Peppermint OS's Single-Site Browsers

Peppermint OS's Single-Site Browsers

© leonardophoto,

© leonardophoto,


SSBs on Linux and when they may be most useful.

These days, users can usually assume that Linux has the same functionality as other operating systems. The application may differ, but the functionality is available. Occasionally, though, Linux may lack any equivalent. A case in point is Single-Site Browsers, aka Site-Specific Bowsers (SSBs). Although Wikipedia lists a number of SSBs, Peppermint OS's Ice and its successor Kumo are the only free software versions of SSBs available on Linux. Fortunately for those who want this functionality, Peppermint OS is a Debian derivative, and both can be installed on Debian and most other derivatives.

As the names imply, SSBs are web browsers that open to a single URL. They are one effort to address the dichotomy that exists on modern computers between local applications and Internet resources. That is to say, while local applications are in a user's control –and can be positioned as desired on a workplace or on the desktop panel or menu – Internet resources are ordinarily accessed through the extra step of opening a web browser. Moreover, while most users long ago became accustomed to web browsers, they add another level of complication with bookmarks, tabs, and extensions that is often unnecessary and not needed with an SSB. The idea is that by creating SSBs, Internet resources can be accessed in the same way as local applications, making for a simpler, more efficient user experience. Moreover, an SSB can be isolated as a security measure. In addition, companies can install SSBs without a web browser so that employees access selected Internet resources but not use the web for personal purposes during work hours. A business might also use SSBs to view its intranet or web page.

Since SSBs first appeared in 2005, they have been available on both Windows and macOS. On Linux, however, the availability has come and gone. On Linux, Firefox once had an SSB mode, but it was discontinued in 2020 on the grounds that it had multiple bugs that were time-consuming to fix and there was "little to no perceived user benefit to the feature." Similarly, Chromium once had a basic SSB menu item, Create Application Shortcut, which no longer appears in recent versions. As for GNOME Web's (Epiphany's) Install Site as Web Application, while it still appears in the menu, it is no longer functional. Today, Linux users who want to try SSBs have no choices except Ice or Kumo.

Installing Ice or Kumo

Neither Ice or Kumo appears in any repository except Peppermint OS's. But because Peppermint OS installs packages from Debian 12 ("bookworm"), either can be installed to Debian or a derivative by adding to /etc/apt/sources.list the line

deb bookworm main contrib non-free

and then running apt update.

To install successfully, at least one of Firefox, Chrome, Chromium, or Vivaldi also must be installed. Dependencies will usually be installed from the same Peppermint OS repository. Kumo depends on Tkinter, which on an installation with an older version of Python might need to be installed as part of the python-tk package. Because both Ice and Kumo are written in Python, they can be run on any desktop.

Running Ice

Peppermint OS is disparaging Ice in favor of Kumo. However, Ice is the more complete of the two, and it remains in use because Kumo is still in development and sometimes has trouble rendering some sites.

Ice has a mostly self-explanatory interface (Figure 1). It requires:

  • a name
  • a full URL
  • an existing section of the menu in which to place it. Some sections only appear in the menu when an app is added to it, although Ice may list the section anyway.
  • a choice of an icon or favicon (site icon)
  • a choice to isolate the SSB for security. Firefox isolates SSBs automatically, although selecting it anyway does no harm.
  • the choice of the browser to display the SSB in. Only one can be chosen.
Figure 1: F01_ice.png: Ice is the older of Peppermint OS's SSB tools.

Click the Apply button to create the SSB. Once you do, the SSB is listed in the menu (Figure 2). If you want the SSB on your desktop or panel, right-click and select Add to Menu or Add to Panel, just as you would for any menu item (Figure 3.) To delete an SSB, click the Remove button and select the SSB to delete (Figure 4.)

Figure 2: F02_ice-menu.png: Ice adds SSBs to the application menu.
Figure 3: F03_add-menu-item.png: From the menu, an SSB can be added to the desktop or panel.
Figure 4: F04_ice-remove.png: Removing an SSB in Ice.

Using Kumo

Kumo is still in development. On the one hand, it currently lacks some of Ice's features, such as an option to isolate an SSB or add one to the main menu, including its own menu list instead. On the other hand, it appears faster than Ice, and combines all the management of SSBs to a single window (Figure 5). On the left of the window are the fields to create an SSB, on the right those to select an SSB to edit. Eventually, Kumo is likely to surpass Ice, but right now, the Peppermint forum has a long list of problems with Kumo, including problems with rendering some sites.

Figure 5: F05_kumo.png: The current state of Kumo.

Are SSBs Still Useful?

Had SSBs come into existence in the mid-1990s when the Internet first became popular, they would have been a valuable tool for those trying to grasp the difference between between local applications and online resources. But nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century, complete newcomers to computers are a much smaller minority than they once were. After trying Ice and Kumo for a week, I found SSBs convenient, but remain uncertain whether to make them a standard tool on my desktop. While SSBs make for a better user experience, is their efficiency that much more efficient than the dichotomy I lived with years? For better or worse, like most people, I am used to the dichotomy and it would be inefficient to change, even for a more economical arrangement.

Perhaps SSBs make more sense on a network or in a business where their isolation provides another layer of security. Or perhaps the time for SSBs is past and there's a reason browsers have tried to implement them, and then discarded them.

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