Site Specific Browsers For the Win (eg, SSBFTW)

I've written about how much I hate hate web-based applications on this site so much that I don't even want to begin to hunt through the archives to find a representative sample of entries on the topic. But let me summarize.

Browsers, on the whole, well, suck. They hog system resources and they crash a lot, and they have the most ass-backwards feature model I can think of. "My browser lets you install plugins so that you can make it do all the things that I didn't code into it." [1], also did I mention that they crash a lot? [2]

On a more conceptual level: as a class of applications they are inconsistent in their implementation of any number or combination of 3 major different standards (and minor ones I'm sure, but I'm thinking about HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.) They're slow. For most things they require a live internet connection (which is one hell of a dependency for a program if you ask me,) and oh yeah there's like an anti-HIG, so nothing's consistent and there's a huge learning curve where there needn't be.

So with that critique under our belts, it should be said that there are some things which do work best in browsers or browser-like interfaces. Basically programs that rely on the many-interlinked pages mode of the web, or programs that need to visualize data as it changes in real time. Wikis, are a great example of this and they don't really work inside of desktop apps anyway. I mean, I'm not opposed to the internet, or the web, but I want my applications and my work to happen in different kinds of software/environments as a general rule. And the truth of the matter is that there are times when web-based applications are worth using.

Enter site specific browsers (SSB) like [3]. Here's the problem: you have a few web apps that you use a lot, you want your apps to be sandboxed [4] but can't/won't use google chrome, and you don't really need or want all of the browser-centric interface crap. SSBs basically raise a website to the level of an application just like all your other applications. And it's sandboxed. Besides finding alternatives to web-based applications, this is totally the best option around. Fluid has a lot of nifty features like control over what kind of URLs it'll open or send to your browser, and what it does when you "close" a window, and special/custom key commands, and so forth.

What this means in practice: All of the websites that I used to habitually keep open in my browser? They have their own "apps," now, and I sometimes (shh!) close my web browser (which helps the browser run better, which is crazy when you think about it.) It also means that I can use tabs more efficiently, and reference documents don't get lost. It's a great thing. Try it out, it's all free in some sense.

Here's the tycho-style second hack, particularly for laptop users: install a web-server and run as much of the the web-based software as you can locally. Need access to a personal wiki? Run it locally, and then you always have access to it, even when the wireless flakes out. I mean clearly if you want to have a "live journal app"/SSB, this won't work, but in some cases it strikes me as both possible and highly preferable.

That's it, though I can't deside of SSBs are stopgaps until the web 4.0 or 5.0, where the revolution is about great syncing and sturdy clients that run on your local machines and on your virtualized cloud computers.

Oh and, DNIs while we're at it. That'd be awesome, well the open-source second generation DNIs. No one's putting proprietary 1.0 or beta grade hardware in my head, thankyouverymuch.

[1]Admittedly I'm not opposed to the plugin model, and there are a lot of Firefox plugins that I lust after, but the truth is that Firefox--because of plugins--runs interminably slower than it really should, which brings us back to the notion of, if the browser could do it from the beginning without the plugins...
[2]So much that most good browsers now have a "when I crash, I'll save your state as best I can, so you only have to wait a long time and almost be back where you were before I panicked." Remember how many years it took them to think of that? Imagine if other programing environments or operating systems did that. Google Chrome fixes this by sand-boxing each web page instance, (good going), but really now. Geeze. Also a word here about Chrome: I can't wait to be able to use it when they release it for OS X (and Linux). The sand-boxing is cool, the speedyness, the good UI (Did Alcor have something to do with that?), the fact that it's likely to be about as open source as Mozilla/WebKit in the end? A win. But anyway, If browsers are what amounts to a runtime, or programing environment, then they are in no way stable enough. If they're just remote file viewers, it'd be fine, but they're not. Not anymore.
[3]I like this one, it's free as in beer, but not speech, and is mostly a wrapper around WebKit/safari, which is... free-ish. Again, not with the caring. If you're not a Mac user, check out Mozillia Prisim, which is a firefox offshoot/plugin that does a very similar thing.
[4]Wow, this is going to be the post with all the footnotes. I also realized that I've used this term a lot without subtitling it properly. Ideally applications don't crash, but if/when they do, you don't want them to crash your entire system. And this is true of different programs, largely, but if an application is host to another group of applications/processes (like multiple windows/tabs, for instance,) you don't want what you do in window 2 tab 14 to affect (ie. end) what's happening in window 3 tab 6, or any other tab/window. Except that in the browser world, this happens all the time.
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