TwitBox bonanza (and a bit of Tweetr bashing too)

3 05 2007

After a long time being busy with numerous other things, I finally remembered I was supposed to do some more reviewing of Twitter clients. So much so that the version of TwitBox I had downloaded to test (0.6.3) has been superseded by not one but two new releases. I’ve decided that since I downloaded version 0.6.3 and never actually used it I should probably test all three versions. Maybe they’ll help Steven Hodson, the developer, in deciding the strengths and weaknesses of each build, which I hope may in turn help him come up with an uber version with his next release. Unless he writes me off as a crackpot.

Also in the time between my last review and this I noticed that one of my Twitter friends, someone who, like myself, was testing various clients, was using Tweetr, so I decided to give it a whirl myself. It’s actually remained my client since then (until now) so I might as well begin my review with it. On the positive side the first thing that I noticed was the gorgeous looks. I didn’t think anything on a Windows XP machine would be able to emulate Twitteriffic’s looks or functionality, but at first glance Tweetr looked to have done just that. The “bubbles” are simply beautiful, giving the client a slightly more Twitterriffic feel. And I love the sound for new Tweets, lots of clients have sounds, but few have one as perfect for the job as this one. And as for functionality, I love the ability to star a Tweet to mark it as a favourite, just as you can on the site.

Or rather, the theory of being able to mark a Tweet as a favourite. In my case the “star” never filled up so I had to visit my Twitter page to check if the favourite had indeed been marked. Which sort of defeats the point. Also, and possibly more importantly, there’s no notification pop-up for new Tweets. This is a big gripe for me. On the plus side it does take up as much or as little room as you like, but for all the looks-based positives it’s sorely missing functionality. There’s no way to easily add a “@ <name>” tag before your message, which is a pet gripe of mine. I’m lazy, I want a client that’s easy to use. There’s also a distinct lack of customisation options. Also, at a whopping 40MB of RAM, the footprint is hardly tiny. It was third biggest on my machine behind Firefox (understandable) and iTunes (and only fractionally behind iTunes). Looking back, I’m surprised I’ve stuck with it so long, it could only be out of sheer laziness.

So having finally gotten rid of Tweetr I decided to test TwitBox 0.63. The first really great feature of this incarnation is that it not only collects the public timeline and friends timeline but now has the added option of collecting direct messages too. Due to the fact I rarely get direct messages (awww) this is of little direct use to me, but nonetheless I really do appreciate the function. Adding functionality like that will slowly make using the site itself completely obsolete, which is presumably the ideal goal for any Twitter client. The second new feature is the ability to set a filter which highlights Tweets containing certain keywords. As yet I’ve not found a use for this but I can think of potential uses. And ultimately it’s always better to have more features than less.

One feature I did want, and in fact not only mentioned in my last review but actually sent Steven a message requesting, was notification of new Tweets, and I must say, not only have notifications been implemented, but they’re beautifully done too. It’s not an ugly pop-up bubble, it’s a MSN-style window that slides up and gives you a little message telling you how many new Tweets there are and in what timeline. On top of this there are no more pop-up notifications of connection errors, and instead of an unsightly error window popping up you get all these details in a special “log” tab. Not only that but it has all the basic features that regular TwitBox users have come to expect. You might think that a good-looking client with all these features would be a resource hog. However you’d be wrong. At just 17MB it has a footprint less than half the size of Tweetr.

TwitBoxAnd so I moved onto Twitbox 7.1, which I was really excited by as I’d heard Steven had tried to rival that Mac client (as he so lovingly calls it. Glad to see I’m not the only way who feels that way about it) for looks. Then I read some of the comments and was a bit worried that it might disappoint. Having tried it out, I think there was a lot of overreaction. Sometimes people are scared of change, and this fear manifests itself as hate or negativity. Looks-wise I think he delivered, it’s a gorgeous interface. Some might complain that it doesn’t fit in with their windows theme as it doesn’t use a standard Windows UI, however if you’re that bothered by the aesthetics of your desktop, you can do what I do and minimise it and use the notifications. That’s one of the reasons I asked for them, as I hate clutter spoiling my wonderfully gorgeous modded desktop.

I love how the timeline status bars are displayed in the infobar down the side, and I absolutely adore the URL-fetcher. It’s an incredibly useful function that would never have even occured to me. At 11MB it has an even smaller footprint than the older version, so in that respect too I think it’s a success. This “spikes” to 20MB when it’s redrawing. Anyone complaining about the redrawing slowing down their machine must be running a prehistoric computer. It’s actually more responsive (in terms of sending Tweets) than old versions were and I love the use right-click context menus. It makes the overall program that little bit more intuitive to use for someone like me who’s not quite so fond of keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys. I spend so much of the day with the mouse in my hand it’s more natural to use that. Keyboards should be for typing only.

