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Bubbles and Fluid turn your favorite sites into apps

Two apps break Web 2.0 sites and services out of the browser.

I may get fired for saying this, but I miss the convenience, focus, and robustness of desktop apps. Sometimes I just want the clarity of a dedicated app--or the isolation; all too often when I'm in a browser, a rogue JavaScript-heavy site will crash not just its own window but the 20 different tabs I have open at that moment.

Building a Site-Specific Browser (SSB) is possible with technologies like Prism from Mozilla, but that doesn't do much for non-developer users. If all you want is an icon to click on your desktop to open a specific URL, and running the site in its own browser isn't what you had in mind, check out two apps: Fluid (download), for OSX, and Bubbles (download) for Windows. Both are free.

With Fluid, you can create as many SSBs as you want, control each of their preferences individually, and let them live where you need them: in the Dock, your desktop, or the Apple Menubar. I especially like the latter because I've created icons for four sites I check on and off during the day. Fluid, which requires Mac OS 10.5 (Leopard), also lets you create a single SSB with multiple panes fed from different sites, add a CoverFlow-like preview pane of links leading from the Web app you've desktopized, and will with a bit of Greasemonkey scripting it can alert you via Growl when something changes. Fluid is freeware, says it's creator, Todd Ditchendorf, and will remain so, although he's seeing over 20,000 downloads a month.

Fluid strips the chrome off of your favorite Web sites.

Bubbles for Windows lets you do much the same thing as Fluid. You can update your Windows environment with your latest Web apps as pop-up windows accessible from the system tray. Bubbles' developer, Ohad Eder Pressman, has gone to the trouble of prebuilding extensions for a dozen-plus popular Web apps: Want a Facebook bubble app that refreshes your FB News Feed every 5 minutes, or a Bubble that checks Gmail for you? You're done.

Bubbles' scripts make selected sites look and feel like apps.

Users will always need free-form browsers for exploring the Web, but for their main Web apps, site-specific browsers can do a good job of imitating the local app experience.