In a world where applications are increasingly delivered in cloud-based models, the line between native desktop and Web-based apps is blurring.
Ubuntu Linux vendor Canonical aims to blur the line even further with a new initiative called Ubuntu WebApps. The basic idea is to enable Web applications to interact with the desktop and its related services in the same manner that native desktop applications can.
Native Desktop Experience on the Web
Pete Goodall, product manager at Canonical, explained that WebApps is a set of technologies that are being integrated into Ubuntu, one of the leading Linux distributions, to facilitate a native desktop experience. For example, the widely-used Gmail email client can be a WebApp, providing integrated desktop notification and easier startups.
The WebApps system is also integrated with the Ubuntu HUD system or (Heads Up Display), which enables users to perform application activities across the desktop though a simple command interface. In the Gmail example, simply typing "compose email" with WebApps will pull up the Gmail interface ready to compose a new email.
From the Web application side, there is an integration script that that website needs to add. When Ubuntu users visit an application site that has that script, they will be prompted to install the WebApp.
A Little Web Apps History
The basic idea to enable Web applications to run on a desktop is not a new one. Back in 2007, browser vendor Mozilla started an effort called Prism that enabled websites outside of the confines of a traditional browser interface. Mozilla abandoned Prism in 2011.
Goodall stressed that WebApps goes beyond what Mozilla attempted with Prism, delivering a more seamless native desktop experience for Web applications. However, like Prism WebApps leverages the browser under the hood, albeit in a more integrated way with the desktop.
Going a step further, the plan is to enable users to find and install applications via the Ubuntu Software Center, an app store for Ubuntu applications. The new WebApps capabilities are expected to be formally included in the Ubuntu 12.10 Linux release due in October of this year. Developers and early adopters will get an early sneak peek in the coming days.