Announcing Webian Shell 0.1

Webian Shell is a full screen web browser for devices that don’t need a desktop. As of today you can download a prototype which you can try for yourself.

Update: Webian Shell featured by Mozilla Labs!

A Graphical Shell for the Web

If you’re anything like me then you’ll find that most of the stuff you do on your PC these days happens in a web browser and the desktop environment you used to depend on is now just getting in your way. Modern web applications can do just about everything traditional desktop applications can do (like flashy graphics, sound, video and offline storage) so often all you really need is the browser.

The idea of the Webian Shell project is to replace your computer’s interface with something much simpler, which treats web applications as first class citizens and does away with all the un-necessary clutter.

Rapid Prototyping with Mozilla Chromeless

Shell started as a simple design concept with a few static mockups, but when Mozilla Chromeless came along it was suddenly possible to rapidly develop a working prototype using standard web technologies like HTML, CSS and JavaScript. As a member of the wider Mozilla community this was an opportunity I couldn’t resist so I quickly got to work on putting together a prototype using the technologies I already knew from web development.

This initial early release really just gives you a minimalist, full screen, tabbed web browser with a clock and a rather empty looking home screen. I hope this is enough to convey the basic idea behind the project and that with the open source community’s help we can quickly iterate this prototype to encompass lots of exciting ideas about what living on the web could really be like.

Future Directions

These are some of my ideas for future directions to take the prototype, but I’d love to hear your ideas.

  • Home screens – instead of a desktop, Shell could have multiple home screens like you see on mobile devices, but containing web widgets and icons for “installed” web apps. See Mozilla’s Open Web Apps project for some inspiration.
  • Hardware controls – any graphical shell for a hardware device needs the ability to monitor and control hardware for things like sound, network, GPS, battery etc.
  • Zoomable tiled window manager – zoom out to a view of all currently loaded web pages (like Panorama in Firefox or Expose in OS X), then zoom in to the page you want.
  • Split Screen – view two pages side-by-side
  • On-screen keyboard – for touch-screen devices like tablets.

Download the Prototype

You can find out more on the Webian web site or go straight ahead and download and install Webian Shell 0.1 on your Mac, Windows or Linux computer today. I’d really love to hear your feedback!

You can propose ideas, report bugs and ask questions on GetSatisfaction, or join the Google Group to take part in the conversation.

You can also follow Webian on Twitter or, like it on Facebook and check out the channel on YouTube.

24 thoughts on “Announcing Webian Shell 0.1”

  1. Unless you are planning to add more controls at the bottom, I don’t see why the tabs are at the bottom. That means users have to constantly move the pointer the entire height of the display from the browsing controls to the tab controls and back again. There is a reason why every browser out there has tabs at the top next to all the other controls! That is my first and biggest suggestion of what to change. At the moment, tabs so far away from everything else seems like a very poor design choice.

    That aside, I think you have a great project here. A lot of people will compare it to Chrome OS, but if theres enough market for multiple browsers then surely there is enough market for multiple browser based OS.

  2. @Jimbo Thanks for the feedback. I think you have a good point about the increased need for cursor movement with the placement of the tabs.

    Generally speaking, the current layout is based on the principle of least surprise, the idea being that new users who are familiar with existing web browsers and desktop environments will find the key controls where they expect them. The app tabs can be thought of as equivalent windows in a traditional window manager.

    Fitt’s Law suggests that utilising all four corners of the screen is a good idea, as these are the easiest areas to hit with the mouse, and this design helps with that as well. Having said that, I like the design of Chrome OS with tabs at the top and I’m also open to the idea of scrapping tabs altogether for something more innovative like a zoomable interface.

    I’m interested to see mockups of other peoples’ ideas of how the interface could be layed out.

  3. Why do we want this? How can you have privacy when everything is dumbed down to some kind of glorified cable tv menu not controlled by you? How is this not change for the sake of change?

    Ultimately, you will want some way to monitor your hardware and your programs. You also want low latency that, unless somehow the speed of light is overcome, you can only get if things run locally. There is a difference between interpreted and native code. Why is it good to try to shoehorn the general purpose computer into a black box consumer appliance?

  4. Cool concept, however it does not seem to work with Yahoo Mail. Also seems to be a bit sluggish when compared to Chrome. i’m on OS X 10.6 with 2GB RAM and a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo. Good luck with the enhancements.

  5. The project is promissing.

    The first thing that I missed was the ability to use some shortcuts, like Cmd+T to open new tabs and Cmd+W to close them. Also, Cmd+[1-9] to go to the corresponding tab (from 1 to 9).

    As soon as this is fixed I’ll try Webian Shell again. 🙂

  6. @Jimbo: I like the controls being at the bottom, because that’s the place where Windows and Mac users expect them to be. That said, I’d like to see larger icons, specially for touch screens.

    By the way, I loved the design and colors — simple and elegant!

  7. i was thinking for about a year now that there should be a simple os or something in which we can browse the web.

    features i was thinking about were

    fast start-up (save time, battery)
    some times i need to only surf the web. But to do that i have to load the whole OS which is frustrating.

  8. i was thinking for about a year now that there should be a simple os or something in which we can browse the web.

    features i was thinking about were

    fast start-up (save time, battery)
    some times i need to only surf the web. But to do that i have to load the whole OS which is frustrating.

    chrome os was a silver lining but it is only available in specific devices

    i am glad that the idea which i was also thinking is coming live


  9. – Add a player that play everything (like VLC) in the browser.
    – wallpapers in the background, like Jolicloud (jolicloudcom for more details), and, obvious, a capacity of choose them.
    – Options for Wi-fi and wired connections

    That are my sugestions. Thanks.

  10. What a really strange name. Why did you choose a name so close to Debian, when it seems your distro is RPM based? Are you trying to fool users into believing that it’s a Debian derivative? Unless you are thinking about destroying your past work, and start to become a Debian derivative, I think you should rename your project ASAP.

  11. silly name: thanks for your feedback.

    Webian isn’t RPM-based, it isn’t anything-based yet! The only thing released so far is Webian Shell which is a JavaScript prototype of a user interface.

    As it says on the web site “Webian” means “of or belonging to the web”. This is derived from “web” (the short form of “World Wide Web” and the english suffix “-ian” meaning “of or belonging to”.

    I’m obviously aware of the similarity to the name of the Debian project, and I did contact a Debian contributor and the SPI trademark committee as a courtesy to ask if they felt the name would cause any problems. The SPI committee didn’t reply to me, but I don’t feel there is a conflict.

    I actually would like Webian to be derived from Debian, but whether or not this is the best base to work from is under discussion in the Webian community.

    It isn’t my intention to be misleading.

  12. @Michael, @Treedbox: Some web sites don’t currently work due to a bug, we’re working on this.

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