Wavebox | Chat Unification Snap Application on openSUSE Tumbleweed

Wavebox on openSUSE

From time to time, I like to play around with the universal packaging available in Linux. It has mostly been AppImages and Flatpak but I wanted to Snap something into my system. After working out an AppArmor issue. Snaps were working fantastically well once again. The application I wanted to try was another Chat Message Unification Application. I had heard wonderful things about Wavebox so it was time to try it out. It’s described as, “A clever new home for cloud apps on your desktop bringing Gmail, Inbox, Outlook, O365, Trello, Slack & over 1000 more apps into a configurable client.”

You can look at the details here on the SnapCraft store.

Wavebox Snap 19

In a terminal I installed Wavebox from the Snap Store:

sudo snap install wavebox

Installation was a snap (haha) and it created an entry in the application menu of KDE Plasma, just as one would expect. It should also be noted that the system tray icon also looks great next to the rest of the icons sitting there too.

Wavebox Snap 20 System Tray.png

When the Application started up, I didn’t notice any lengthy start up time that has been complained about in the past with Snaps. It was delightfully… snappy… and when it settled I was greeted with a pleasant interface. There was no question as to what I needed to do, create an account.Wavebox Snap 2

Going through the process was really quite trivial. You begin by entering your name, email and password. I elected to setup two-factor authentication which did require me to install an application on my phone…

After you have logged in, you can add your first application. I went with Slack, specifically the Bad Voltage slack group. There is a convenient search box right at the top of the uncluttered interface.

I am not 100% sure what the “Pic a Colour” section does, entirely but it does create a ring around thee account on the side tab of the service. Setting up Slack was trivial and has the same basic feel of what you would have in the web browser.

What I think is interesting is the different customization features you can specify for each module you add. What is interesting to me is the ability to put a tab to sleep and stop it after some time of inactivity. I don’t know exactly what that means and how it is implemented but if that is what I am thinking it is, that should be more kind to your system when on battery power. I find with all the services running in either a browser or other Chat Unification applications, the CPU usage is noticeable.

Wavebox Snap 11

I wanted to install the G-suite of tools and began that process by selecting the Gmail icon when adding an application. There is a similar “Pick a Colour” selection then you can choose which services it loads into this “tab”. I didn’t test all the functions but the ones that did worked as expected. The Hangouts button doesn’t give me the hangouts configuration I prefer but it is functional, none the less.

Wavebox Snap 13

Setting up the account is much like logging in through a browser or even Kmail, for that matter. When you sign in, you then configure the default inbox configuration.

The display of the email is as you would see in a web page but the added benefit is that you have all the other services on a menu bar at the top of the Window. This is, by far, the best implementation of interfacing with the Google Services I have ever seen. It is far more functional than the Google defaults and even nicer than what I have been using on similar services.

Memory Use

It’s very easy to see how much of your drive is taken up by the application

/dev/loop11 156M 156M 0 100% /snap/wavebox/180

I don’t view this as outrageous at all. The application has another 181 MiB of storage on my home directory in the snap folder. I haven’t fully investigated the the contents of the folder but it does keep historical snap version configuration files, which is interesting.

Running the 10 Google Services, Riot and Slack, I am using about 490 MiB of RAM, so, 12 services in all on this so about 40.8 MiB per service. Combine that with the sleep function, this doesn’t feel too bad.

What I like

The way that Wavebox bundles the Google Services into one tab and how integrated and purposeful it feels makes this application really quite special. There is a lot of thought and detail put into it. I would say that this is a far better “Google Experience” than what you would have on a Chromebook. It is, seemingly a much more efficient and integrated experience, really, the best I have ever seen.

The Sleep Tab feature is very interesting and I have not studied it enough to know exactly how it works because I have received email notifications while the tab was sleeping so it must check periodically. somehow. I would really like to run this on a long term basis and determine, or at least, better determine what it is doing. Maybe even do some CPU usage comparisons between Wavebox and similar services but I just don’t have the time for that.

