Feature Request: Stand Alone Zotero

I love Zotero and have used it since it was released years ago. My main annoyance with Zotero is that it is a extension to firefox and not a standalone app.

In the long term, I'd love to see a stand alone version of Zotero, for mac specifically.
  • You're asking for such a huge change (given what zotero currently achieves by running in a framework provided by FF), I would think putting forward some reasons might be warranted.
  • I don't think there's much of a change of this ever happening - the "reasons" are obvious - people would like to use Safari, Chrome, or Opera - but developers have repeatedly made clear that they have no interest in going that way because of the work involved, the advantages lost etc.
    There are alternatives to Zotero for those for whom this is such a big issue. (specifically for Mac both Papers and Mendeley seem quite good, though not as good as Zotero+FF).
  • I don't think the reasons are obvious (ie. I still don't know what they are). And reasons don't need scare quotes when you're asking someone to redevelop the whole of a large freely-provided application for an entirely different platform.
  • the "reasons" are obvious - people would like to use Safari, Chrome, or Opera
    What does that have to do with having a standalone app? There's nothing preventing a Zotero user from using Safari, Chrome, or Opera as their main browser and keeping Zotero in full-screen mode in another window. We'd be happy to hear feature requests to reduce some friction for people doing most of their browsing in another application, but, if you're not using Firefox for browsing, Zotero isn't really that different from any app with an embedded web browser (which is most apps these days).

    By the way, while we don't have any plans to produce a standalone app, Mozilla does have a standalone app framework called XULRunner, which would support much of the existing Zotero code. But the main difference is that you'd get a Zotero icon instead of a Firefox icon.
  • One thing that might be handy would be a quick way to open a page already present in another browser in Firefox. Firefox has extensions to do it in the other direction, but I don't know of anything that, for example, allows you to quickly go from Chrome to Zotero. This doesn't really sound like a job for Zotero developers, though, and of course whoever wanted to do such a thing would be be a hostage to Google's plans for an extension platform ofr Chrome.
  • I don't have access to Chrome at the moment, but I would be a bit surprised if you couldn't drag the star icon directly into a Firefox window to open the page.

    A related feature request that has been made is the ability to automatically run the translator process on a dragged URL, though this has the problem of not knowing whether you're going to get a translator save or a regular Create New Item from Page save, and there could be proxy issues.
  • It's worth noting that making the zotero pane full-screen (I think 2.0b5 is the first to go completely full-screen and cover up even menus and address bar, but maybe I wasn't observant enough before?) creates essentially a standalone app.

    The only thing missing is the ability to launch a firefox window with the zotero pane already full-screened like this as a windows shortcut or whatever. Since I've been looking for excuses to advertise a plugin I recently wrote, I'll mention that I added exactly this functionality to my ZoteRename plugin (http://umn.edu/home/kjamison/zoterename/).

    In short, any time you open a new window with the url "about:blank?zotero", the plugin opens the zotero pane and makes it full-screen. The page has instructions for making a shortcut that runs <firefox dir>\firefox.exe -new-window about:blank?zotero , and a handy Zotero icon to complete the package.

    I've got a couple other interesting features people might be interested in too, so feel free to check it out (sorry for the spamming... but I don't think it was a stretch given the original request)

  • edited August 5, 2009
    In short, any time you open a new window with the url "about:blank?zotero", the plugin opens the zotero pane and makes it full-screen.
    In the current dev builds, the special URL zotero://fullscreen will open the Zotero pane in full-screen mode. This URL can be set as the home page or added to the bookmarks toolbar, allowing Shift-click to open a new standalone Zotero window.

    This feature will be in 2.0b7.
  • the fullscreen option sounds great!

    Chrisalbon, if you really want a standalone version to overcome the psychological "I want to download a bibliography database, not a webbrowser" obstacle, you could just create a customized version of of firefox that is rebranded, comes with Zotero pre-installed and opens zotero fullscreen upon startup...
  • Another way is to make it Prism compatible.. Mozilla labs has this great plugin that can make a web application a standalone application, for example, you can make it standalone Google Calendar out of it. I think Zotero is a bit different, but it may be worth looking at.

