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The Benefits Of Using Firefox Prism: Creating Cool And Useful Web Apps

Updated on May 19, 2011

Once available as an extension, now Prism comes standard with Firefox 3.6 and above. What exactly is Prism and how does it help you? Formally known as WebRunner, Prism was developed by Mozilla Labs based on a concept called Site Specific Browsers (SSB). Basically, this turns websites into apps. What is the point of turning websites into apps? Why would you want to do this? It may seem pointless but the idea of turning websites into apps is very useful. Not only does this process help reduce distractions, but it also keeps your tasks organized. Using Prism can also save you time. One thing I've discovered while using Prism is not only can you use it for SSB, you can also use Prism for what I call, Account Specific Browsers (ASB).


Prism does something really cool. Prism can save passwords and cookies within themselves.

Creating A Prism Web App

Let's take a look at ASB and explain it in detail. Most people like myself, have multiple email accounts. For instance, I have a main Gmail account that I use for important stuff and a junk email account that I use for garbage. Some people have a work email and a personal email. Let's make some Prisms web apps. I am running Ubuntu but it will be mostly the same on Windows and Mac.

  1. Open Firefox.

  2. Go to Tools > Convert Website to Application...

  3. In the URL field, enter “

  4. In the name field, enter whatever you wish. For this example, I put “Primary Gmail”

  5. The next 3 check-boxes are optional. Check them as you wish. For a clean minimalistic Prism, leave them all unchecked.

  6. In “Create Shortcuts”, you have to check “Desktop”

  7. For “Icon”, you can select “Use image from web” or “Choose image...”. I use the default Gmail image from web.

  8. Click “OK”

  9. The icon should appear on your desktop.

For Ubuntu users, there is 1 more step.

  • Allow execution by right-clicking the icon, go to “permissions” and check “Allow executing file as program”. Click “Close”

Open the Prism web app and log in. Enter your username and password. Check “stay signed in” if you wish. There you have it! A Prism web app. Make another Prism web app with the directions above. Rename it “Secondary Gmail” or whatever you like. You can have both Prism web apps running at the same time! This means no more needing to log in or log out just to juggle your email accounts. You can use Prism web apps. They store passwords within themselves! Want to delete Prisms? Just delete the link. These are web apps. No need to go through “add/remove programs”.

I like to keep my desktop clutter-free. On Ubuntu, I sort my Prisms into my “Applications” menu. Simply right-click “Applications” and click “Edit Menus”. Then drag and drop your Prism links wherever you want. If you have Gnome-do installed, restart it and Gnome-do will recognize these Prisms as apps. Type “Pri” and my Primary Gmail Prism pops up.

What else do I use Prism for? Bills. I pay my cell phone bill online and I Prism the Sprint website. I also use it for online banking. It's easier to open a Bank Of America Prism than to view it with Firefox. Another thing I like about using Prism is priority. For example, when I used to check my Bank account online, I would leave the tab running while I do something else. Although Bank Of America has a timeout that will log you off after a certain time, I like to use Prism so I stay focused on it. It is easier to remember to close a Prism web app than to close a tab. That way, I stay more focused. You can also use Prism for many of Google's services including Reader, Adsense, Analytics, Calender, and Docs. Another popular usefulness of Prism is using it for social networking like Twitter and Facebook.

My Primary, secondary, and Padora opened in Prism.
My Primary, secondary, and Padora opened in Prism.

Most people like to use a stand-alone program to play music such as iTunes. As far as Prism is concerned, I make Pandora Radio into a Prism web app so it acts like a stand-alone music player. Anytime I want to listen to music, I can just open my Pandora Prism. This is especially useful because sometimes, I just want to have a clear desktop and relax to some music. I hate leaving Firefox opened just to have Pandora playing and I don't want to close other tabs because I like Firefox to remember them. Now I can close Firefox and keep my tabs remembered while I listen to streaming Internet radio.

The usefulness is endless. Firefox is an excellent browser but sometimes, all the addons and themes can be a distraction. Having the option to make web apps is a great idea. Not only does it reduce screen clutter, but it can also keep you focused on your tasks. After using Firefox for years, I look back at all the time I've wasted jumping through different tabs. I have YouTube on one tab and a Google search on another. An Amazon and an eBay tab opened. Next thing you know, there are so many tabs opened, I have to cycle through them just to get to Pandora or Gmail. The important tabs gets lost with the garbage.

A Diamond In The Rough?

Prism is not perfect. There are still some bugs. For example, if you try to make a web app, sometimes it will return an error saying that it cannot convert an icon. It will then revert to the default icon. Extensions currently do not work with Prism. This means all you ad-hating folks like me won't be able to use Adblock Plus. Prism is a work in progress. There are stuff Mozilla Labs are looking to implement into Prism including extensions. The goals of Prism is to separate processes, keep a minimalistic UI, give basic desktop integration with shortcuts, make it a platform with extensions, and open external links in a new browser. This keeps the Prism web app from losing its purpose. For example, a Gmail Prism will open new links in a new browser window instead of navigating away from Gmail. This means your Gmail Prism will remain focused on being a Prism app and not just a browser window that ends up navigating to the depths of the web. If it's a Gmail Prism, it will remain a Gmail Prism.

Final Thoughts

What's great about Prism is its potential. It is not limited to API's. You don't have to wait for Yahoo!, Google, or Facebook to release API's that most applications require. There is nothing to install/uninstall. They are, in essence, shortcuts. Want to delete a Prism web app? Delete the shortcut. It's that simple. No more running spyware/virus scanner just to make sure you got rid of all the garbage from a third party program. I can't wait to see how Prism evolves. I hope they stay true to their goals and keep it simple. Bells and whistles have their place. That's the appeal of Prism. They keep it simple. Thanks for reading.


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      Jem Jem 6 years ago

      Nice article. Prism is really very good for creating standalone web apps. I have been using it 3 years and it also stores http passwords.