The Twits

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 to continue using an old version of TwitBox. Today I decided it might be interesting to test out the various Twitter clients out there and see what was on offer. I tested the old warhorses, Twitterlicious, Twitteroo, TwitBox and Tweetr as well as some new additions MadTwitter, Pwytter, and Twitterbox. My review and recommendations are below.

It is with one of the newcomers that I begin. MadTwitter is very much new to the scene having only entered Beta testing back in April. The first full version was released three weeks later, but the lack of development since April might be a bad sign. The key with any software but particularly new software is that it has to be well-supported by the developers. Let me take this moment to mention Flotzam. When I read about it I thought it looked like a fantastic piece of software but then I couldn’t download it. Looking at the blog it hasn’t been updated since July so I gave up on it. This is why new software needs support, people are more likely to “give up” on your software if you do.

At under 10MB of RAM the memory footprint is the smallest of those I tested. It looks pretty nice too emulating Twitterrific. I did like the fact that not only is there the increasingly common pop up notification of new tweets but there’s also an option to have it show the window itself instead. That is where the positives end. The inability to reply (using the @<name> prefix) without having to manually type in the full name is a problem for me but given the low memory consumption I’d have still recommended it for those on slower machines. However it doesn’t refresh the timeline at all well (which is the point of using a desktop app) so I cannot even do that. Avoid if possible.

My first impression of Pwytter was that it is not particularly intuitive to use and the default look is not all that attractive. Delving deeper I found that the blue theme was not that much different but the black one was actually rather nice. Although it was of no use to me the client also supports French as well as English, which may be of great interest to French users. As with most clients it allows you to select the refresh rate that suits you and also allows you to choose how many items to display. However there is no way to scroll through items so all items must actually be on screen at all time. This is a serious flaw and effectively limits how many items can realistically be displayed.

One very nice feature is the sidebar showing both “following” and “followers” with their pictures. Clicking on these you can visit the profile of any of the people you follow or who follow you. I did also like how my Tweets showed up on Twitter as “from Pwytter” (it’s a small thing but I like it). The “favourite” function, however, does not work (not only does the star not fill on the client it doesn’t on Twitter either).

The ease of sending direct messages is offset by the fact that you have to type out @<name> for replies to tweets. Of course if there was a direct messages timeline option then you could simply adapt your Twitter behaviour and use direct messaging instead of replies, but there is no such option. Speaking of timeline options the lack of a “replies” timeline is another shortcoming. Not only are replies something I use a lot but I would say that the same is true for most users of Twitter. The memory footprint of 21MB is small though so it may be a good choice for those on older machines.

Tweetr is a client that has proven very popular and in my last round of testing I was unable to work out why. It took up a whopping 40MB of RAM and did very little. I’m not short of RAM but demand that applications that use a lot provide a lot of functionality. Where Firefox, iTunes and explorer (not to be confused with Internet Explorer which I don’t use) all used more they all provided me with what I needed from them.

Fast forward a few months and it is a much improved offering. It still uses a lot of RAM (in fact it’s pushing 50MB now) but it provides a bit more bang for my buck. Three timeline options (the important ones too, friends, replies and direct messages), popup notifications on new tweets (plus the old sound that I loved), a “favourite” function that actually works now and my personal favourite, a simple way to send replies. Now when you type the @ it automatically appends the name of the first friend on your following list (alphabetically) and as you type more of the name it “predicts” what you’re typing. This makes it much easier to send replies to people with slightly unusual names.

If you look back at my last review two of my major criticisms were the lack of popup notification and the inability to easily add an @ tag for people with difficult names so maybe my points were taken on board? The new version of Tweetr also comes with two functions I don’t have much use for (webcam integration and file sharing) but which nonetheless may be of use to a lot of you out there. All this and it hasn’t lost its gorgeous looks. On the negative side it’s far too buggy for me to recommend it, in spite of the many positives. If they can iron out the bugs it would be an excellent choice.

Another old dog is Twitteroo. Like MadTwitter there hasn’t been much development recently (the blog hasn’t even been updated since March) but unlike MadTwitter it does have a pretty solid pedigree. Absolutely nothing has changed since my last review. It is still ugly but incredibly feature-packed. Both replying to tweets and the in-built URL shortening are incredibly intuitive. The fact that pressing enter doesn’t actually send your update is less so, however. Selecting a tweet shows the full message, the “real” name, a user picture (it’s a shame these are only available if you select a tweet) which links to the user’s twitter page and a “visit” button which links to their homepage.

The pop up notification of new tweets not only tells you how many new tweets but also who wrote them (so you can “screen” as you would your calls). In the settings section you can set how long notifications stay on screen, set the transparency of the pop-up and toggle a notification sound. You can also change the transparency settings for the window itself and the font size (which may be of particular use to those of you who struggle to read small text). A memory footprint of 40MB puts it in the middle of the pack. If you want a functional twitter client and don’t really care what it looks like so long as it’s effective at its job this is the one for you. It’s too ugly for me though.

