Getting More from Firefox, from Chrome

Back in January, I wrote a column, “I want more from Firefox,” in which I described how my growing affection for Web applications was coming into conflict with my growing impatience with the immaturity of Web browsers as application hosts.

Isolation between the Web pages or apps running atop my browser is what I sought from Firefox, for the purposes both of security and of reliability. Shortly after I wrote this column, I managed to achieve a measure of the isolation I sought by taking to running Gmail under Prism, a Mozilla Labs project for running individual Web apps in their own processes.

Better, but still not good enough…

Back in January, I wrote a column, “I want more from Firefox,” in which I described how my growing affection for Web applications was coming into conflict with my growing impatience with the immaturity of Web browsers as application hosts.

Isolation between the Web pages or apps running atop my browser is what I sought from Firefox, for the purposes both of security and of reliability. Shortly after I wrote this column, I managed to achieve a measure of the isolation I sought by taking to running Gmail under Prism, a Mozilla Labs project for running individual Web apps in their own processes.

Prism ensures that runaway Flash ads and required browser restarts won’t disrupt my email and instant messaging, and as a bonus, it’s done a good job keeping my webmail sessions and those of my wife’s separate on our shared home computer.

I tried to effect some further isolation through Novell’s AppArmor security software (which now ships along with Ubuntu), but Prism proved too challenging a target for my limited profile-building prowess. Here’s hoping that sandboxing Firefox or Prism with AppArmor becomes a priority for Novell or Canonical in a future release.

I also flirted for a time with the NoScript extension for Firefox, which presents users with a dizzying array of Javascript trust choices to make, constantly, while they browse the Web. While I don’t doubt that in the right hands, NoScript can deliver safer browsing by preventing the scripts of evil-doers from running, I found the stream of script policy-making decisions too taxing, and I disabled the extension.

Now it’s nine months later, and judging from roadmaps studded with nuggets like Firefox’s Ubiquity and Internet Explorer’s Web Slices, it seems that the industry’s major browser purveyors are more focused on mashing up separate sites than on keeping them isolated from each other.

And yet, more or less everything I asked for back at the beginning of the year has been delivered, not by Firefox, but by the firm that builds the apps that prompted me to want more from my Web browser in the first place–Google.

I read Google’s introductory Chrome comic book with choir-like head nodding. The new browser may not take on all the use cases at which Internet Explorer and Firefox are aimed, but the project’s focus on delivering for Web browsers the sort of application-hosting maturity that NT brought to Windows and OS X brought to the Mac is just what the Web application space needs.

What’s more, Google’s decision to release their work under an open source license permissive enough for even Microsoft to adopt should create a app-hosting tide to raise all our Web-faring ships. At least, I hope so, since Google’s Chrome is for now a Windows-only affair.