The success of 37 Signal’s products is a well known story, and Campfire certainly has a large part to play in their popularity. It provides an elegant solution to web based chat, allowing groups to easily share files and images. Being a tool I use regularly, a project aiming to provide Campfire as a local Mac application certainly caught my eye.
Propane integrates with your Campfire account, retaining all the simplicity the chat system is renowned for whilst adding a range of additional desktop functionality. It provides support for running multiple chat rooms at a time along with a number of different notification options.
The interface shares an almost identical layout to the Campfire web application itself. The main window displays the chat messages, with a list of participants and shared files to the right. Partaking in more than one chat room is kept simple through the tab bar at the bottom of the window.
Uploading files and documents is remarkably straight forward – simply drag and drop a file over the chat window. A spinner indicates that the upload is in progress, working in the background and allowing you to continue typing.
Clicking the spotlight-esque icon in the lower right opens the ‘Files, Transcripts & Search’ window. Through here it is possible to search and navigate old chat sessions completely within Propane:
One of the main benefits of running Campfire through a local application is the ability to enjoy various different notification features. Two preference screens provide a number of configuration options:
Standard Notifications caters for incoming messages and room events (file uploads, new chat participants, a change in room permissions etc). The second preference area – Message Alerts – allows you to provide a selection of ‘phrases’ which chat conversations are monitored for. This can work particularly well if you’d like to be notified when anyone directs a message to your name. Propane integrates well with Growl, along with allowing you to choose a number of audible alerts to notify you of an event.
Areas for Improvement
For a regular Campfire user, these notification features alone may provide a good reason to make the switch to Propane. However, there are a few areas where the application could use a little further polish and refinement.
I’d like to see a progress bar display when uploading a file as a simple spinner can sometimes leave you doubting whether anything is actually going on in the background. This could be implemented in a similar way to the progress bar in Safari, utilizing the background of a tab.
In addition, after closing the chat window (but not Propane itself), clicking on the dock icon doesn’t perform any action. You need to proceed to click Lobby > Open Lobby Window from the menu bar – this should happen automatically, and caused me some confusion at first.
I’ve been using Propane regularly for the past few weeks and will certainly be sticking with it in the future. Whilst not yet perfect, it provides enough additional functionality over the web based version to be worthwhile. If Campfire is a service which regularly occupies a web browser tab, I would certainly recommend giving Propane a try.
Propane is currently in public beta and is provided as a free download. If you fall in love with the app, it’s possible to pre-order a copy of the final version for $20 and save $5 off the release price.
If you feel that $20 is a little steep another option would be to run Campfire through an application such as Fluid, achieving a similar result without the advanced notification options. I experienced a few problems when attempting this, but it may work fine for you.
Do you think that Propane adds enough value to justify the $20 price tag?