Canonical unveils WebApps for Ubuntu

19 Jul 2012

Sites and web services will act more like native apps in next version of Ubuntu

Canonical has unveiled a tool to make web apps and sites behave more like native applications in Ubuntu.

The Ubuntu WebApps feature will "allow applications that normally run in the web browser to have some functionality outside that browser, within the Ubuntu desktop," product manager Pete Goddall told PC Pro.

"It makes it so these applications that were normally confined to the web browser now work much better in the workflow of how people actually use their computers," he said. “It blurs the line between what is a web app and what is a local app."

It blurs the line between what is a web app and what is a local app

To create an app, Ubuntu users need to go to the website of the participating site, and a click a link to add the service. Then, an icon is added in the left-hand launcher; click the icon, and it will either take you to a tab where the site is already running, or open a new browser instance.

Goddall admitted it was "similar" to pinning sites in Internet Explorer 9, but said there are more features in WebApps, calling it "more than just a glorified bookmark".

One major difference is how the WebApps will interact with the OS. For example, once authenticated by the user, Gmail will display notifications in the message centre. Music being played via Last.FM can be managed via the built-in sound menu, while right clicking on an image will include uploading directly to Facebook as an option.

WebApps will also be pulled into the Head Up Display (HUD), a new navigation system that allows users to speak or type a command, rather than dig through menus. That means users will be able to search for apps in the OS, or use shortcuts to launch them - for example, the Alt and + key combination will open Google+.

WebApp Google+

There are already 40 such apps created, including Facebook, Twitter, Last.FM and Gmail, and the API will be open. “We’re publishing along with this an API, so other people are able to create these integration scripts, as well as the site owner,” he explained.

The feature will arrive in Ubuntu 12.10 in October, and will also be released soon as an add-on for 12.04, the long-term support version of the OS.

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