UPDATE 27/06/13: Since a couple of weeks ago Turpial stopped working for me. Twitter switched off their version 1.0 API in favour of 1.1. I’m leaving this article here in case anyone still wants it as a reference.
If you’re a Linux desktop user like myself you may have experienced problems finding for a decent Twitter client. In many distributions the default client is Gwibber, it’s even integrated into the Unity desktop for Ubuntu. I’ve used it on and off for years now and I’m not one to throw harsh criticism around if I can help it. However, in the case of Gwibber I think it’s well deserved. It’s monumentally slow, buggy and unstable. Even after all these years. I have no idea how it’s become so popular. Whenever I try Gwibber it hangs and I get the classic Compiz grey window while I wait for the machine to stop having a panic attack. Often all I’m trying to do is refresh my messages. You may think this is due to my machine being old or slow. Not so my friends. I last used Gwibber in Ubuntu 12.10 on an Intel Core i7 3.5ghz quad core machine with 8 gig of RAM and an SSD. Hardly a low spec PC I’m sure you’ll agree. Well capable of running a Twitter client, I’m not asking it for the meaning of life here. Being an app that relies on loading messages from the Twitter (and in my case Identica) you could easily assume it must be the API causing the slowness. Perhaps even network lag. My guess would just be poor design and coding. An application that locks up so badly and frequently that it affects the performance of your whole desktop is totally unacceptable. I persevered with Gwibber for a long time for a couple of reasons. Firstly because I hoped i would improve and performance would be refined. Secondly because none of the alternatives I tried were much better, if they were any better at all that is.
At this point I should give Choqok an honourable mention. It’s a KDE microblogging client which I’ve used intermittently over the last 2 years. It is much better than Gwibber in performance but as I don’t use KDE on any of my machines it requires the QT libraries to run. All that is installed for you with the main package and it’s not a major hassle, but it does add extra overhead. I found the layout and UI a little confusing at first but gradually got used to it. Not exactly a lightweight client but considerably more so than Gwibber. Worth a look if you’re on KDE but not the application I want to tell you about today.
The status quo (not the band thankfully) with microblogging clients on Linux continued for quite some time. The lack of a decent native Twitter client was getting embarrassing. Then I discovered a wonderful little app called Turpial completely by accident. I was fed up with Gwibber locking up for the 15 millionth time one day so began searching online for ways to make it faster or fix it. I came across a forum post responding to a similar question containing the words, “the solution to Gwibber’s performance problems is installing Turpial and moving on”. I can’t credit this statement to the right person as I should because I lost link and it was all quite a blur. So whoever that mystery poster was, thank you! I searched my package manager for “turpial” and sure enough found the application nice and quickly. Once I got it installed I was amazed by the speed and usefulness of this client. That was a couple of months ago and I haven’t used anything else since. I’m not looking back.
The main thing I like about Turpial is the speed, it really is a lightweight app and runs very smoothly. Especially when you consider that it’s all written in Python, a language often wrongly accused of being slow. If you switch to wide mode in the preferences you can add columns and use it like Tweetdeck, the ever popular Twitter client. See the image below.
You can fine tune the refresh settings for replies, direct messages and your main Twitter stream individually in the preferences. Also note the “wide mode” check box if you want multiple columns.
Apart from the speed perhaps my favourite thing about Turpial is that it comes under GNU GPL version 3 or later license. My personal favourite as a copyleft proponent.
There’s only one drawback to Turpial that I can see really. It doesn’t let you use multiple accounts or services with one instance of the application. It supports Twitter and Identica but you can’t do both from one window. As it’s so lightweight it’s no hassle to fire up another instance of Turpial and sign in with your Identica details. I’m guessing you could also do the same if you wanted to monitor multiple Twitter accounts. It still performs really well and doesn’t seem to add any strain to my system. In this case an Intel Core i3 laptop. Not a high end one either. Identica will be closing fairly soon and when it does that’ll take care of one of these dilemmas for me categorically. For now if you’re an Identica fan and not a Twitter user, of which there are some, you can use it as an Identica only client with all the same features. Plus if you’d like to add features or get involved there’s a Github repository for the project. You can check out the code and play around with it if you have the skills. The beauty of Open Source.
So if you’re looking for a sane alternative to Gwibber and you’re tired of pulling your hair out (I haven’t got much left) give Turpial a spin. If you have any other suggestions for Linux microblogging clients I should try also please free free to add them in a comment on this post. Since Adobe AIR no longer comes for Linux I’ve left Tweetdeck off the list. I never quite understood all the fuss over Tweetdeck anyway. It’s not FOSS and I prefer to use open solutions wherever I can.
So there you have it, Turpial is well worth a look. Happy tweeting and/or denting!