A Web App Wrapper or “Why are Web Applications Less Likeable Than Native Applications – Still?”

In between for something completely different.

I use web apps in my daily work. Heavily, if not mostly – except maybe my IDE and the occasional MS Office session. But for reasons that I find not obvious, they are still not on par with native apps. This is not due to lack of responsiveness or desktop integration. There is very little in terms of user experience where web apps that I use lack. And still – if available I’d rather chose the native alternative. So…

Why is it that web apps are still not as “likeable” as native apps?

A few weeks ago mozilla thunderbird, the friendly companion of many years, finally became unusably slow for me. As MS Outlook is no option for me I started looking for an alternative that would be fast at startup and while flipping and searching through mail, would run on Linux, AND has a well-working calendar integration. There are numerous promising candidates for the first two requirements. But, strangely enough, it seems that calendar support is a tough problem.

But then, my e-mail as well as my calendar is perfectly accessible via a Web interface. It is just that I do not use it that much – although it is fast, responsive, usable the same on all machines, and obviously OS-independent (and was made by Google). Duh!

So why not use that instead of a dedicated native client?

Turns out what really turns me off is that the Web client exposes you to a through and through fleeting user experience:

  • As your desktop gets cluttered with open browser tabs, usually the sensible way out is to close them all. Your important stuff got closed as well.
  • You are using multiple users but your browser only manages one session at a time
  • You want to have the right stuff opened at startup – not nothing, not what happened to be open last time – and you want to have multiple such configurations.

None of this seems unreasonable. And yet I have not found anything that does just that for me.

Ta da!

As a conclusion I looked into “how to wrap my favorite web apps into a native application”. Not for the first time – but this time with the necessary frustration to see it through. Such a “wrapper” should fix the problems above and other do absolutely nothing beyond the absolutely required. Here is the result:

https://github.com/ZFabrik/z-front-side

How does it work?

It is based on electron – that is: It is essentially a scripted chrome browser. And it is very basic and does very little beyond showing a few site-buttons, preloading some of them (always the same) and can be loaded several times for different “partitions” – which implements the multi-session capability.

I have been using it with two different configurations (shared on all machines) and two partitions (private/work), for a few weeks now and finally feel like the five to ten Web apps I use all the time, every day, feel completely integrated with the overall desktop experience – just like any other native application.

Feel free to use, enhance, copy whatever.

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