your ideas.

  • Home screens – instead of a desktop, Shell could have multiple home screens like you see on mobile devices, but containing web widgets and icons for “installed” web apps. See Mozilla’s Open Web Apps project for some inspiration.
  • Hardware controls – any graphical shell for a hardware device needs the ability to monitor and control hardware for things like sound, network, GPS, battery etc.
  • Zoomable tiled window manager – zoom out to a view of all currently loaded web pages (like Panorama in Firefox or Expose in OS X), then zoom in to the page you want.
  • Split Screen – view two pages side-by-side
  • On-screen keyboard – for touch-screen devices like tablets.

Download the Prototype

You can find out more on the Webian web site or go straight ahead and download and install Webian Shell 0.1 on your Mac, Windows or Linux computer today. I’d really love to hear your feedback!

You can propose ideas, report bugs and ask questions on GetSatisfaction, or join the Google Group to take part in the conversation.

You can also follow Webian on Twitter or Identi.ca, like it on Facebook and check out the channel on YouTube.

Special thanks to Lloyd Hilaiel and Marcio Galli from the Mozilla Chromeless project for all their help getting Webian Shell off the ground.