Rohan Jayasekera's thoughts on the evolving use of computers -- and the resulting effects

Occasional thoughts by Rohan Jayasekera of Toronto, Canada.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mozilla Prism

In my last post I talked about how you can now properly access Gmail not only through its Web interface but also through a PC-based email program like Outlook Express or Thunderbird.

That’s an example of where a server-based application is accessed other than through a Web page. In this vein I’d like to mention Prism, which was announced a few days ago by Mozilla Labs and works with the Firefox browser. Prism (formerly WebRunner) makes Web-based applications behave more like PC applications and less like Web pages. Here’s an example:

I use a Web-based to-do list system called Vitalist, and I use it frequently throughout the day. But with lots of browser windows/tabs open at the same time, I may have to hunt a bit to find the one that has Vitalist. Not any more. A few days ago I installed Prism and told it to create an application with name “Vitalist” and URL “”. Now I have what seems to be a regular Windows application:  there’s an icon on my desktop labelled Vitalist (I could also put it into the Windows Start menu if I wanted to, or the Quick Launch bar), and when I run it the taskbar shows “Vitalist” in the same way that it would show a traditional application like Outlook Express, completely separately from any regular browser windows I may have. I can navigate to it in the same way I would any other Windows application. Furthermore, the window doesn’t waste space with browser buttons like Back and Forward, nor with a location bar, because with Prism those are optional: it gave me checkboxes for them and I didn’t check those off. Although the window is actually a browser window, you’d never know it.

I’ve used Prism for a few days and although it’s an “early prototype” it works fine for me, and I love it. If you use any web-based applications a lot, like Gmail or Facebook, you may like it too.

So far it’s available only for Windows, but Mac OS and GNU/Linux versions should be available soon. More information, and a link to download it are at, specifically here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

One fewer reason to store data on your computer

In my post Online storage I wrote about why you shouldn’t store your data on your desktop/laptop computer, but instead store it on servers that you can access over the Internet.

That includes your email. Web-based email is popular, but what if (like me) you prefer to do your email through an email program (like Outlook Express or Thunderbird) than through a Web browser? Up to now you’ve usually had to download your email to your local computer, while (optionally) leaving your original copies on the server. While that works, unfortunately the communication goes only one way: when you read an email message through your email program it gets marked as “read” locally, but not on the server. Same for deleting messages and other things. And properly organizing the messages you send is usually a hassle.

There is a solution: it’s called IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) and is one way that an email program and a mail server can communicate. With IMAP everything is synchronized: whatever happens at one end gets reflected on the other. And the mail server is the “primary residence” of your email; you may have copies of various messages locally, for speed and for availability when you have no Internet connection, but IMAP meets my objective of storing your data on servers intended for that purpose.

IMAP isn’t new; in fact it’s older than the public Internet. But the popular free email services such as Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail and Gmail haven’t supported it, unfortunately.

This has now changed. Gmail has just added IMAP access as a new feature (though Google says it will take a few days to be rolled out to all Gmail users).

Since Gmail is so popular, its addition of IMAP means that a lot more people will no longer have any good reason to store their data on their local computer. The effect will be magnified if Gmail's competitors try to keep up by also adding IMAP.