Cruz: Web Browsing with Twitter Built-In

Cruz is an exciting new browser from the creator of Fluid that integrates some innovative multi-window and social networking features into your web surfing experience.

Cruz is still on version 0.4, so it’s not necessarily fair to evaluate it as a finished product, but we still wanted to show off what it can do so far. Let’s get started!

The Interface

If you’re a Safari user, Cruz will feel right at home as the two interfaces are nearly identical. In fact, there even seems to be some Safari keychain-related voodoo going on behind the scenes. The first time I ever opened Cruz I was already logged into any sites that I had signed into in Safari such as Google and Facebook.

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The Cruz Interface

Everything works just about like you’d expect in Safari. Keyboard shortcuts, tab behavior, and even Web Inspector all retain their Safari-like functionality. One added bonus is the addition of nice full-screen view, seen below.

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Fullscreen View

The primary difference in both the appearance and functionality of Safari and Cruz lies in the strip of buttons on the right side of the toolbar. These are the plugins that make Cruz so impressive. Let’s check them out.

Panes Aplenty

Cruz’s real competitive advantage lies in the extra “panes” that are available to you while browsing. These are the result of a plugin system that comes with three built-in options: Browsa, Thumbnail and Twitter. Cruz also supports installation of user scripts from UserScripts.org.

Browsa Panes

The Browsa plugin adds the ability to open additional browser panes on the sides of your main window. This feature is kind of like having multiple tabs open in the same window and is extremely useful for whenever you want to view multiple pages simultaneously.

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Open a Browsa Pane to View Multiple Sites at Once

Obviously, this setup is ideally suited for browsing while keeping an eye on Facebook or other web apps. The divider between the two windows is fully adjustable so you can make the extra window as wide or thin as you like.

By default, you have the option of opening two Browsa panes in addition to your main window, but this is adjustable in the preferences and will go as high as four.

Thumbnail Pane

The Thumbnail Pane gives you the ability to use Coverflow in a number of useful places like Google and Delicious. The implementation is very similar to the way you view your history in Safari, but can be implemented while actually browsing.

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Coverflow in The Thumbnail Pane

It’s really nice to have visual search options on sites that lack any ability to preview the site you’re clicking on beforehand. I will now always regret that Safari doesn’t let me do this as well.

Twitter Plugin

Clicking on the Twitter button in the top right corner of the browser will pop open a connected sidebar (or pane) that allows you to view your Twitter stream.

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The Twitter Plugin

The features for the Twitter plugin include multiple account support, a simple refresh button, a threaded conversation view, a main stream view and an @reply/mentions view. I absolutely loved having my Twitter stream right there with me as I browsed the web. In fact, it seemed like a much more logical place for it than in the standalone apps like Tweetie that I typically use.

The experience is seamless. As you click on the links posted by your friends, they are automatically opened in a new tab. Meanwhile, you don’t lose sight of your stream for an instant and can continue to peruse incoming Tweets while the page loads. This nearly flawless integration of Twitter and the web completely eliminates all of the back and forth hassles of other Twitter apps and even that of Twitter.com itself.

Trouble in Paradise

Unfortunately, the Twitter plugin is far from perfect. Upon first downloading the app, it took me no less than one hour of struggling and a few tweets from the developer behind Cruz (who was kind enough to respond quickly) to get the Twitter plugin up and running. Nothing happened when I input my account info, so I tried to restart the app but it proceeded to quit automatically every time I tried.

I’ve installed the app on other Macs without the problem occurring so it’s quite likely that this was a completely isolated incident but I thought I’d mention how to fix it just in case you run into the problem. If this happens to you, toss out any Keychains related to Cruz and trash the app’s preferences (Library/Preferences/com.cruzapp.Cruz.plist). Then relaunch the app and try again.

After you get the Twitter plugin functioning properly there is one glaring exclusion in the features: you can’t post anything. The plugin is read-only and therefore allows you to see incoming tweets, but you can’t respond or send any of your own from the app. This is a huge blow to what I feel is the key feature to this browser.

The final annoyance with the Twitter plugin is that it disappears in full screen mode and you don’t have the option to bring it back while in this view. I’m baffled as to why you would be robbed of a screen space eating feature when you enter the mode with the most available screen space!

With these grievances aired, I’d again like to point out that this app has not yet hit version 1.0. The Twitter limitations are therefore acceptable in the hope that they’ll get worked out in the future. Meanwhile, this is a great start to creating a truly Twitter-centric browsing experience.

The Future of Cruz

Todd Ditchendorf, the creator of Cruz, assured me that he will indeed be adding the ability to post Tweets sometime in the future. For now he’s working on a complete rebuild of Cruz based on the Fluidium project, an open source rewrite of the browser code behind Fluid and Cruz.

Fluidium’s Github page describes it as “A Native Mac OS X Browser Platform based on WebKit with a Cocoa plug-in architecture, tab thumbnails, web splitviews, userscripting, userstyles, extensive AppleScript-ability, URL shortcuts, Twitter timelines, Sparkle Update, Growl, JS Dock Badge API, more.”

You can download an initial beta preview of this attempt here: Click to download.

Final Thoughts

Even in its current early state in the development process, Cruz shows great promise for becoming my new favorite browser. The incredibly flexible, multi-pane browsing experience, enriched visual search, and limited but exciting Twitter integration definitely leave you questioning your patronage to any other app.

I definitely recommend giving it a trial run to see what you think. Use the comment section below to share your thoughts.


Summary

With Cruz you can view your Twitter Timeline and "@" Mentions in a split pane while browsing other sites. Cruz also allows you to open links from your Twitter Timeline in new tabs or browse multiple pages simultaneously in split views. Overall the experience is excellent but the Twitter plugin suffers heavily from the inability to post tweets.

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