Mozilla Labs Chromeless has now reached version 0.2 which brings lots of new features. Will it succeed in letting the web onto the desktop?
We reported on Chromeless 0.1 at the end of 2010 and now we have version 0.2 which marks a big upgrade in the project. Chromeless is a project aimed to make use of the operating environment provided by the Firefox rendering engine. This was something that has always been possible but it involved using a technology called XUL (pronounced ZUUL) and other arcane frameworks.
Now Chromeless aims to take the rough edges off the environment and present it in a form that any web programmer can use. In short, if you can create a web page then you should be able to use Chromeless to create a desktop app.
Also important it the ability to package your newly created app so that it is simple to install. After all the whole app model is supposed to be about ease of installation and without this Chromeless has no advantages. It creates a package that is completely standalone in the sense that it includes the entire platform and you don't have to have Firefox installed to run the app.
Perhaps most important of all is a new documentation system. The base technology that Chromeless is exploiting i.e. XUL almost certainly had less of an impact that it should have because the documentation was non-existent. Trying to program using XUL was a matter of guesswork or reverse engineering most of the time. With Chromeless a much bigger effort has gone into making it easy to understand. Unfortunately there is still no simple example to get you started - one is promised. Until the documentation improves only enthusiasts will give the system a try and this is the downfall of many an open source project - the programmers simply don't see the need to explain how anything works because it is all so obvious to them.
Chromeless is an interesting idea and it might succeed in allowing the web to invade the desktop on a more equal footing but it needs quite a bit more effort before this is true. Version 0.3 is already available for you to play with but without a friendlier face than it currently has I doubt it will capture many casual users.
Mozzlila Labs has a screencast that introduces the earlier version 0.1 release. It is also worth noticing that there motivation for the project has changed its emphasis since the screencast was made and is not firmly targeting the creation of desktop apps rather than "browser experiments":