Discontinuing WebRunner

8 September 2011 by Matthew Gertner - Category: Salsita

Perhaps the hardest decision for a software developer to take is to discontinue a moderately successful product. Some products are outright failures and thus relatively easy to let go. Some are runaway hits for which this is not even a consideration. Those that lie in the middle are the problematic ones: they have plenty of fans, some extremely passionate. But after a while you have to ask yourself: is this the most productive way for me to be spending my time?

This is the situation with WebRunner today. According to Mozilla Add-ons there are between 5000 and 6000 active users. To put this in perspective, consider that the 100th most popular add-on has almost 200,000 users. At the same time, I know from many public and private conversations that the product has its share of ardent fans. I strongly believe that with sufficient effort in technology and marketing, the product could be a top add-on with a much larger user base.

One problem is that this effort carries a huge opportunity cost. Salsita is flourishing and the 10-20 hours/week I spend personally on WebRunner is precious time that I could otherwise spend managing our growing team, developing our business and exploring various exciting side projects that are currently undernourished. The lamentable fact is that we’ve been neglecting WebRunner for a while for exactly this reason, and it would now need significant work to turn it into a hit product. This includes deep architectural changes like moving away from binary XPCOM and towards js-ctypes, which is essential now that Firefox releases break binary XPCOM compatibility. It also means integrating a host of newer web standards (e.g. for desktop notifications) that didn’t exist when WebRunner was first released.

Moreover, the logical place to get WebRunner-like functionality is from the browser vendors themselves. Chrome has been offering this for ages (though lamentably Mac support still requires some hacking). Internet Explorer 9 has pinned sites. The day that Mozilla catches up and releases this functionality, WebRunner will be rendered instantly obsolete.

Mozilla is now discussing exactly this, and personally I see this as great news. I’m sad to see WebRunner go but a whole lot happier to see its legacy live on where it truly belongs: built into Firefox. I do hope that some of the concrete ideas and even code from WebRunner will be picked up by the Mozilla team. I also hope that they will take the opportunity to mine an incredible resource: the ideas, impressions and lessons that the users of the Prism and WebRunner can offer after using these products over the past four years.

What does this mean?

As of today, Salsita Software will no longer be actively maintaining the free version of WebRunner. We submitted the latest version (for Firefox 6.0) to the Mozilla Add-ons site last week and expect it to be approved in the next week or so. We will not be releasing new versions after that, so as soon as Firefox 7.0 comes out, WebRunner will no longer work.

We will make the source code available, and if anyone wants to take over maintenance of the code base, they are welcome to do so. Be forewarned, however, that with the amount of binary code in WebRunner, building release versions on all platforms every six weeks is a considerable effort that has contributed to our decision to discontinue the product.

Naturally we remain interested in working on single-site browser projects for clients, whether based on WebRunner or not, and we have unparalleled expertise in this area. In particular, if your company is using WebRunner and you would like to discuss continued maintenance, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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  • Jens


  • Tiago Sá

    Summing it up:
    “Webrunner is a great application that some people love, but because of rapid release cycle it’s too hard to do it and so we’ll stop.”

    I approve.

  • Jens

    sad but understandable.

  • http://adblockplus.org/blog/ Wladimir Palant

    Sorry to hear that. Looking through the code, it doesn’t look like getting rid of binary components requires much effort (much of it is unnecessary and the rest looks like it could be converted to js-ctypes fairly easily) – but sure, it still requires more time than I would be able to spend on this. So it doesn’t surprise me that you are giving up this time-consuming hobby. I just hope that Mozilla will come up with a usable alternative. Until then I will continue using WebRunner, merely without the extension.

    @Tiago Sá: No, an extension always needs to be kept updated – like it or not. Rapid releases only tend to make issues here more obvious.

    • Anonymous

      Do you have a separate Firefox install that you use as your WebRunner runtime? Otherwise you’ll break all your apps next time you update Firefox (if you update it).

  • Bernd Mueller

    I am very sad about that decision, even i could understand the decision in economic views.

    We use prism to build and deploy an ssb for our portal-webapp for a long time with big success and satisfaction, so we started updating/migrating to webrunner with big expectations … now that. I am dissapointed.

    I don’t trust and expect that mozilla comes up with a usable alternative which really match users needs in delivering real life webapps to end-users, improving useability and flexibility and to provide a nice and easy to use plattform for web-developers.

    My hope is that someone will pick up the code-base to go on with it …
    because it is really useable KNOW … not somewhere in the future.

    I want to thank Matt for all the efforts he has done in the past years on prism and webrunner.
    Well done!

  • Anon

    “I don’t trust and expect that mozilla comes up with a usable alternative which really match users needs in delivering real life webapps to end-users, improving useability and flexibility and to provide a nice and easy to use plattform for web-developers.”

    Mozilla has a significant team working on just this https://apps.mozillalabs.com/

  • http://es-robot.com/ nunes

    I totally agree with you, but it’s a shame that webrunner is dicontinued…

  • Guest

    Since it never worked anyway (and the developer never reacted to blog posts or Mozilla reviews pointing that out) we lose nothing. Sad nonetheless, because Prism was awesome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=604032509 Jon Ramster

    Thank you ever so much for your hard work on this over time.

  • Bryan Nielsen

    sad to see this. webrunner is a great app and in my top 3 useful plugins. Now what are we going to do? I guess wait for mozilla to implement such functionality.

  • Bobm

    I’m another fan sorry to see this great functionality being bypassed, though I completely understand the rationale.

    So – that being said… there is still Prism 1.0b standalone roaming about… do you see a down side to continuing to use this to provide a single function browser/application interface???


    • http://www.salsitasoft.com Matthew Gertner

      As long as it’s working okay for you and you’re not expecting any improvements or updates, then I don’t see any reason not to use it.

  • Mchlpl

    Aww… My life was awesome for a few months, when I moved from Prism to Webrunner… now I feel even more miserable than before… I really need to look into those other browsers…

  • Ascar Omarov

    People, it is December now but I am still on Firefox 5 – I can’t upgrade because of Webrunner. Weighing pros and cons of upgrading to the current versions of Firefox I so far have been deciding in favor of staying with the older version of the browser just for the sake of being able to continue using Webrunner.

    Does anybody know what the situation turned out to be now? Anybody picked Webrunner up from Salsita?

  • Neyson_v

    I did not have the oportunity to prove it but anyway I understand your reasons