Ubuntu Turns Websites Into WebApps

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The WebApps feature, coming in Ubuntu Linux 12.10, will allow web services such as Gmail and Facebook to run as separate applications integrated with desktop services

Canonical has developed a feature for Ubuntu Linux allowing it to run web pages as though they were desktop applications, something the company calls Ubuntu WebApps.

The feature, announced at the O’Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON) in Portland, Oregon this week, is a further step towards integrating web services into the desktop, something companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft have pursued with initiatives of their own.

Desktop integration

Users will be able to navigate to WebApps using Ubuntu tools such as the Ubuntu launcher or the Heads-Up Display (HUD) interface, instead of searching through browser tabs, Canonical said.

WebApps will be connected to the same desktops services as standard applications. This will allow web-based mail to show up in Ubuntu’s message indicator or Last.fm’s volume to be controlled from Ubuntu’s sound menu.

Canonical said it has developed about 40 WebApp versions of popular web services so far, including versions of Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, Google+ and Gmail.

The technology is to be integrated into Ubuntu’s 12.10 release, code-named “Quantal Quetzal”, and Canonical said it will also be making the feature available for Ubuntu 12.04 users in the next few days. The WebApps code will be made available on the Canonical Launchpad project management service.

The technology draws on a Mozilla Firefox plug-in that allows any web page to be rendered outside the browser as a WebApp, Canonical said. The company is releasing an application programming interface (API) and integration script engine for users or developers who want to make a WebApp out of a website. WebApps will only run on Ubuntu’s Unity desktop interface.

Cloud connection

Websites that already have a WebApp version will prompt users to install it from the Ubuntu Software Centre, Canonical said.

Canonical has already integrated the Ubuntu One personal cloud service into Ubuntu, offering features such as file storage and synchronisation and streaming audio from the cloud to mobile devices. Ubuntu One is similar to Apple’s iCloud, which Apple announced in June 2011, and which is integrated into Mac OS X and iOS. Microsoft is also putting a lot of effort into integrating its web services into the upcoming Windows 8 operating system, due for general availability on 26 October.

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