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 Post subject: [One] Tutorial: Prism
PostPosted: Thu May 20, 2010 8:22 pm 
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Joined: Thu May 20, 2010 8:56 am
Posts: 2132
Class: Prism tutorial
Difficulty: Some text configuration file editing (optional).
Time: A few minutes for each app
Desirability: Convenience and efficiency: Installs webapps as though they were desktop apps, improving desktop integration and reducing overhead


This tutorial describes the use of Prism on Peppermint OS.

Removal of the default Prism apps has been described here, and removal of user created Prism apps has been described here. This tutorial briefly explains what Prism is, the default apps included by default on Peppermint OS, and how to create Prism apps.

Sources used are the official Peppermint OS FAQ/Support page and Mozilla Labs' Prism pages.

Note that the tilde character in code boxes (~) means the user's home directory.


Peppermint OS wrote:
Prism allows you to launch and operate web and cloud based applications as if they were actually installed as desktop programs.

Mozilla Labs wrote:
Prism is a standalone application and Firefox add-on that lets users split Web applications out of their browser and run them directly on their desktop.

Essentially Prism apps are similar in nature to regular browser bookmarks, but are truly intended for specific use with web applications. That is, they are intended to be used with sites offering some kind of software functionality, for example Google Apps (gmail, docs, buzz), webmail, social networking sites, media streaming sites, file sharing and picture editing sites.

They offer significant advantages in terms of desktop integration and therefore convenience and stability:

  • Access web apps from the taskbar
  • Associate applications with browser links
    • This one deserves a bit of explanation. Let's assume that we only use webmail for emailing. Let's posit that we click on a mailto: link which wants to launch an email application. Normally, being webmail users, we'd need to manually copy and paste the email address embedded in the mailto: link to our webmail. By creating a Prism app for our webmail app, we can now associate mailto: links with that Prism app. Hey presto, mailto: works for us too, and is no longer exclusive to local mail client users.
  • Rock solid web app stability
    • Prism apps run independently of Firefox, reducing browser load and ensuring that if the browser or any one app becomes unstable, it doesn't affect any of the others.
  • Run applications automatically when your computer starts

A huge advantage not mentioned by the Prism team will be very clear to netbook or users of older computers - there is no need to install large and resource hungry applications locally if a cloud application exists with the functionality the user needs. For example, using Google Docs is, for many, a nice alternative to the feature-rich but very heavyweight Pixlr is a nice alternative to the GIMP, which many find too complex an application to use just for cropping and red eye removal.

Of course, Peppermint OS offers users the choice of taking advantage of a web application or installing a traditional software package locally. Prism apps are not intended to replace apps available from the repositories using the software manager. They are there as an exciting new and useful alternative.

Example Prism apps included by default on Peppermint OS

  • Pixlr - Image and photo editor
  • Facebook
  • Seesmic - Twitter client
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Docs
  • Google Mail
  • Google Reader - news feed aggregation
Sound and Video
  • Hulu - Streaming TV and films (functional in the USA)
  • - Internet radio
  • Pandora - Internet radio
  • Cloud Player - Cloud based music player
  • Youtube

Note that, depending on where a user lives, not all of these services might be available to them. For example, Hulu only streams media to the USA, and Youtube may not be available in certain countries. This is the business of the website in question and International legal issues, and is not a fault with Prism. The default set of Prism apps included are for demonstration purposes, and may be removed at will.

Creating new Prism apps

Prism apps may also be created. As a first example, let's take a very useful website for posting code when needing technical support, Pastebin. The following steps will create a Pastebin "app" on the desktop, meaning that rather than navigate to the site on a web browser each time, it will be available and ready to rock in just a couple of clicks.

For this site let's use the Firefox extension method.

  1. Open Firefox if it isn't already open, or open a new tab and navigate to
  2. Look in the Tools menu for "Convert website to application" and select it
  3. There are a few options which the user is welcome to check, but for Pastebin I'd just go for making the created app appear on the desktop. (The user must check one option for where to put a shortcut).

There are a couple of problems with this method. The Prism extension tries to use the website's favicon (the small icon which appears in the url bar of Firefox) as the desktop icon, but this does not appear to be fully compatible with lxde yet.

This can be fixed with the following steps:

  1. Open file manager and navigate to

    (where the tilde symbol means the user's home directory) and copy the webapp.png. Navigate to

    and paste the icon there. Additionally, rename it, to pastebin.png for example. Webapp.png is not optimally descriptive.
  2. Navigate to

    and open the .desktop file there with leafpad by right-clicking the icon and selecting that option.
  3. Edit the line beginning

    to read simply

    or whatever was chosen as the icon's name in /usr/share/pixmap, omitting the .png file extension.

The icon should refresh itself automatically.

Alternatively, the user is free to select an icon from the the /usr/share/pixmaps folder for the app during creation. This should not require any further configuration.

A second issue with this method is that it does not add the newly created app to the main menu. Here's one method of resolving this, if desired.

  1. Edit the pastebin.desktop file and edit the Categories line to read:
  2. Copy the file in File Manager and navigate to
  3. Paste the pastebin.desktop file there

All done!

Let's try another, this time using the Prism application which is found in the Internet submenu. This time we'll have some fun, because we deserve it, and add the Adult Swim games site to our collection (by all means choose another site if Adult Swim is not to your tastes!)

Open the Prism application. I set mine to the following settings:


Note that I chose to download the icon.

As expected, the launcher appears in the Games submenu.

The disadvantage with this route is that a desktop icon is not automatically created. This is quite straightforward to resolve, though, if desired.

    Using File Manager, navigate to

  1. Copy the Adult Swim Games.desktop file
  2. Navigate to
  3. Paste the .desktop file there

And to fix the icon:

  1. Navigate to
  2. Copy the webapp.png there
  3. Navigate to
  4. Paste it there. Furthermore, rename it, for example to adultSwimGames.png. Webapp.png is not optimally descriptive.
  5. Open
    ~/Desktop/Adult Swim Games.desktop

    in leafpad.
  6. Edit the line beginning

    to read

Comparison of the two methods

The Firefox extension provides a "quick and dirty" method of adding a Prism app on the fly, but requires a bit more work to fix icons and main menu entries. The standalone Prism app doesn't install a desktop icon by default, but is somewhat cleaner and gives the user more initial control over where the application will be available from in the main menu.

The uses Prism can be put to are limited only by the number of webapps out there, which is a lot. Users are cordially invited to have fun with this, and encouraged to post any interesting webapps other users of Peppermint OS might be interested in to the appropriate forum.



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