The conveniences of having all the different communication and collaboration services in one window, everything unified, is very conducive to productivity. That feature alone makes this application stand out from others similar to it. I would determine that it is a better experience than what you have in a browser with a string of pinned tabs.

What I Don’t Like

Wavebox does requires a login to an external server someplace to manage your accounts. This is like the Franz application I have also reviewed. It was an area for which I didn’t particularly like. I do see the utility of it and since these are all services you are logging into, one more isn’t that big of a deal… really… but somehow that is still a sticking point for me.

Wavebox isn’t free. Not that I think everything should be free but I would rather spit out a one time payment for this application. It costs $48 per year to use this application. For my purposes, since my efficiency with any of these services is not a part of my job, (arguably maybe Google could be), it isn’t a good value for me to make the investment. However, if your work required you to communicate on numerous  services regularly, I could absolutely see this as being a vital piece for improved quality of [computing] life.

Final Thoughts

Wavebox LogoRambox and Franz are both similar applications I have reviewed, albeit with a slightly different lens, they are all really quite fantastic applications. Any one is a good choice and I am glad that they all exist. There are features from each application that I appreciate so each application has their merit. I would say that of all of them Wavebox does seem to have just a bit more polish than the rest. There are more tools and tweaks with this and the way all the Google Services are rolled up with a very convenient menu makes this the best experience for using G-Suite. Far better than even with Chrome or using a Chromebook. This is so nicely integrated that it makes a mediocre web application experience feel like a real, nicely polished, and purposeful, native application.

Wavebox is, undoubtedly, suited for the professional user, not so much a dude like me that can’t seem to stick with an application like this for more than 6 months or so. This is extremely well thought out and well executed. Features like the Sleep Tab make this stand above other options.

Another final thought, having access to Snaps (along with other universal packages) available on openSUSE Tumbleweed really opens up a very wide array of available applications for my use. Snaps seem to integrate well into openSUSE; just as long as nothing gets messed up with AppArmor again. Snaps are a great choice for application delivery for many cases and I am thankful that I have access to them.

References

Wavebox from the Snap Store Web Frontend

Snapd Resolved bug on Bugzilla

Rambox | Chat Message Unification Application for openSUSE

Franz | Chat Messaging Unification Application on openSUSE

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Rambox | Chat Message Unification Application for openSUSE

Rambox on openSUSE

Not long ago, I started using Franz, a chat messaging unification application and I had a good experience with it. I had talked to a few e-friends about it and some advised me that I should also try Rambox. Since I had just installed Franz, I wasn’t about to try something else, not yet anyway. After some time of very happily using Franz, something had happened and it wouldn’t start. Since I was using a community repository and I could have very well chosen another community repository and kept going but it was time to try this Rambox all the kids have been talking about. So I did.

Installation

Like anything else in openSUSE, the installation is easy, just search and install. Since I did that part, you can just check here:

https://software.opensuse.org/package/rambox

Once the installation is complete. A menu entry will appear under the “Internet” category. Click there or whatever method you see fit.

How It Runs

The application runs well and it is as intuitive as one would expect. The difference that I noticed, as compared to Franz, is that having an account with an external service is optional. Franz requires you to sign into their service in order to use their software and in doing so, synchronizes all your systems that are running Franz. This is quite handy. Rambox too as this option but it is not compulsory.

Rambox-01-Start Screen

Rambox has many built in options for services for you to configure. In fact it has more service options than Franz does, most notably, Mastodon. If there is a particular service you want and it is not available, you have the option to add a custom service. This was particularly handy as Rambox does not have a Google Calendar service.

Rambox has several customization features to it. Notably, there is application behavior for notifications, a hardware acceleration feature and start automatically on system startup.

Rambox-02-Settings.png

The customization feature I do appreciate is the service bar location. I put the bar along the left, as opposed to the top… no speculation on that location necessary.

Adding a service is incredibly straight forward. Select the service you want and fill in all the necessary bits. After you add the new service to the application, it will appear on the service bar.

Rambox-03-Add service

The order of applications can be reordered to your hearts content and services eliminated if they are no longer desired in this application. It is incredibly flexible. In this manner.

