Site-specific browsers or, for some, single-site browsers, or SSBs for short, arrived on the scene, became a fad, and then almost disappeared. The term refers to “packages” that contain the bare essentials from a regular browser, bound to a URL from a specific site or, even better, a web-app. The combination can, theoretically, act and feel almost like a local application. And yet, SSBs failed because they initially didn’t “act and feel like local applications.” Since then, technology has improved, the web has expanded, and nowadays, many web-based solutions have even surpassed local software as far as features and functionality go.
The team behind Peppermint OS were some of the first visionaries who realized this was the destination we were heading to and equipped their Ubuntu variant with a specialized application for the task. Ice, as it’s called, can create SSBs from any site, with any of four different browser technologies as their beating heart.
The Ice app, which you will most often come across as ice-ssb, is preinstalled by default on Peppermint Linux and can be found in the distribution’s main menu. It is considered an integral part of Peppermint and one of its primary features. There is a way, though, to install it in other distributions as well. Unfortunately, the process is not as simple as selecting it through an App Store.
The most straightforward case is if you run a Debian-based distribution, where you can download the application in deb format from its developer launchpad. You can then install the downloaded file to your Debian-based distribution (like Ubuntu or Mint) with the command:
Get target URL
Visit the site you want to convert into an application using your favorite browser. If you wish for a specific sub-page to appear whenever you run the site as an app, don’t copy its homepage or login screen’s URL. Instead, visit the specific sub-page you want and copy its URL. In case you haven’t noticed, a site’s URL changes depending on “which of its pages is loaded in your browser.” By copying a specific page URL, the turned-to-app version of the site you’re creating with Ice “will start there” whenever you run it.
Set app name and URL
Run Ice from Peppermint’s main menu. Start by entering a name for your application in the first of the available fields. In the field that follows, paste the address of the site as you copied it in the previous step.
Define app’s category
The “Where in the menu?” pull-down menu allows you to specify in which section of Peppermint’s main menu the application you create will be displayed. Indeed, everything you will “turn to an SSB” is a site or web-app. Nevertheless, not all websites and web apps are similar. Using the same umbrella term for all will soon lead to chaos if you create more than a dozen of them. Google Docs would probably work better under the “Office” label, unlike YouTube and Spotify that would be better categorized as “Multimedia.”
Choose an icon
To make the applications you create recognizable at a glance, avoid using the default Ice icon for all of them. Ice provides you with two options for this.
With “Select an icon” you can select a JPG or PNG image file for use as SSB’s icon.
“Use site favicon” is the easiest – and automated – solution of the two, as it tries to capture and use the official site’s favicon the same way it’s displayed in your browser whenever you visit it.
During our tests we found that sometimes this didn’t work as it should, and the SSB created had the default icon. In such cases, you should probably search for, and download, a relevant image from the Internet, which you can then use as an icon through the previous choice. Try entering the site’s name plus “favicon” in Google Image Search.
Browsers and profiles
In our case we only had Firefox installed on Peppermint, so that was our only available choice. If you have Chrome, Chromium, Opera, or Vivaldi installed, Ice can use one of these browsers as the engine to power your app-to-be. You can choose the browser engine by picking the appropriate option at the bottom-left of Ice’s window.
For increased security, and if you do not select Firefox where this behavior is the default, we recommend turning on the “Create the SSB with an isolated browser profile” located just above the browser option. This enables the creation of a separate profile for the SSB; otherwise, it would work under the default profile you use in your browser.
All in the main menu
By clicking on Apply at the bottom-right of the window, your site/app will already be waiting for you in Peppermint’s main menu in the sub-category you chose.
The process is instantaneous as, practically, it is only saving a shortcut and a “menu item” icon as a new entry in Peppermint’s main menu. No additional installation of any software or copying of files is needed – the browser is “all the tech that’s needed.”
With a click on the new menu entry, your site will appear in a new browser window. It will occupy the entire window, and there will be no items such as buttons and menus to indicate that it is “running in a browser.” Not being visible does not mean, however, that the underlying browser will have magically disappeared.
Most, if not all, browser shortcuts will still work. For example, a press of F5 will refresh the displayed page.
In what could almost be considered a bug, we discovered that although the Firefox menu is hidden, a click right at the spot where it’s usually displayed unveils it, giving access to all the browser’s functions and options as usual.