WebRunner has been replaced with Mozilla Prism. New post is available.

Web applications, or web apps, have become very popular due to the ubiquity of web browsers and fast internet connections. The disadvantage of web apps is they run in a web browser, which means that they’re not integrated into your desktop. Web apps don’t look like normal offline apps, and the web browser’s interface can distract from the application running it it.

Mozilla is addressing these problems with a new web browser, similar to Firefox, called WebRunner. WebRunner is designed exclusively for running web apps. Its main feature is the lack of the traditional web browser interface. With WebRunner, you can launch and use web apps like normal computer applications.

Take a look at Google Docs, a word processor web app, running in WebRunner:

WebRunner and Google Docs

WebRunner provides a couple advantages over a normal browser for running web apps:

  • Separate processes
    Crash a web app running in WebRunner, and the only thing affected is the web app. Contrast this with Firefox which uses a single process, a crash crashes all windows and tabs.
  • Minimal UI
    Don’t be distracted by unnecessary UI controls, or other browsing tabs.
  • Desktop integration
    Launch web apps from an application menu or shortcut. Each app appears in the window list and task switcher.
  • Open external links in the real browser
    Use WebRunner for running the app, and keep browsing in a full browser.
  • Native UI widgets
    To help web apps fit in, native UI widgets (buttons, text boxes) are used by default.

Interested in trying WebRunner? It’s is cross-platform, and runs on Linux, Windows, and OS X. Now I will explain setting it up in Ubuntu, but this process should work in most Linux distributions.

  1. Start by downloading the latest version of WebRunner for Linux from Mozilla.
  2. Double click on the downloaded archive to open it in Archive Manager.
  3. Extract the webrunner directory to the location you want to run it from. You may want to put it in /opt (optional application software packages). Doing this requires root privileges, open a privileged nautilus file browser by running sudo nautilus in a terminal. Then you can paste the directory into /opt.
  4. Test out WebRunner by running it. Assuming you installed it to /opt, use this command:


    You should see the Welcome to WebRunner page open, it has been successfully installed.
    WebRunner Welcome

  5. To run a web app, use the uri option on the terminal like this (but change the directory if you did not put WebRunner in /opt):

    /opt/webrunner/webrunner -uri http://docs.google.com

    You can specify any address to run as an web app.

I would recommend creating menu entries for launching web applications. To create a menu entry, open the Main Menu editor in System->Preferences. Select the menu you want to place the new item in and click the New Item button. Choose the name, and enter the WebRunner command that you want executed when you run the item.

WebRunner Menu Item for Google Docs

Now you can run your favorite web apps integrated and seamlessly on your Ubuntu desktop. Thanks to Mozilla for such a cool platform for running web apps.

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