Recently I discovered Fluid, and I fell in love immediately. Its simple interface belies the power this tool provides. Because I rely so heavily on web-based applications, particularly the services Google offers, Fluid provides convenient access to the sites I visit hundreds of times a day.
Fluid, a single site browser generator for Mac OS X, takes a specific website and turns it into a standalone desktop application. With support for Userscripts.org, the applications generated by Fluid can be extensively customized and integrated with existing desktop applications. Particularly useful is Fluid’s support for Growl, which provides notification support for many OS X programs.
Turning a web-based application, such as Gmail or WordPress, into a standalone Mac application, takes under a minute. Fluid requires only two inputs, the application’s web address and the name for the resulting program. Optionally, as the screenshot shows, you can specify an icon (highly recommended), otherwise Fluid will grab the icon provided by the website (its “favicon”).
Thankfully, recognizing that favicons are quite small and generate poor application icons, Fluid users have created icons for most popular sites and published them to a Flickr group. In some cases, such as cotweet, sites will even provide icons.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Fluid supports extensions by way of Userscripts.org, a site that (as the name implies) lets users share code that enhances your web browser’s interaction with many sites.
In the case of Fluid-built apps, the more useful (in my opinion) scripts add notification support, such as allowing Gmail and Google Voice to display Growl-powered popups letting me know of new email or voice messages.
The beauty of supporting a system such as Userscripts.org is that the scripts are written by other users of the sites you frequent, meaning there is probably a script to accomplish just about anything you can imagine. If you identify a functionality that doesn’t exist, Userscripts.org has a forum where you can publicize requests.
For me, there are certain sites, such as Gmail or my WordPress installation, that I access with such regularity that I would leave them open in a Firefox tab whenever my laptop was running. Then, in the course of my day, I would open dozens of other tabs as I checked my email, read the news, searched for a job, and so on. Eventually, I would lose track of the more-important tabs and out of frustration, restart Firefox to begin a fresh session. Inevitably, someone would contact me through Gmail chat and I would miss the message, or an important email would come in and my response would be delayed. Or, quite frustratingly, I would shutdown Firefox without saving a WordPress post and lose some of my work.
Using Fluid, I created standalone applications for:
- Google Calendar,
- Google Voice,
- Google Reader,
- Google Docs,
- Google Wave,
- WordPress, and
- Pandora Radio.
Now, by simply looking at my dock, I can tell if I have new email or voice messages and I can readily access the web-based applications I use most often. As I continue to explore Fluid’s functionality, I undoubtedly will discover more benefits than I’ve enumerated here, but in just a few days, it has already simplified my daily tasks immensely. Without question, Fluid is a must-have for any OS X user who relies on web-based applications.
Compatibility & Availability
Fluid is freely available at http://fluidapp.com/ and runs on Mac OS X 10.5 or higher, supporting both PowerPC and Intel processors. The browsers Fluid creates are WebKit-based, so any website that functions in Safari should work as a standalone application.
If I encounter any sites that aren’t compatible with Fluid, I’ll post an update here. So far, though, I’ve had no issues.