Web applications are quickly gaining popularity over desktop programs for day-to-day tasks like email and calendar management, but you have to run a web browser and be tethered to an Internet connection to take advantage of these services. Luckily for you, both Google Chrome and Firefox actually offer the ability to turn these web apps into desktop applications.
Using a Google Labs project called Gears, Chrome has the native ability to create desktop application shortcuts for web apps. This lets you place shortcuts to services like Gmail and Google Calendar on your Desktop, Start Menu, or Quick Launch toolbar. To do this, click the Page Menu icon to the right of your Address Bar in Chrome and select “Create Applications shortcuts…” while you’re on the web app webpage.
Choose the places where you want Chrome to create application shortcuts (Desktop, Start Menu, or Quick Launch bar), and click OK.
A new shortcut will appear for your selected web app. When you open it, Chrome will launch the service in a special window frame that doesn’t display any menus, tabs, or the address bar. Clicking a website link will open the full version of Chrome in a new Window.
Since Chrome has a process manager that runs each window and tab as its own process, windows launched from these application shortcuts act as stand-alone programs in Windows. Functions like Alt-Tab to switch between windows and Ctrl+P to print work perfectly. Unsurprisingly, Google’s own web services have the best compatibility with applications shortcuts, but the feature also works well for other popular web services like Remember the Milk and Zoho.
But even though Chrome’s application shortcuts let you access web apps from the desktop, you still have be connected to the Internet to use most of these services. Gmail and Remember the Milk, however, offer an offline mode that lets you access info while disconnected from the web. You have to manually enable the offline feature, which is still in beta, from the Gmail Labs settings page (https://mail.google.com/mail/#settings/labs). Just click the Enable dialog button to turn this feature on. Gmail will automatically start storing a local cache of your emails on your computer, and sync up any offline activity when it sees that you have an Internet connection.
Like Google, Mozilla has an experimental labs feature that lets you run web applications from your desktop. Prism (originally known as WebRunner) runs as a Firefox extension that works with Firefox 3.0 and newer versions of the browser.
Head over to your favorite web service, such as Evernote or Google Reader. Under the Tools menu, select “Convert Website into Application….” A new window will pop up that lets you configure how the new application shortcut will look and where it will appear.
Double-clicking the new application shortcut will run the service in its own bare-bones window. And like Chrome’s desktop app links, Prism apps will run as separate processes and offer basic desktop integration.