However that’s not to say it’s not without some flaws. I dislike how minimising the window doesn’t actually minimise it to tray or taskbar, but instead just minimises it to a small “bar”, which, when double-clicked, restores the window again. It’s not a huge issue as this still reduces (radically) the amount of desktop real estate it uses, but it’s not great. If I try and use the “Boss Key” to minimise to the tray, this gets rid of it entirely, and I can simply double-click the tray icon to get it back. This does give me an idea for a way to encompass both minimising to tray and taskbar, and giving users both options (as I prefer the taskbar but some prefer the tray). The “Boss Key” should continue to minimise to tray, as you don’t want your boss seeing it on the taskbar, but manually minimising the window (using the down arrow) should minimise it to the taskbar. To be fair, I’m not sure if this is possible, but if it is, that would be great.

My main gripe is the usual inability tp add the “@ <name>” tag by double-clicking, however I recognise that this is being done because you need to single click in order to see the full Tweet. Instead, in order to add that prefix you need to use a keyboard shortcut (have I mentioned how much I hate those?). However the clever use of the context menus in this version (kudos Steven) suggest that this might be another place where they’d be useful. A very nice new feature for this version is the ability to send a Direct Message using the “d <name>” tag before a Tweet. This is currently done by another keyboard shotcut. So here’s my suggestion (assuming it’s possible to do this). How about a right-click context menu where, when you right-click the Tweet you want to respond to and it gives you to two options, one to to add “@ <name>”, and one to add “d <name>”. The context menus are a great new addition to Twitbox

TwitBox 7.2Having truly loved TwitBox 7.1 I was eager to see how Steven had responded to the criticism of it with 7.2. It sounded as if the negative feedback had forced him to do a rethink and go back to the old UI. Personally speaking, I think this was a backwards step, but I was still willing to review it with an open mind. To be honest I think the people complaining are those who generally oppose change out of fear, and I believe that whilst a software developer should (as Steven does) listen to the comments and critiques of his users, it’s important not to lose sight of his own creative vision. Sometimes people just need to be forced to see the benefits of a new way of doing things; forced to be free, if you will.

I’m so glad I did too. The interface still looks gorgeous, although in my personal opinion not quite as sexy as 7.1. I definitely preferred the way that the “time to refresh” for each timeline was displayed as a progressbar rather than text, as it is on this version. However that’s hardly a huge criticism. Surprisingly enough despite the new look being more “slimmed down” it actually takes up more RAM (27MB when idle and up to 44MB when refreshing, more than even Tweetr). You might think, from that, that I’d hate it, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. I love the way the context menus are now used more fully, not only for direct and public personal messages, but also to visit the homepage or Twitter page of the author of any Tweet you select, as well as searching their Tweets.

The benefits of the last version are still there, insofar as the snagged URLs, Direct Messages and Log tabs. Whilst I personally loved the 7.1 version’s look I can understand why Steven felt the need to go back to basics. The majority certainly disagreed with me and the 7.2 look is still better looking than the pre-version 7 incarnations, showing the usual improvement from one release to the next. I’ll refrain from suggesting URL shortening (which I don’t use) or marking favourites (which I do) as suggestions for the next release as Steven has already told me he’s working on these. However, what I will mention as a possible improvement is a UI suggestion. I’d much prefer the snagged url and “time to refresh” to appear as a sidebar on the client (as it did on 7.1) with the option to hide/show using the right-click context menus (which already have that functionality for the profile window at the bottom).

Tweetr has a nice interface but could defitely be improved, both my making the favourite function work and actually having pop-up notifications. If it was basic but had a small footprint I’d probably be a lot less harsh on it but for the memory it takes up, I’d much rather stick with the new TwitBox. It’s already a lovely client, with loads of features, and at the rate Steven’s developing it, it will soon eclipse that Mac client. Which is why it’s now replaced Tweetr as my Twitter client of choice, and hopefully it will become yours too. Enjoy.


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3 responses

3 05 2007
Steven Hodson

Thank you very much for the kind words about TwitBox. I have taken a couple of days to work on another program but when I get back to TwitBox this weekend I will address the memory footprint along with fixing any outstanding bugs.

Along with that I should be adding a History/Favorites option as well. There is also a very good chance that I’ll also be able to “sexy” up the UI without sacrificing any current features.

4 05 2007
Mr President

Fantastic news. The footprint wasn’t a major gripe as even at its worst it’s fractionally more than Tweetr which has a lot less functionality. I just found it interesting how the “sexy” look actually used less memory.

That’s basically been the evolution of TwitBox so far, from what I can tell. Each version I’ve tested has looked better than the last, but without losing any functionality. I’m eagerly awaiting the next release!

19 11 2007
The Twits « Textual Relations

[…] 22 10 2007 Back in April and May of this year I did some reviews of Twitter clients for windows. Since then I have been quite happy […]

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