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For the some time now, the Linux community has been desperately crying out for a good Twitter client. It’s not their fault. There used to be a great many of them.
Clients like Destroy Twitter, TweetDeck and Twhirl. The problem is, these were all based on Adobe’s Air runtime, which was discontinued for Linux users around 2011. Since then, nothing’s really taken their place.
Or, perhaps not. I decided to survey the current Linux Twitter client landscape, looking for the best, most beautiful Twitter experience around. To make things even more interesting, we’re going to focus on the most lightweight ones – even ones that work on the command line. Here’s what I found.
First up, we’re looking at RainbowStream. Unusually, RainbowStream is a command-line Twitter client, built with Python. But don’t let that fool you. RainbowStream is just as capable and as beautiful as any graphically-oriented client you could care to name.
You can tweet, favorite, share, quote and reply to your heart’s content. RainbowStream can even post and view images, although they do look a tad pixelated when viewed in the browser.
You can even change how RainbowStream looks through a number of pre-installed themes. These range from the vibrant, to the subdued. My favorite was the gorgeous Tomorrow Night, which is particularly restful to the eyes.
RainbowStream consists of two components. The first is called “The Stream”, which displays the contents of your Twitter feed. It does it in the most mesmerizing way, and I found myself staring at my computer screen for almost 10 minutes, watching tweet after tweet pass me by.
I can easily imagine this being used as a Twitter screen at a technology conference, much like Visible Tweets often is.
The other component is interactive mode, which allows you to interact with Twitter. This worked perfectly adequately, but it’s worth noting that it requires you to learn a plethora of hotkeys and macros to use it.
RainbowStream was a stunning experiment into how to make Twitter beautiful. One that I can see myself using, well into the future. Although it’s worth noting that for the average user, installing RainbowStream can be intimidating. It comes with a shopping list of prerequisites that must be installed first, and requires the use of the PIP Python package manager. But if you can get past these, you’ll find a Twitter client that’s worthy of your time.
When launching TTYtter for the first time, you’re greeted with the following:
Looks like you’re starting TTYtter for the first time, and/or creating a keyfile. Welcome to the most user-hostile, highly obfuscated, spaghetti code infested and obscenely obscure Twitter client that’s out there. You’ll love it.
They weren’t wrong. TTYtter (presumably pronounced “tighter”) is hellishly challenging to install, requiring you jump through more hoops than a Crufts champion sheepdog.
For almost 15 minutes, I grappled with the multitude of SSL errors TTYtter was throwing, and the obscure and unhelpful error messages it provided. Until eventually, I gave up and ran it without SSL encryption. That solved my issues, but probably wasn’t the best idea.
As a Twitter client, it’s not the prettiest. It’s certainly not the easiest to use. It forces you to manually refresh your Twitter timeline by typing “/refresh”. Because of the lack of color, or any formatting for that matter, it can be hard to distinguish where a tweet begins and ends.
It’s also worth noting that anything that isn’t prefaced with a forward slash is tweeted as a tweet, making it really easy to accidentally tweet out some banality like “refresh” or “help”.
But it’s certainly lightweight. TTYtter consumes a near negligible amount of RAM and CPU, making it perhaps the most svelte Twitter client I’ve ever used. What a shame it’s so hard to use though.
Tired of sitting on the command-line, I decided to look at Birdie. Birdie advertises itself as “fast, easy to use and beautiful”, and as being the best Twitter client available for Linux. So, how does it match up?
Let’s start off with “beautiful”. Er, no. Birdie isn’t beautiful. At the risk of sounding mean, Birdie looks like what would happen if IBM built a Twitter client for Windows 95 in the mid 90s.
That’s not to say it’s especially bad though. Despite the uninspiring typography, squished photos, and grey backgrounds, it’s still a perfectly adequate Twitter client. Everything is in its right place, and works. It’s just so… Ugly.
But fast? That I’m willing to concede, because it really is fast. It zipped through my Twitter feed like a turbo-charged hotrod, whilst simultaneously consuming virtually no RAM. It even provides notifications whenever a DM or reply drops.
It’s worth noting that Birdie isn’t available from the Ubuntu repositories. You’ll have to manually install it from a .deb file.
This is a bit of a cheat, since Gwibber isn’t really a dedicated Twitter client. It supports a broad family of microblogging clients, including Twitter, Identi.ca, Facebook and FriendFeed.
In fact, it’s not really called Gwibber. When you install it from the command line (sudo apt-get install gwibber), it’s nowhere to be found. Because, for whatever reason, it’s listed as “Friends”.
Once I emotionally recovered from the bait-and-switch, I set to seeing how Gwibber/Friends compares to the competition.
Well, it’s perhaps the prettiest one we’ve tried so far. When I first read about Gwibber/Friends, I was slightly concerned by the screenshots on the official website, which paints a picture of a Twitter client that’s stuck in 2007. But, no. Friends is pretty.
Admittedly, its typography isn’t great, but the soft, shaded background is particularly easy on the eyes, and the photos and icons are proportional and well laid out. Navigation, also, is pretty good. You switch from your timeline, to your mentions, to your message, through a carousel-style navigation system.
Thankfully, Friends looks the part, without demanding too much of your system. At most, it used 35MB of RAM. All in all, it’s a nice compromise between performance, looks and features.
I must admit, before using Hotot, I knew very little about it. I didn’t even know anyone who used it, although it frequently popped up in research. Intrigued, I decided to take a look at it.
Hotot calls itself “yet another Twitter client”. That, for the most part, is entirely true. It doesn’t do anything particularly novel, or well for that matter. It’s not customizable, and it doesn’t look particularly pretty. It feels like, yes, yet another Twitter client.
An incomplete Twitter client at that. Certain things don’t work as you might expect. For instance, the Tweet composition window detaches and moves around, but doesn’t leave the actual client window. Direct messages aren’t organized into logical threads, but rather in long, unwieldy streams of jumbled messages.
Hotot is not a very good Twitter client.
But, for what it’s worth, it’s certainly a lightweight one, consuming around 90MB of RAM, and virtually no CPU. All in all, an adequate Twitter client, but perhaps not one I’d use out of choice.
Did I Miss Any?
These are some of the best, slimline Twitter clients I discovered. There are, of course, many more. Turpial was one that came highly recommended, but was unfortunately far too complicated to install on Ubuntu to recommend.
Did I neglect your favorite Twitter client? Want to tell me about it? Let me know in the comments below.