Build a custom browser with Mozilla Chromeless

By establishing a “blank" user interface in standard Web technologies, Mozilla puts customization within reach of more users.

No matter how many choices there are in the Web browser arena, it's a pretty safe bet that many of us would love to tweak some aspect of the interface on our browser of choice, if given the opportunity. After all, no one product can satisfy everyone perfectly.

Well, that opportunity may soon be a reality. Mozilla Labs yesterday announced "Chromeless," a new project to create a customizable user interface on the Firefox browser.

"Firefox is put together in a way that seasoned developers are able implement features with amazing efficiency," Mozilla Labs' Marcio Galli wrote on Thursday. "But at the same time, the browser interface in XUL (XML User Interface Language) represents a barrier for potential contributors.

"What if the parts of the browser that are most interesting to contributors were implemented in standard Web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript?" Galli continued. "What kinds of wild-eyed experimentation would we see if a new conception of browser UI could be prototyped in about the same time it takes to write a web page?"

A 'Blank Canvas' for Customization

Now, the name "Chromeless" is no jab at Google -- rather, "chrome" is simply the term for Firefox's local interface applications written in XUL. By removing this "chrome" interface to create a stripped-down browser, Mozilla aims to give developers and others a "blank canvas" on which they can create their own browser interfaces.

One could interact with an interface module "to set the labels and handlers for OS-specific window menus," for example, "or to invoke an OS-specific notification mechanism," Galli explained.

The Mozilla Labs blog post demonstrates the idea with a screenshot showing a very simple browser application with page thumbnails used for tab handlers.

An SDK for Remixing the Browser

The project is currently in a pre-alpha phase, with a functional application written in HTML; the inner browser elements are iframes instead of XUL browser elements. Not present yet, though, is a means for sandboxing, among other things.

In the coming months Mozilla Labs will add specific APIs to allow for more meaningful browser construction as well as integrating security features to keep Web content in a minimally privileged sandbox. Ultimately, it aims to roll out an accessible SDK to make it easy to start remixing the browser.

The current source code and instructions are now available at the Chromeless Web site. Those interested in participating can join the Mozilla Labs Group or get in touch via #labs on irc.mozilla.org.

Bottom line? It may not be too long before a business can easily create its own, customized browser tailored perfectly to the needs and habits of its employee users. I'll say it again: there's no such thing as too much choice!

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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Katherine Noyes

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