Good Linux Twitter Clients - Where are they? - Adventures in Switching to Linux

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Good Linux Twitter Clients - Where are they?

Finding a good Twitter client for Linux is not as easy as I thought it would be. About 5 months ago, despite resisting it for a long time, I started using Twitter. I don't know why but it is a little addictive. I've now even attended my first tweetup in Fayetteville. Twittering is a lot like blogging but without having to think too much about it as you only get 140 characters to work with. If you are here though, you probably know all that already.

For the most part, I have just used the Twitter website to read and post "tweets" but looking at some analysis of traffic, there seem to be a lot of good clients out there. This is in most part thanks to the fact that Twitter has an API so you don't have to use the website only. You can use one of the endless number of clients that are written to make the experience more feature filled. There is a nice list here but for this post, I am only interested in the Linux and cross platform twitter clients.

Unfortunately once you get to running Linux, the seemingly endless selection of clients ends. There are really only 3 easy solutions if you are running Ubuntu 8.04. I say easy because you can install all 3 through Add/Remove Applications. Sadly, none of them are very good. First, there are 2 native clients: gTwitter and Twitux.

gTwitter (using version 1.0beta) is ok. First, the default view is terrible (not the one pictured below). The default shows the selected tweet from a list of initially the last 12 you have received. The list only shows the name and the time of the tweet (except the time was when it was downloaded, not when it was posted).

Switching to "Tweet View" is more helpful (see the screen shot below). In Tweet View the client at least shows all the tweets in full along with the picture of the person; however, none of the links in them work when using this view. You can't follow an @account to see the persons page or even follow normal http links. There is also no ability to reply to a person using the interface either without manually typing @ and their username. These are all very serious deficiencies.

The text entry box is also very limited. First, it is a single line. I realize 140 characters doesn't take much space but it can still fill up a single line. I want to see everything I am typing before I send it. At least there is a character counter to show you how many more characters you have left. There is also no spell check which for me is another must have.

If you want to change the settings, of which there are few, the only way to access them is from the system tray icon. I didn't even realize it was up there after searching for a very long time for a way to change the update frequency after running out of my allotted API calls.

Oh yeah, and sometimes it just randomly crashes.

I see gTwitter as a good start but sill to lacking for real use. Just using the website would be more useful at this point.

Twitux (using version 0.60) is a lot better but still has some major annoyances. It does have clear menu items so you can get to settings and features easily. It also has a number of features that, unlike gTwitter, add value over just using the website.

In addition to the basics Twitux has a view to show you different sets of tweets such as the public list, your friends, only yours, direct messages, direct replies and the timeline for the application @twitux.

The text entry is a good sized text area with spell check but to get to it you have to use the menu or Ctrl-N to pop up a dialog box. I think it should be part of the interface like in gTwitter but as multiple lines.

The most annoying part of Twitux though is the resizing issues. If tweets are long enough they don't wrap properly and there is always a little left/right scrolling that you will have to do. Why? Up/down scrolling is expected so just drop the left/right scroll and expand those tweets vertically.

So far I think Twitux is you best bet but there are some other options.

The next option is to run Twitter in Mozilla Prism. This isn't much special as Prism is just a stand alone browser (using much of the same internals as Firefox) designed to be used for a single application at a time. The idea with Prism is you have an icon for Twitter on you desktop that you can click and it will bring up this window with Twitter in it, more like a desktop application. You can use Prism for any site like your online email or calendar too. I think you get the point.

So, using Prisim is really just like using the website in its own little browser. There is not much value add there.

Before moving on to what I think the best solution I have to ask a question: Why are there so many Windows clients and so few Linux clients and of those Linux clients, why are they so lacking? I truly do not understand. On Linux, clients like this usually spring up left and right but they haven't here. Maybe developers just don't use Twitter that much or it just isn't that big of a deal to them. I will say that a Twitter client is pretty low priority.

But the best option, I think, it to use some of the newer cross platform clients that are written using the new Adobe AIR framework. The problem there though is AIR for Linux is lagging behind the Windows and Mac versions. It just moved from alpha to beta on September 18th.

I honestly haven't tried installing AIR and an AIR Twitter client on Linux yet. That is next on my list but beyond the scope of this post. I did see some success by this guy on getting Thwirl on Linx working. This was when AIR was still in the alpha stage. I really like Thwirl in Windows. I'd like to try out TweetDeck too.

If this hasn't solved your quest for a good Twitter client in Linux, you may want to read this review of the state of Twitter clients on Linux or see what folks think of Twitter+Linux on I also found Pwytter recently but it doesn't look very impressive yet either.

Have you had any luck finding a better client? I'd love to know. I'm still just using the website.

No comments: