Propane: Campfire on Your Desktop

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

The Interface

The Interface

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:

Files, Transcripts & Search

Files, Transcripts & Search

Notifications

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:

Notification Options

Notification 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.

Conclusion

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?


  • http://www.jashsayani.com Jash Sayani

    Is there an a similar app for Collabtive ?

  • http://www.olikenobi.com Oli Kenobi

    Propane sounds very interesting, but $20 is too much.

  • Mark

    i think $20 is way too much for this, and its in Beta, how much will it be when it is released?

  • http://www.supraelastic.eu bistrian

    I subscribe with the same comments. Looks like waaaay too expensive for what it does, really guys.

  • http://propaneapp.com Trevor Squires

    Hi David,

    thanks so much for the review!

    Your point about the lobby is well-taken. I’ve filed an issue on the support site http://help.propaneapp.com/discussions/propane-feature-requests/50-lobby-should-automatically-open-when-switching-to-propane-sometimes

    As for the progress bar for uploads – unfortunately there’s no obvious way for me to supply a meaningful indication of progress. Your file is uploaded via an HTTP POST and WebKit simply doesn’t provide any feedback of bytes written. On top of that, the Cocoa interface to a URL connection doesn’t provide feedback of bytes written in a POST message either…

    I’ve seen email threads that talk about how to work around these limitations by tapping into the underlying streams used by the URL connection. I’ll likely experiment with the technique just for kicks and giggles at some point but for now there’s higher priority features that need my attention :-P

    Regards, Trev

  • http://kiel.tumblr.com Matthew Delprado

    There are similar local apps for basecamp aren’t there? Anyone use any of those?

  • http://tomschlick.com trs21219

    Nice app. if my company used campfire i would definatly give this a shot but we are all hooked on skype. :)

  • Mohammad Alshaikh

    i like the design of this blog.. very interesting..

  • Yaphi

    I am in agreement that $20 is too much for an app that is buggy, and is not feature complete. While the developer is releasing updates pretty regularly now, I find myself continually going back to Fluid for Campfire because it works. Growl notifications are available in Fluid as well. I really don’t see a need for Propane yet.

  • http://propaneapp.com Trevor Squires

    @Yaphi – if you’ve uncovered a bug then please consider reporting it at http://help.propaneapp.com

    I don’t get drawn into conversations about whether Propane is worth what I’m charging. I evaluate my own purchases through a lens of “are the benefits worth the cost?” and I expect my potential customers to do the same. If Propane’s features don’t speak to you that’s okay, I can live with that.

    But if you’re returning to Fluid primarily “because it works” and because you’ve found Propane “buggy” then a) I’m surprised and b) I really want to know.

    Thanks, Trevor

  • Benxamin

    ^^^ Wow! That’s quite the comment spam @MomesymnMef ^^^

    The high price point seems to be aimed at corporate reimbursals, while maintaining the “exclusive” factor. Until Propane is $4.99, it’s Fluid for me.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Just got the spam cleaned out :)

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