Canonical's Mark Shuttleworth has unveiled a new feature of his company's Ubuntu Linux distribution, set to appear in version 12.10 later this year: web apps.
Taking a leaf from Mozilla's Prism project and Google's Chrome Web Store, Ubuntu 12.10 will include support for running web applications as though they're local apps. As a result, apps like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and Google Drive will integrate directly into the Ubuntu desktop in a way which has not been possible previously.
Unveiled by Mark Shuttleworth at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON), Ubuntu Web Apps is to launch initially as a preview for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, and will be added as a standard feature of Ubuntu 12.10 when it releases in October. The preview covers 40 of the most popular web apps around, with Canonical promising that it will convert more to Ubuntu Web Apps as quickly as it can.
The main feature of Ubuntu Web Apps - compared to, for example, using a Google Chrome or Firefox window in app mode - is integration directly with the Ubuntu desktop environment, including the new Ubuntu HUD system. As a result, web apps appear in the Launcher as with any other application and get access to features including the desktop notification system.
Ubuntu Web Apps also integrate with specific control systems in the Ubuntu desktop: Last.fm, for example, can be controlled through the Sound menu just like a native music app; the Shotwell photo management software is able to upload directly to Facebook; standard keyboard shortcuts can control video playback in YouTube, and the Ubuntu Messaging Indicator will now support showing unread Gmail messages without needing any third-party software.
Canonical claims that this represents a major move in desktop computing, stating that 'no other OS has come close to this level of integration between web and desktop
' - presumably because it hasn't heard of Google Chrome OS, which is an entire operating system built around exactly that concept.
Canonical has not provided a timescale for the release of the Ubuntu Web Apps preview, beyond saying it will be appearing 'soon.' If you're curious about the whole concept, check the video demo below to whet your appetite in the meantime.