Overall, this This application works very well and I intend on using it a bit longer and do some more comparisons to determine if I will continue using it or go back to Franz.

There are cases that a service doesn’t start or restart when network access is lost and reestablished. There is an option to Reload offending service or reload all of Rambox. Under the View menu.

What I Like

When comparing it to Franz, the feature that I appreciate the most is the ability to enter a custom service. In my case, I added the Google Calendar account related to my employer.

Like Franz, this is a fantastic message unification application. that has a lower memory footprint than using a browser. Rambox uses just under 1.8 GiB for 12 services which shakes out to about 150 MiB per service. I still think this is far too much for what they are doing but not being an expert in this area, I couldn’t tell you why.

Having one application that has all my messaging applications consolidated is very handy. It has a nice notification applet that lets you know when you have a new message on any of your services and mute the notifications if necessary. It should be noted, if you mute your notifications, you won’t hear anything within each service, like an inline video.

Lastly, the option to Synchronize your configuration or not is a handy feature. You can push or pull your configuration as you see fit for each machine. I didn’t try pushing two different configurations to see how that might affect each client.

What I Don’t Like

There is a lack of Dark Theme. I would much prefer that service bar have a dark background to fit the rest of my desktop theme but that is a small potatoes item.

The user interface on the application for the settings or adding another service just do not seem to have that nice modern look as you’d see on Plasma. When loading or saving, the application brings up the GTK File Dialog of which I am not particularly fond.

The biggest sore spot for Rambox is that it does not have a spell check. This is the one area where Franz excels. It is also the only area where Rambox falls short. Outside of that, it is a pretty fantastic application.

Final Thoughts

Rambox is a fine application that I enjoy using. It works well and is more convenient than using a web browser. It also seems to use less memory than a browser so that is also a plus. I don’t know or understand the mechanics as to why but even at approximately 150 MiB per application does seem a bit steep for something that just sends text messages.

If Rambox is an application that works well for you consider supporting the project or if it improves your work flow, try out the Rambox Pro. The application may be free but it isn’t free to make.

For the time being, I am going to continue to use Rambox on my primary machine and Franz on another machine just to see how it shakes out over time. If you are running multiple chat clients and don’t want to authenticate with a third party service, Rambox just might be the application for you.

Further Reading

https://software.opensuse.org/package/rambox

Get Rambox Pro

Rambox App on Github

Franz | Chat Messaging Unification Application on openSUSE

Franz on openSUSE.pngDuring one of my web-searching, rabbit-hole voyages, I stumbled upon this Franz application. I was immediately thrilled with the idea as I have a number of chat services I use on regular basis. It has almost grown out of control and my current solution for these services was less than stellar. I have a mixture of Electron applications and tabs open in a browser to keep connected to all these different circles of people and organizations. I consider it a rather untidy and disjointed solution of maintaining Facebook Messenger, Hangouts, Telegram, Discord and a few others. Most recently I added Slack to the mix and I thought for a moment, this is far from the good ‘ol days when I just used IRC and AOL instant messenger to talk to everybody.

Bottom Line Up Front, I like Franz. I do indeed recommend it as a solution to try to consolidate your chat services and remove the burden from the Web Browser or the spattering of Applications.

Installation

My first course of action is to see if the application is in the openSUSE Software center. I have more trust in ensuring an application is properly updated from that source than others (with some exceptions). Franz is available from here:

https://software.opensuse.org/package/franz

I am using a community maintained version so there is a risk that it might not continue to be maintained should the maintainer discontinue using it.

The other option is to use the AppImage. Also a fine choice for this application:

Franz AppImage Download

A word of caution, it may be up to you to ensure that you have the latest version of this application on your system. I only have one AppImage I use that does warn me of updates. The others do not.

Setup

I was just a bit surprised that the usage of this application requires a login. I completely understand having this for the paid, supported version but I am not sure exactly as to why the free version would require it.

Franz-01-Start Screen

I am undecided as to whether or not I am content with this requirement. I do understand the reasoning from the perspective of the developers to know how many users there are but I just don’t know about it.