  • there are apparently major problems in doing that because zotero uses FF database structure, so that appears unlikely to happen.
  • The major confusion here seems to be the erroneous assumption that Zotero is a web application. It is not. Yes, there is a web application component that includes syncing, collaboration, and browsing via the web, but the Zotero software otherwise runs entirely locally.

    That said, there are ways to decouple Zotero from the Firefox browser that we are exploring.
  • It is worth noting that although Prism most prominently focuses at the webapps, it can also benefit from the extensions, with some tweaks. In other words, it is possible to install extensions into prism, so in this case it might be possible to install zotero to prism, if the necessary tweaks are made in zotero rdf, chrome and whatnot. xul framework can also do that but I am not knowledgeable on the details (still at the learning phase).
  • edited November 9, 2009
    I can see at least one good reason for using Zotero as a stand alone app even if one uses FF to browse the Internet, little does it matter that Zotero could be used in full screen view in the near future. Nowadays people use virtual desktops such as Spaces in Mac OS X and/or use multiple screens. The reason for that is the comfort provided by full screen view.

    If one wants to browse the Internet, he or she will prefer to see the browser window in full view. He or she then wants to search documents, he or she wants to do that in full screen view and therefore will use a virtual desktop and/or a second screen to keep the documents separate from the other windows

    At that point, the user managed to keep his workspace clean and tidy. But then he wants to use the Zotero items he just imported to insert citations in a document.
    What does he have to do ?
    Go back to FF and open the navigator to browse the item collection.

    He can open zotero on top of an already existing window or open a new FF window,
    Neither of these two solutions is processor since the user will not be able to see the collection in full screen and, even if he could, he still would have to open a new window and use Firefox if he does not browse the web.

    He then wants to insert citation using the Zotero word processor plug-in, he therefore will have to switch back to Firefox to select and edit the citation and then back again to the word processor. That's a bit disturbing.

    It would be much more comfortable to use Firefox to search e.g., add items with Zotero as it now is possible, then close FF and use Zotero in full views alongside the word processor and its documents.

    Zotero interface is very nice, it is similar to that of iTunes. Do you think that iTunes would be that nice if one had to browse the album collection in the same way as he he now browses the zotero collection with FF ?

    Moreover, both Mac OS X and Windows respectively use Safari and Internet Explorer to run. Is this a sufficient reason to run the O.S. through a web browser window ? Would this be a convenient way to interact with the O.S. ? If you answer these questions you will probably find out why having a stand alone Zotero app would be one small step for Zotero development team, a giant leap for Zotero user community.
  • why having a stand alone Zotero app would be one small step for Zotero development team
    It's that part where you're wrong, as Dan has repeatedly explained. It's not a small step at all.

    Also I don't really follow from your logic what's different from what you describe to a fullscreen version of Zotero (maybe with some minor improvements) open in a separate FF window. The Open Office/Word plugin would have to remain separate anyway, if only because you would want to allow the same software to run with separate word processors.

    Also, the tight browser integration is one of Zotero's key comparative advantages. For people who really insist on a standalone app, Mendeley is very similar to Zotero and offerst just that.
  • For those who would like to keep a Firefox window open with full-screen Zotero, a nice feature would be the ability to have links (say, "View Snapshot") open in a new window; Ctrl-click opens in a new tab, but the user would still need to leave full-screen mode to view it.

    Such an improvement might obviate the perceived need for "stand-alone" Zotero.
  • Shift-click opens in a new window. That could perhaps be the default in full-screen mode, however.
  • edited November 9, 2009
    you mean like using shift+click?
    Try it out... unfortunately it hasn't obviated those perceived needs ;-).

    I think for me the most important remaining thing to make fullscreen even more useful would be to make moving between collections apply across windows, or allow Fullscreen to be limited to a tab:
    Say you have 2 FF windows open, one with fullscreen Zotero, one for regular browsing.
    Now what I would like to see it that if I used to have one collection "kitchen recipes" selected in my fullscreen, but then decide to do some actual research and select collect "super important stuff" in the fullscreen mode instead, that should change in the other open window, too, so that any imported article lands in the "super important stuff" collection.
  • Dan and Adam:
    Thanks for the shift-click hint-- that's something I hadn't tried, although I'm not sure that it should be default behavior for full-screen mode. On my little netbook, I sometimes am in full-screen mode solely because anything smaller is clumsy, and I know full well that links are opening in the browser windows obscured by the Zotero pane.

