Using Prism to build a site-specific browser for the new TERMIUM

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Language, Macintosh
December 4th, 2008 • 10:25 am

As a professional translator working in Canada, I make heavy use of the TERMIUM terminology database, which is maintained by the federal government’s Translation Bureau.

TERMIUM is available via a web-based interface (with a user name and password). Because it is a database that I use all the time, having to use it within my web browser’s environment, where I typically have tons of other windows open with various web sites, some of which might cause browser crashes or performance issues, is a bit of an inconvenience.

A while ago, I wrote about using the free Fluid application to build what is called a site-specific browser for the TERMIUM web site. With Fluid, in a few simple steps, you can create a stand-alone application that operates as a site-specific web browser for a specific web site.

At the time, it worked marvelously well for the TERMIUM web site, and I even designed a application icon to go with it, based on a logo provided by the TERMIUM site itself.

Unfortunately, as of December 1, 2008, this arrangement no longer works. The Translation Bureau has had to redesign the TERMIUM web site to comply with new government-wide standards, and something in the redesign appears to have caused the ability to create a stand-alone TERMIUM application with Fluid to break.

It’s not just that the URL for the site is different. Even if you build an application with Fluid using the new URL, there are still problems that make it unusable. More specifically, each time you try to submit something in a field, the submission causes a new window to appear in… Safari with the results. In other words, it is impossible to use the TERMIUM application as a site-specific browser. It keeps taking you back to Safari, which obviously defeats the whole purpose of the thing.

I immediately send a report about this to the Translation Bureau, with the exact steps required to see the problem. The person in charge sent me an acknowledgement and told me that my report would be forwarded to the site’s developers.

Even so, I was not very hopeful that this would be looked at by anyone. After all, I am quite sure that the majority of TERMIUM users are Windows users, and use the database in a window in their web browser. How many other TERMIUM users are Mac OS X users and, of those, how many actually bother to try and create a site-specific browser with Fluid for the TERMIUM database?

Much to my surprise, I received a phone call from someone at the Translation Bureau less than 24 hours after sending my report. The caller was indeed a web developer for the Translation Bureau and told me that he was indeed able to reproduce the problem, but that he could not understand why it was happening, because, he said, they had not made any changes to the form submission mechanism.

That said, he suggested that I try Prism instead. He said he had been able to build a stand-alone site-specific browser for TERMIUM with Prism and that, unlike the one built with Fluid, it seemed to be working fine.

I tried it and, indeed, I was able to create a working stand-alone TERMIUM application with Prism with little difficulty, and it works fine.

While Fluid is based on WebKit, i.e. the same browsing engine used in Safari, Prism is based on Mozilla, the browsing engine used by Firefox and Camino for Mac OS X. This means that some UI controls don’t look exactly the same and are not as Mac OS X-like as the ones in the Fluid-based application. But these are very minor inconveniences.

Prism also does not offer as many options in the way the stand-alone application works as a browser but again, for this particular purpose, it makes little difference and is a minor issue.

I should note, however, that the Prism user interface for building the stand-alone application is definitely not as intuitive as the one in Fluid, far from it. It gives you little flexibility as to where the stand-alone application is saved, and confusingly launches the corresponding web site in Prism itself instead of launching the stand-alone application itself once it’s built. (You need to quit Prism, locate the stand-alone application and launch it yourself.)

It also uses a generic earth globe icon for the stand-alone application, but you can still use the icon I designed (or any other icon you like) by simply copying it and pasting it into the icon field in the File Information window for the stand-alone application in the Finder.

This does not tell me why things no longer work with Fluid, but at least I have a working solution again with the new TERMIUM so that I can use it separately in a stand-alone site-specific browser. That’s the most important thing.

Given that the new Safari in Snow Leopard is expected to provide its own feature for building site-specific browsers, it’ll be interesting to see what happens then. But that’s something for the future. At present, the solution for TERMIUM users using Mac OS X is Prism.

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