Gwibber needs little in-way of introduction. The social networking client has been a default app in Ubuntu since 10.04, but was popular with users long before then too.

But anyone booting into the new-fangled Ubuntu 13.04 desktop later this month will notice that it’s missing; Gwibber does not come pre-installed on Ubuntu any longer.

So what’s going on?

Making Friends with Gwibber

To best understand we have to go back a few months to the launch/announcement of Ubuntu Touch. its unveiling created a storm of interest and opportunity for existing and new Ubuntu developers, not least because it promoted the use of a new, flexible ‘toolkit’ for developing apps – Qt/QML.

Gwibber had been in need of some due love and attention for a while, so its developer, Ken VanDine, took the opportunity to rewrite the app using these newly recommended technologies.

And so this was born:

Friends Apps Full View
Friends-App – The Next Generation Gwibber

But an app is nothing without its data. Alongside the rewritten, recoded and revamped ‘client’, work was also happening on the ‘backend’ to make it leaner, more performant and more reliable than that used by Gwibber in the past.

This new backend, dubbed ‘Friends’, fetches, delivers, and dispatches data to and from the app itself. You can’t see it, but it’s an integral part of the process.

Status Updating in Friends
Supports Many Social Networks – Including Facebook

A Fresh Start

With Friends (the backend) up and running, the Qml Gwibber hooked up to it, and users starting to test it, things began to get a bit confusing for the developers – as Ken explained to me:

“With the rewrite of the gwibber client to QML and the new friends backend, I still saw lots of comments online about gwibber and past experiences.  And as users started filing bugs against the client, it was difficult to distinguish which code base the user was using.”

The solution? A new name.

“Considering it was a completely new code base, even new branding with the awesome new logo, we felt it made sense to start off with a new LP project as well.  And now we have friends-app”

Friends App – So Far

So what’s the ‘new’ client like? It’s okay. It’s clearly not a finished piece of work by any stretch, but the features and functions included all work as they should.

Ken suggests that we view it as being somewhere between a ‘preview’ and a ‘stable’ release, erring against the latter because of a lack of wider testing.

On to how the app runs.

As this is an app made for touch there are features like inline-replying, large action buttons, and ‘drag to refresh’:

Pull To Refresh
Pull To Refresh

Unlike Gwibber past there is now only one column called ‘Timeline’. This displays all statuses, mentions, tweets, etc in on vertical list.

If you think that sounds confusing – and it can be – each status is badged with the network it came from and, for things like mentions, avatars are badged to differentiate them from the rest of the stream:

Replying to a Mention
All Updates, Mentions, Etc Appear in One Column

Ken hopes to re-introduce multi-column views at a later date. ‘Most likely something along the lines of automatically detecting the best layout based on form-factor,‘ he explains.

For portrait/single column users a “tabbed view” will also be introduced, letting you swipe through columns.

“I’ve played with these concepts a bit already, and it is pretty easy to implement in QML and the Ubuntu SDK,’ Ken says, ‘I just didn’t want to rush and re-factor all that right as we were landing it in 13.04.”

The client and its new backend don’t support as many services as older versions did but all of the main networks are covered, including Facebook:

inline replying in friends-app
inline replying in friends-app

The compose window lets you choose which network an update is posted to:

Status Updating in Friends

Notable features missing at present, but pegged for inclusion in later versions:

  • Username autocomplete
  • Status management (deleting a tweet, etc)
  • Twitter searching/filtering
  • Locations
  • Rich media views 

Going Forward

While sexy new Friends client isn’t included in Ubuntu (due to some last minute dependency security issues) all is not lost for social-fiends.

Firstly, Friends is available to install straight from the Ubuntu Software Center, so it’s still pretty much at your fingertips.

Click to Install Friends in Ubuntu 13.04

Secondly, Unity has a social lens installed by default in Raring. While you can’t tweet from it you can view statuses, mentions, messages, etc.

Unity Lens Friends
Unity Lens Friends
Apps News friends gwibber raring ringtail twitter Unity