I have developed rich web based applications since 1999. The first web apps ran solely on Internet Explorer, as it was the most advanced browser with features such as DHTML, iframe and later years the XML Http Request object.
Third party proprietary runtimes has outplayed it’s role. While Flash has been a great productivity tool and given us real multimedia features in the browser, HTML 5 has matured enough to take over that space. Silverlight by Microsoft had a short life, but is still the primary runtime for apps on Windows Phone.
Enter Packaged Apps
The basic concept of packaged apps, is that they are regular web apps but additionally includes an application manifest file that defines features such as app name and app icons. These are often in JSON or XML format. W3C has a Packaged Web Apps specification in recommendation state as of november 2012.
As you install one of these apps, they can launch in their own separate window outside of the browser. Depending on the browser, apps can be installed directly from a web site, or through a marketplace/app store.
While there are others, these are the two biggest browsers and their accompanied stores. One other example I would like to show, is Pokki, which I personally use.
While FireFox Marketplace can be installed and launched from the desktop, it appears their main strategy is a marketplace of HTML 5 apps and games that will be compatible with the coming mobile devices running FireFox OS. There is even an FireFox OS simulator you can install on FireFox.
The feature sets are different. Google Chrome used to allow you to create desktop shortcuts, but that feature has been removed (or hidden from me) when Chrome (development branch) was updated with the new app launcher. In my example screenshot, I have an shortcut to SkyDrive that was created before the new launcher arrived.
First screenshot shows the Firefox Marketplace opened on a regular FireFox instance. On the desktop, I have three web apps that has been installed on my computer. The top most window, is the Pulse app running in a separate window.
In this second screenshot, you can see the old SkyDrive desktop icon that launches the Microsoft SkyDrive web app in a separate window. The top most window, is the new app launcher in Google Chrome. You can right-click on the apps to set options on how to launch the various apps. As you can see on the left, I have launched the Kindle Reader web app in another separate window.
Why consider packaged web apps?
If you are afraid of change and want a stable foundation to build your apps and games on, you should consider something other than web technologies as of today. If you embrace this change and innovation, you can reap the benefits of learning these technologies early. Being early adopter always comes at a cost, but HTML 5 and packaged web apps is already starting to gain traction.
I’m working on multiple packaged web apps that will be released this and next year. Please feel free to contact me for any questions and help.
Here follows some more links to learn more about packaged web apps and how you can get started developing these on your own.