Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Running browser applications in dedicated windows


Running browser applications in dedicated windows

Like many people I use my browser all day long, not just for searching but for running applications, whether they’re intranet ones such us our internal finance systems, or external ones such as hotmail, Office Live Workspace, or mindmeister (a mind mapping tool that I’ve been using).

When you’re running any of these kind of browser applications I generally like to run in full-screen mode by pressing the F11 key in Internet Explorer, which removes the toolbars and other screen elements and gives all of the screen real-estate to the browser application.

While that’s a pretty good solution, I like the idea of having an icon for the application on my desktop or pinned to my start menu that I can click just like any normal application and have the app launch in its own window and use the full screen without me having to press F11. So, for example, if I want to work on a mindmap I’d double-click a mindmeister icon and the app would load in its own window and look pretty much like any desktop app. The fact that it’s running in a browser is not particularly interesting to me as I have a single focus in mind when I’m running the app. In other words, I’m only using the browser to run this app, nothing else.

One solution would be to create a shortcut for IE and use the “-k” option on the command line which launches IE in kiosk mode. But that hogs the entire screen and doesn’t let you minimize it (well, not easily) or resize the window.

So I decided to write a very simple little shell for IE that does what I want. Being one of the world’s laziest programmers I didn’t write much code, it just uses a webbrowser object in .NET and allows a couple of command line parameters to be passed to it.

You invoke the application (which I called “BrowserApp.exe”) with a couple of parameters, one being the URL you want to call and the other being the title for the window. This means, for example, that I can create a shortcut of ‘ “BrowserApp.exe” "” “My mind maps from Mindmeister” ‘ which creates a simple window that loads the mindmeister URL and sets the window title to “My mind maps from Mindmeister”. That way it really does look like a normal application. I can even pin it to the start menu.

shortcut For those that are interested, I uploaded the Visual Studio solution and source files here. As you can see it’s a really, really simply application, just a thin front-end to IE. Notice that I’ve done the bare minimum of error handling, if you want to improve this please be my guest :-)

However if you just want to try the app, download from here and stick it anywhere you like on your hard drive, creating a shortcut to the BrowserApp.exe file. Remember to pass the URL (with http:// prefix) as the first parameter and the window title, if you want one, as the second parameter. NB: Runs on Vista or Windows 7 (or on XP if you have the .NET Framework installed). No warranties implied, please use at own risk!

Of course, it’s quite possible that there’s a slicker way of achieving this. If there is I’m sure someone will let me know ;-)

Ian Moulster's blog : Running browser applications in dedicated windows

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