Fluid and Prism - Site Specific Browsers Are Awesome
At my recommendation, my company started using Campfire by the awesome guys at 37signals. In case you don't know what Campfire is yet, it's a site where groups of people can chat, upload files, share code and many other collaborative activities. I recommended Campfire because I think this is just what our company needed during this time where we have testers who are in other cities. It's my first time using Campfire in a business environment, and hopefully it all works out well.
One of the things that initially worried me about Campfire is that being a web-based app, it would be difficult to know when there was any activity on the site. The good thing is that Campfire has an audio alert, a pleasant beep, that alerts me whenever someone wrote something in the chat rooms I'm at, along with changing the title of the page so that I can spot it in my open tabs. However, I'm guessing that I'm not the only web developer who has a myriad of tabs open at any given moment. Site testing, analytics, API specs, build/test results Google - All of them usually occupy a space in my browser. Adding Campfire would mean that it would get lost in a sea of tabulated titles.
After seeing this could be a problem, I immediately thought of Fluid, which I had used previously. Fluid is a browser of sorts. However, instead of being just another browser, Fluid allows you to create an app that's site-specific, so your web-based apps will act like an independent desktop application, separate from whatever you have in your browser. It's perfect for those sites which you constantly have open, such as web-based E-Mail like Gmail, social networking sites like Facebook, and, as in my new-found case, chats like Campfire. It will also alert you whenever there's a change in the site you're visiting, right on the application icon in the dock. So, as an example, if you're using Gmail, you'll see new mail notifications in the dock, instead of needing to open the app window. It's pretty neat and convenient.
I was happy that I found a solution. One ceveat, though: Fluid is a Mac-only app, and I use Linux at work (at least until the bosses buy souped-up Macbook Pros for their developers... I can dream, can't I?). So I was bummed out again. Then I remembered that Mozilla was developing an app with a similar concept, called Prism. The functionality is virtually the same: You set up a site to be run as a desktop app, making it totally independent from your regular browser.
Seeing that Prism is in the Mozilla Labs, I didn't expect much of it. However, it works great on my Linux laptop under Ubuntu 8.04. I was able to create a Campfire app and add it to the desktop with ease. It never crashed on me or gave me any problems during the entire afternoon I was using it. Granted, there wasn't much activity going on in the chat rooms at the time, but everything worked as if I were working on Firefox.
With more and more web-based apps taking up the majority of our time in front of a computer, I think these applications will be more widely used in the near future. You can already see some sites adopting it, even including icons for your usage of the desktop, like GitHub and 37signals. There's even a Flickr group adding more and more site icons every day. If you haven't checked out either of these apps, you should check them out now.