Franz-02-Create Account.png

This is certainly not a deal breaker by any means, I just have to realize that there is some control that I am resigning by using it. Ultimately, no more than most of the other chat services running in a Browser Tab but I don’t have to log into the Falkon Browser to use GroupMe or Facebook Messenger… just a thought.

Memory Usage

I was interested in comparing using this new Franz application alone to using Falkon with just the tabs for each client combined with the native applications. It seemed like a reasonably fair method of comparison. First, I tested the existing method:

The existing method of Telegram, Discord and Skype using the stand-alone installed applications, one session of Chrome for the Hangouts, plus Falkon with only tabs of the rest of my messaging services used 2.6 GiB of RAM. Truly a shocking amount of resources for sending text messages and pictures.

The Franz alone method, running the same 11 Chat services for approximately the same amount of time consumed 1.8 GiB of RAM. This still seems just a bit on the high side just for sending messages but clearly better. When using the AppImage, I didn’t notice any signification memory usage differences.

Whether using the existing method or the Franz method, I did notice some memory usage creep from the beginning of each timed test to the end of the test. I didn’t let it play out for days to see if it became increasingly worse. I also didn’t have the tools or patience to determine the cause in either case but it seems reasonable to assume that there would be messages and pictures cached over time.

Application Usage Experience

I tested both the distribution managed RPM and AppImage versions of Franz and it is good to know that they both used the same configuration files which I have discovered to be here:

~/.config/Franz/

Franz-06-Operation.png

I was very appreciative of the System notifications for new messages on the different services. There were some that didn’t have any new messages over the testing period. When running these services in Firefox or Chrome, you can turn on notifications. In Falkon, my currently preferred browser, you cannot and do not get notifications. Clicking on a notification will bring up the Franz window and switch to the conversation to which that dialog belongs. This is very handy as that is not always the case when using the Hangouts or Telegram applications.

When using this, I have noticed that some of the services can fail and require being reloaded. This has happened when I have Suspended to RAM and moved locations. The solutions is easy. Either reload the failed service or all of Franz.

Franz-07-Reload Menu sm

What I don’t like

The application is themed with light colors. I frankly do not like anything with a light background. I make exceptions, such as working on a document that I know will be printed onto white paper. White paper makes sense to work with as that will be my intended final product but anything outside of that needs to be light text on a black background.

This program is essentially just wrapping the web content in a more native-feeling application. From what I can tell, it doesn’t actually use the APIs of any of the services for its own built in application. I can’t really put a finger on why I don’t like this as much as a native application so I will call this a nitpick dislike and perhaps rather unfair.

What I Wish It Would Do

Some sort of style sheet overrides to allow for a dark theme applied to everything. I use an addon with Firefox to force this and for the right sites it works very well. I do wish Franz somehow wrapped in the Linux client of Telegram. I do not like the web UI as compared to the native application almost enough that I might just not use the Telegram service in Franz.

Final Thoughts

I am now considering removing the native applications from my system but at the same time, I do like the idea of having them because I find the idea of native stand-alone applications pretty great as well. It brings a smile to my face to see that Telegram, Discord and even Skype have a specific Linux installation and I want to support that, even if they might just be Electron apps wrapping the Web content.

The amount of memory that browsers and even this Franz solution takes does seem a bit absurd. Under the best case, running these chat services still take up too much memory, in my opinion. Using Franz for all 11 services used 1.8 GiB which breaks down to 163 MiB per chat service. I can’t help but wonder, what is really going there?

Although this issue doesn’t apply to me, there is one immediate drawback to Franz, It appears as though you have to use the paid version in order to use self-hosted services like Mattermost. If you don’t mind paying, not a problem, but if that is not in the budget. You may have to find another solution.

Overall. I am quite pleased with Franz and I will continue to use it until I find something to challenge its “seat” as my multi-chat client of choice. I do like freeing up my Browser from chat services and the notification feature works just as you would expect. This is a great piece of software and worth checking out.

Related Links

Franz Main Site

Ubuntu Pit article on Franz

Franz from openSUSE Software

Telegram on Mobile and openSUSE

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE