Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Using An Alternate Browser As Your Communications Hub

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I have friends who enjoy messaging on several different platforms - notably, SMS, Hangouts, Skype, and Facebook Messenger.  (I use a Google Voice number and Hangouts integration for SMS; substitute your favorite SMS/Web app below.) 

In the past, I've used Franz to be able to get all the messaging apps in one place. But... there's issues.  Occasionally Franz decides to eat all the RAM.  And there's no way to theme it to a dark interface.

This is where an alternate browser comes in.  (And yes, this works regardless of operating system, so you Windows and Mac people are in luck.)

It's no secret that Franz is an Electron based wrapper for web services. So I started wondering if an alternate browser (my main one is still Firefox) would be handy.  Short form: Oh yes.

I am currently using Vivaldi, but I believe that Min or Opera would work just as well if you'd prefer. (I'll explain in a second.)

Quite simply, have your alternate browser set up with the startup tabs for the web version of the messenger service(s) you use.  For example, I have hangouts.google.com, www.messenger.com, and Slack.com all set up as "startup" tabs.  (I managed to convert the person using only Skype to using FB Messenger instead.)

There's two reasons why I think using an alternate browser is better than using Franz.

First, I get to use Stylish so that I have have things tweaked how I want them. Vivaldi uses the Chrome web store, so it's trivial to install Stylish and install the Messenger Night, Dark Skype Web, Hangouts Dark Theme, and Hangouts: No Decorative Images themes.  So I've got the dark styles taken care of, so my eyes don't bleed.

This is more than just a simple visual tweak - there's quite a bit of research that shows the default of "pure white background" is not good for our eyes (one site compares it to "staring at a lamp"), so being able to tweak and alter the color scheme is super important to me.

Then - and just as important - there's The Great Suspender (Chrome Web Store), or Suspend Tab (Firefox variant) which unloads tabs that aren't being used. That means that - unlike Franz - Vivaldi isn't eating up CPU cycles or memory for things I'm not looking at right then. 

As someone who is regularly pushing my home computer to its limits, having that functionality is vitally important.

Yes, I would love it if the APIs were open again, so I could use Pidgin for everything like in the old days. But as much as I wish that would happen, even the hacks that allow hangouts and messenger in Pidgin (and I love you all for it) don't support the featureset that I need.

Best of all, because Vivaldi is a pretty straightforward browser, it's pretty easy for even non-techies to set up as a communication hub.

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