Sometimes doing things via web apps is great. Everything is in one place: your browser. Even so, sometimes having everything in one place isn’t ideal. A browser crash could kill all of your work, not just one component, and it can be harder to keep your focus appropriately segmented if your tools are all mashed together. Here are a few great Mac applications that give you access to your web apps, but do so in nice, native software packages.
It’s a fine way to power a BBQ, but it’s also more than that. Propane is a new piece of beta software that does what I previously did using a Fluid browser instance. Specifically, it runs Campfire-based chatrooms, which are a popular tool for people who need to collaborate in real-time with a distributed team. I use Campfire rooms to coordinate with other writers at various blog sites where time and scheduling is a primary concern, but that’s just one possible use.
Like with a Fluid instance, Propane provides Campfire with the bare minimum of browser chrome, so that it does in fact look like a native OS X app. It also provides some nice bells and whistles that allow you to customize the how and why of notification sounds and messages, including Growl notifications. There’s also great tools for better file sharing, including automatic source detection when you drag content (text and images) from a Safari window into your active chatroom in Propane.
I’m not actively trying to rhyme these app names, it’s just working out that way. Gmail is great, and Mail.app is nice enough, but I’d rather not use the two together if possible. I love Gmail’s web interface, but I’m not crazy about trying to manage my email activities in a browser window. Maybe that makes me old school, but I grew up on Outlook, and old habits die hard.
Mailplane delivers all the Gmail interface goodness with a nice, native app wrapper. Basically it, like Propane, is just a browser instance with some additional features specific to the web app in question that makes it easier to use. It’s those features that make the app worthwhile, though. Mailplane takes advantage of Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts to allow you to view and create new messages, reply, attach media, and more using convenient buttons located along the top of the app window. It also badges the app icon in your dock with the number of unread emails, and can notify you of new mail using sound and Growl.
Those with Google Apps and multiple accounts are also in luck, because it supports easy account switching and storage. There’s also an option to display an icon in the menu bar, including new mail count. You can try it out for free for a month, but it is a paid program, and will set you back $24.95 if you do decide to purchase.
This is less an app and more of a handy little applet, but the single, focused service it provides is incredibly useful: a simple drag-and-drop interface for uploading documents to Google Docs. It may not seem like much, but it saves a lot of steps vs. the traditional method, which can quickly add up if you do most of your document editing in Google Docs, like I do.
All you have to do to use it is keep the app icon in your dock, and then drag any document onto the icon to upload it. It’ll prompt you once for your Google name and password, and afterward it’ll just work. If you prefer, opening the app will automatically take you to a file browser for selecting a file to upload manually.
None of the above apps does anything that you can’t do using the web, but they do offer time-saving and usability enhancements that you won’t necessarily get using only the corresponding app for each in a normal browser window. Just because web apps are often convenient and user-friendly doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be more so with a more solid connection to your desktop.
Have any tips on how to make web apps more native? Share them in the comments.