Canonical is talking up a new feature of the Ubuntu 12.10 ('Quantal Quetzal') release that will allow popular web services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail to partly emulate the behaviour of desktop applications.
Called WebApps, the technology offers a way for web services and sites to let Ubuntu Unity users access them direct from the desktop rather than under the browser's control.
This advantage is that popular sites can be launched and controlled without having to add to the tab bloat that afflicts some users, or even the need to launch the browser simply to access a single site.
The core of WebApps is a Firefox browser plug-in for each app for each site or service being integrated with the desktop; Canonical said it had already written the support apps for several dozen of the most widely-used services (ie Gmail, Last.fm, Google Docs, the BBC) but hoped third parties would chip in their own via the open API.
The app itself still runs in the browser but in the preview demo offered by Canonical, appears to be more akin to a conventional application, right down to being launched from the launcher or dashboard.
In the examples offered by Canonical, the Gmail WebApp would be able to alert users when new mail had arrived through Ubuntu's own message system. The technology also made possible credential management so that users of Shotwell could upload images direct to Facebook.
The concept is really the opposite of the once-fashionable view that users should abandon the desktop in favour of the browser. The problem with that philosophy has turned out to be the sheer number of sites a browser is forced to run. In a sense WebApps go a little way to offering the opposite vision.
Users running Ubuntu 12.04 will receive the WebApps as an add-on.