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Mozilla Labs Updates Prism Prototype

Prism aims to provide a way for online applications to work outside of the normal browser window, using a subset of browser infrastructure.

Mozilla Labs has released an updated prototype of its forthcoming Web-to-desktop application technology called Prism.

Prism aims to provide a way for online applications to work outside of the normal browser window, using a subset of browser infrastructure. Eventually, it will be extended to include offline functionality, along with Mozilla's Firefox.

"We believe that the Web is a powerful platform for innovation, and our goal with Prism is to drive the development of enhancements to that platform that bring the advantages of desktop apps to the Web," said developer Mark Finkle in a blog post. "To that end, Prism is not a new platform or product but rather a vehicle for Mozilla Labs to experiment with new technologies to extend the capabilities of the Open Web."

Prism's developers see themselves competing with Adobe Air and Microsoft Silverlight. In a blog post last October, when Prism debuted, Prism's developers dismissed Air and Silverlight as proprietary platforms that aren't open.

Adobe's Mike Chambers however took issue with that characterization. "So, I guess the thing I found odd was Mozilla appears to be building something very similar to Adobe Air (which is fine and cool), but somehow it is inherently good when Mozilla does it, and inherently evil when Adobe does it," he said in a blog post, adding that Adobe is an active supporter of open source, Web standards, and Mozilla.

Last week's update offers Prism as a Firefox 3 extension. Users of the extension can turn a Web site into a desktop application of sorts using the Convert Website to Application command.

At least that's the theory. In practice, Prism remains a work in progress. A number of posts on the Mozilla Labs discussion forum describe problems with the extension, as might be expected with prototype software.

At the moment, when it works, Prism doesn't so much create a standalone, offline-capable application as create a shortcut to a Web site that runs in its own window, without the overhead of the full Firefox browser. Still, it's an interesting exploration of what future online applications may look like.

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