You’re probably already familiar with Adobe AIR. In case you’re not, here’s how Adobe describes AIR:
The Adobe® AIR® runtime lets developers use proven web technologies to build rich Internet applications that run outside the browser on multiple operating systems
Unfortunately, there are a few problems with AIR:
- Like Flash, it’s a resource hog (on Macs, especially)
- It’s installed software which means it needs frequent updates (both the apps themselves and the AIR runtime)
- It’s proprietary
The Site-specific Browser as an AIR Alternative
If you’re a Mac user, you may already be familiar with Fluid. Simply provide it with a URL and it will create a site-specific browser.
Below you can see how Fluid has created a sort of “headless browser” for running Gmail. It’s the same Gmail I access in my browser, but now it looks like an app. No URL bar, bookmarks, etc. Just an app window and the Web page.
Fluid application tiles even support badges, so I know how many unread messages I have (far too many, in this example).
Of course, there are big advantages for the app developers themselves. Everyone who downloads their app automatically gets a modern, HTML5 compliant web browser by default. They don’t have to port their traditional Web app to Flash just to get an application on the desktop. And if they’ve built the app in HTML5, they even get the offline functionality that many companies now rely on AIR to deliver.
This solution is obviously not for everyone and it doesn’t provide all of the features you get from AIR apps (e.g. toaster alerts), but it does offer a very lightweight solution for web app developers who don’t want to port their traditional apps to Flash.