Wednesday, March 2, 2011

HipChat without AIR

Moved here

We've been investigating HipChat for internal chat lately, and I was a little disappointed that it used Adobe AIR on all platforms, instead of providing a native app. To be fair, it's the most well-done AIR app this side of Basalmiq, but there were still the little inconsistencies that I couldn't help but get annoyed by. I'm not going to describe the exact things that bothered me here, since Alex Payne does such a great job describing the problems here, but it felt weird enough that I couldn't see myself using the app as often as I'd use, say, Propane.

Heading through their support pages to get an idea of how I could improve my experience, I noticed that there seemed to be a fair amount of support for running the web version of HipChat through Fluid, which, while not as pleasant as a native app, still felt much faster and more native on the Mac than the AIR app did. HipChat did an amazing job of building support for things like Growl notifications and Dock badge notifications into the web interface, and seem to want to make the site work as well in Fluid as it does through AIR. Given the constraints they've set for themselves, HipChat has done a tremendous job of building support for people that would like an alternative to AIR.

Accessing HipChat through Fluid

There were only a few minor gotchas I ran into when creating the HipChat Fluid app. First, after downloading and running Fluid, the URL should be set to The icon can be left as the website favicon, which awesomely still takes a full-size icon from HipChat's site, rather than the actual tiny favicon the site uses. Once inside the HipChat Fluid app, you'll have to adjust the preferences. Under the Advanced category, you'll have to add the pattern **, otherwise you won't be able to sign in. Finally, if you want Growl and Dock notifications, you have to enable notifications through the AIR app—HipChat doesn't expose that setting in the web app.

There are some cons to running the web app—although notifications, file drag-and-drop, and most of the other functionality works, the web app is missing the file/link dock on the right hand side, the tabs are a little flakier, you can't video chat, and there's a big "Download App" button that would be much more valuable as room for another chat tab. However, the use of native Mac OS X controls, the smoother scrolling, Growl support (rather than the built-in notifications that show up in the wrong place), better integration with the system, and the ability to script the site with CSS and JavaScript make the Fluid app the way to go.

Finally, while I was digging through the JavaScript, I noticed that HipChat has what looks like decent support for running it as a Chrome app, which might be worth trying if you're not on OS X or just prefer Chrome.

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