Back to the newcomers and Twitterbox (not to be confused with TwitBox) is anything but ugly. In my view it’s the best looking client out there (although it is more of a widget than a client, part of the beon suite which doesn’t look too bad but I have my own widgets that I’m happy with). I particularly like the ability to expand/collapse the widget to take up less room and the way the entire shape is made to look like a speech bubble. The lack of a scrollbar was not a problem for me as I could use my mousewheel but those on laptops or with mice that don’t have a wheel may have issues.

Twitterbox is incredibly intuitive and the tabs to switch between public and friends timeline (as well as a posting form) appear when you mouseover the widget (as do the refresh, close and settings buttons). Like Twitteroo user pictures only appear on the selected tweet but unlike Twitteroo this is less of a weakness because it is what allows the widget to remain so compact. Clicking on the picture takes you to the user’s personal homepage and the “visit” button instead takes you to their Twitter page.

The popup notifications (which can be turned off) look great and actually show the “real” name, the user picture, the tweet and even a button to instantly reply. The notification sound (which can likewise be turned off) sounds crisp and is perfectly apt. It is without a doubt my favourite notification sound of all the clients I tested. Usually the more style and good looks come at the cost of more memory but this actually came in pretty light at 30MB. If you don’t need a load of features but want something that looks stunning and is reliable I’d very much recommend this. It’s my second favourite.

Since my last review Twitterlicious has become bloated. The memory footprint has grown massively (it’s over 40MB now, putting it above Twitteroo, which has more features), but it’s still the same old minimal interface, with only small improvements to functionality to show for it. One of the strengths of the last version I tested was that, although it was sorely lacking in features, it was lightweight. Although the features I highlighted a lack of last time have been addressed the competition is much fiercer now. Not only are there clients with more features but there are clients which offer more features, better looks and for less memory. This is the worst of the bunch by far.

So what gets my recommendation? The newest TwitBox of course. I am by no means the only one who has lauded TwitBox as the best Twitter windows client out there. Where many people would be content to sit on their laurels the developer has been constantly striving to improve his creation. Why? You’d have to ask him, but if I were to venture a guess I’d suppose it’s because he realises that even excellence can be improved upon. By adding new functionality and redesigning his software constantly he can stay ahead of the pack. Also his stated aim is to try and rival that Mac client. The latest offering is only an interim build and already I can see that he’s done it again.

Not only do the looks live up to the high standards set by previous incarnations (although they don’t quite rival the similarly sounding Twitterbox) but this offering is feature-packed. There is a progress bar counting down until the next refresh (although I would prefer it if this had a time overlaid on it or something along those lines), in-built url shortening which is easy to use, replying to a tweet is easy as pie and the tweet text even includes the “from/using” part (if only it could say “from Twitbox”).

There is a button for deleting your own tweet (a nice addition) but it doesn’t work as yet (possibly being held back for the full release), buttons to visit not only the selected user’s homepage and twitter page but also any website mentioned in the tweet, and even a button to add/remove friends. If there was a button that starred a tweet as a favourite there’d be no reason to visit the website! The fantastic url snagger is still there and all three major timelines (friends, replies and direct messages) are supported.

The coup de grace, however, is the support for multiple accounts. Unfortunately I needed to add the second account twice before it worked but I presume that’s the sort of bug intended to be resolved by the full release. One of the reasons for me not keeping up with the Textual Relations twitter account was because I have my own personal twitter account and all the other clients support only one account so this new feature should see the return of Textual Relations on Twitter

On the downside the memory footprint was close to 50MB, but I might add that that was with two (technically three) accounts signed in. Compare that to running most of the other clients in two instances and it’s quite favourable. The functionality available in TwitBox makes the memory cost worth consuming. It packs in more features than any other client and although it’s slightly buggy it’s nowhere near as bad as Tweetr and we mustn’t forget that this is simply an interim build. It’s a shame that the old right-click context menus are gone, though, I hope they make a return as they were very intuitive.

I await await the next full release of the amazing TwitBox with eager anticipation.


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3 responses

9 11 2007
PJ Coudert

Pwytter 0.8 now has a working “favourite” function.
There are “replies”, “direct messages” and a new “composite” timelines now.
And a new “Reply” button adds automatically the “@.

9 11 2007
Mr President

Excellent. I’ll be sure to test the new version out and report my findings.

19 11 2007
Textual’s Twitter Take Part II « Textual Relations

[…] on, late last month I did a review of some Twitter clients for windows. It singularly failed to impress but that’s because you […]

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