    I will now go back to not seeing any reason to ask for a stand-alone Zotero.
  • I just tried the full-screen mode. It's better than I even imagined since it covers the Firefox window in it's entirety. Nevertheless, one only can open one window at a time which means that one cannot really brows the entirety of its items. It's a bit like conceiving an O,S. or a browser in which the user could only open one window or one folder at a time.
  • Nevertheless, one only can open one window at a time
    You can have Zotero open full-screen in as many windows as you want.
  • You can have a whole bunch of fullscreen Zotero windows open at t time - I just tried 3 plus an open FF browsing window -
    I'm not sure what you'd want that for, but it's actually more than you'd be able to do with a stand-alone application, where separate open windows would mean separate open programs which would likely mess with the DB.
  • edited November 12, 2009
    You are right -, I can open multiple windows. I just realised that I was trying to open a new tab rather than a new window. Sorry for that. I also have noticed that i can use many windows, delete or add items and that all changes appear in all windows without problems. That's absolutely fine then. Considering the amount of work it would involve, I do not think that a Zotero stand alone is necessary although the full-screen stil still would need some improvments as adamthsmith mentionned.

    Edit : please read I do not think that a Zotero… instead of I do think…
  • zotero://fullscreen is wonderful-- but is it possible to have homepage in FF that loads a page underneath (i.e. scholar.google.com) while also opening Zotero in fullscreen or normal mode? That way the webpage would be ready if I wanted to do a quick search, but I could still have fullscreen Zotero as my default FF behavior.
  • I'm not sure that would be possible. Here's a possible solution: I simply have a bookmark for Google Scholar, called 'GS'. Even is the bookmark toolbar is hidden, Firefox's new address bar enables me to just type GS to go to Google Scholar.
  • Another minor thing; when I have firefox set to have zotero://fulscreen as the homepage, it behaves oddly. Specifically, the vertical resize bar (between zotero & the main firefox panel of the window) is still visible but non-functional. The firefox window title is still "Mozilla Firefox" rather than "Zotero" as it is when it is in fullscreen. Hitting the "toggle full screen" button minimizes the zotero panel to zero height (which is unachievable by manual resizing). Either resizing or hitting "fullscreen" again at this point returns Zotero to regular functionality.

    Nothing major, and nothing that really gets in the way of functionality (just requires a couple extra clicks to get Zotero into half-screen mode), but odd and I thought worth mentioning. Unless I'm missing something and it's really supposed to be like that!
  • mlt
    edited December 16, 2009
    Under MS Windows you can also register a handler for "zotero protocol". It will allow you to make a shortcut to fullscreen zotero. Namely, after adding the following line to registry, use right click->New->Shortcut and enter zotero://fullscreen . You can place resulting shortcut on your desktop.


    "URL Protocol"=""



    @="\"C:\\Program Files\\Mozilla Firefox\\firefox.exe\" \"%1\""
  • Hi following ajlyon's advice I'm adding some comments on what I would like to see in an ideal Zotero stand-alone version. Please take what you like of my comments, as they are based solely on my personal experience with my own set-up

    1 - Full page in FF is great, sucks ram & cpu - a standalone could be lighter.
    2 - In an ideal world, I would install my standalone and link it to Word/Oo without plugins.
    3 - Given the recent problems with Java (I still haven't solved mine) I wish a standalone zotero could work without it.
    4 - I really dislike the swapping back and forth the document page and the browser. I wish one day Zotero will sit/pop up somewhere in the tray - gnotero is a good start but of course it only allows to check references (partially). I think it could be possible to extend this concept to a fully editable appelet which integrates with the word processor.


  • I use Zotero fullscreen constantly (in Windows XP), and have only one minor complaint: the titlebar reads "Mozilla Firefox" rather than "Zotero," so I have trouble picking out the Zotero window from the taskbar or with ctrl-tab. This is peculiar because when the fullscreen program first appears, while it is loading the items for a couple of seconds, the titlebar does read "Zotero"; but when it is done loading it switches to "Firefox." Would this be easy to fix?
  • on linux the fullscreen zotero window displays Zotero on the top correctly - so the intention seems to be for this to work as you want.
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