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StatusNet releases a desktop client

July 21, 2010

This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier.

Finding a good microblogging client to support Twitter and Facebook is easy. Finding support for Identi.ca and other microblogging sites powered by StatusNet is a little more tricky outside the Linux desktop. For users on other platforms, StatusNet has taken matters into its own hands and released StatusNet Desktop, a multi-platform client that supports Identi.ca and StatusNet sites.

For those who are not knee-deep into social media, StatusNet is a free software, federated, microblogging platform. Like Twitter, StatusNet allows users to post short status updates — usually 140 characters long, but this is configurable for those running private or hosted installs of StatusNet. As a federated platform, StatusNet lets users communicate between different sites running StatusNet, removing the single point of control (and failure) present with Twitter and Facebook. StatusNet the company has been offering commercial support for the microblogging platform, and offering hosted instances to companies that want their own microblogging sites. However, to be successful, users need to be able to find decent client software for StatusNet that compares to the third-party clients for Twitter.

Since Identi.ca's user base isn't even a tenth of Twitter's, support for StatusNet has not been a high priority for developers behind popular microblogging clients like TweetDeck, CoTweet, Seesmic, and others. You can find applications for other platforms but Identi.ca/StatusNet is definitely not as well-loved as Twitter.

The Linux desktop is probably not the primary focus for StatusNet Desktop, and it doesn't really bring anything new to the table for Linux users. Identi.ca and StatusNet users are well-handled already by Gwibber, Choqok, and other microblogging clients for Linux. But Identi.ca and StatusNet are not well-supported by Windows and Mac OS X tools. Popular tools either lack Identi.ca support altogether or have have rudimentary support that requires workarounds to enable Identi.ca or StatusNet accounts.

The application is written with Appcelerator Titanium, an Apache-licensed open source platform for building desktop and mobile applications using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript in Python, PHP, or Ruby. Appcelerator is a relatively new platform for writing software for multiple desktop and mobile platforms. It's supposed to be similar to Adobe Air, but entirely open source. The StatusNet client is based on the Tweetanium Twitter client written by the Appcelerator team as a demo of the platform. Installers for StatusNet Desktop are provided for 32-bit and 64-bit Linux, as well as Mac OS X and Windows. The client is licensed under the Apache license as well, and is available on Gitorious.

Installing StatusNet Desktop on Linux is fairly easy. Just uncompress the tarball and run the StatusNet Desktop executable. It will offer to install in the local directory or under /opt for system-wide use.

The StatusNet Desktop client isn't without bugs on Linux. After running the installer, the application crashed immediately. A quick search on the wiki found a description of the problem and the resolution. The client also crashed a few times during testing. Most of the time it was fine, though.

StatusNet Desktop is a decent, but basic, microblogging client. It doesn't support some features you'll find in the Web application, such as geolocation support. It also doesn't provide support for viewing groups, a unique feature on Identi.ca and StatusNet microblogs that allows users to see messages that were sent by other group members that they don't subscribe to directly. Nor does it offer lists to watch a subset of the users that you follow, something Tweetdeck and other Twitter clients do well. At least at this stage, it is not a power-user's microblogging tool. Annoyingly, it will only pull up the last 25 posts from the users that you follow, so if you haven't looked at your personal timeline recently, you'll still need to visit the Web site to see a longer history.

Many Identi.ca users are also Twitter users, but they won't be posting to Twitter using the StatusNet Desktop application anytime soon. In a reply to the request for Twitter support on the StatusNet blog, StatusNet founder Evan Prodromou replied that there was no need to write another Twitter client, seeing as users could find hundreds of Twitter desktop clients. This may be true, but at least this user would prefer to use a single application to manage all of the accounts, rather than maintaining two (or more) clients to post to Twitter, Identi.ca, and other social networks. If the idea is to drive adoption of Identi.ca and StatusNet, it might not be a bad idea to also bundle Twitter support in the StatusNet Desktop to help support users with multiple accounts.

Linux users who want a Identi.ca client will probably do better to choose another more full-featured microblogging application with support for multiple networks. But the introduction of an official StatusNet client for Windows, Mac OS X, and (eventually) the most popular smartphone OSes may help drive adoption of StatusNet with users on those platforms. In particular, it may help drive adoption of the StatusNet platform by large organizations that would like to rebrand the desktop client. Lead developer Zach Copely says in a recent post on the StatusNet blog that it is a response to StatusNet's customers' needs, more than an offering that is needed by the open source community.

Copely also points out that, while some third-party applications offer StatusNet support, no one is really focusing on the software. A dedicated client allows the company to find bugs in the APIs offered by StatusNet and make sure it works well:

With the upgrade of our federation system to OStatus, our Atom feeds have become especially rich -- rich enough that client applications can get most of the data they need from them. While the Twitter API remains the de facto standard and we'll continue to support it, we'd also like to move ahead with our own API design. We're going to take this opportunity to expand our Atom-based API even further. StatusNet Desktop gets most of its data from StatusNet's Atom feeds, and in the future we hope our clients will be able to post using the AtomPub protocol.

So far the development has been handled by StatusNet. Now that it's released, one hopes it will be extended by the StatusNet-using community to take full advantage of the platform and perhaps work with other networks. Discussion for development is handled on the StatusNet-dev mailing list. The final verdict on StatusNet Desktop is that it's a competent microblogging application that works well with StatusNet, but doesn't yet offer much compelling beyond what's available with Gwibber, Chokoq, and others.

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Brief items

Quotes of the week

Part of the reason it took me so long, is that Rakudo is sloooooooooooow. No getting around that one for the time being. If your expectation of Rakudo * includes blazing speed... fuhgedabowdit! But if you don't mind taking a coffee break while your code runs far enough to produce a nice stack trace, give Rakudo a whirl. Luckily, I cut my hacking teeth writing mainframe code, where I did just that for years. That's why, I'm sure, I am forever addicted to coffee.
-- Ingy döt Net

As a side note, years ago, I wanted to write something in Haskell that worked like Clojure's memoize (which is implemented in a half-dozen or so lines of code in Clojure's core), and asked about it on the Haskell mailing list. I was pointed to a PhD dissertation on the topic of how to write memoize in Haskell. All I could think was, "Do I really want to be using a language where memoize is a PhD-level topic?"
-- Mark Engelberg

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