Tangram integrates social media services in a single app

Convenient Connection

© Lead Image © SORAPONG CHAIPANYA, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © SORAPONG CHAIPANYA, 123RF.com

Article from Issue 235/2020
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Tangram lets you track social media portals like Facebook and Twitter, as well as web-based messengers like Whatsapp and Telegram, in a single application window.

Anyone who uses more than just a handful of online services can quickly lose track of all the open social media portals in their browser. In addition, the proliferation of Like buttons endangers your privacy, allowing Facebook and other companies to follow you wherever you go. Your social media presence becomes even more complicated if you use more than one account, for example, one for business and one for private activities. Providers generally do not support seamless switching between the different accounts.

The desire for more systematic control of social media accounts and web applications has given rise to a new class of desktop tools that offer unified management of web applications through a single user interface. Tangram [1] is a promising candidate that is built on the Gnome libraries and the Gnome web browser (formerly known as Epiphany). The goal of the Tangram project is to "…improve integration of web applications into the desktop, especially the Gnome desktop."

Tangram displays all your web applications in a unified window. The different applications appear as tabs, allowing you to move effortlessly among the services, or you can find the application you're looking for in an easy navigation menu.

Tangram is similar to programs like Franz [2] or Rambox [3]. These applications act as social media browsers and messaging apps, making it easier to separate your web work from personal communication. Both Franz and Rambox implement the idea well, but under the hood, they both use the Electron framework [4], which adds a large amount of ballast and complexity. Franz and Rambox are both commercial tools that offer free community editions. Tangram, on the other hand, is an all free project intended specifically for the Gnome environment, although users on other desktops can also run it.

You won't find Tangram in the package sources of major Linux distributions [5]; however, the developers have published a Flatpak [6] on Flathub to facilitate the installation on most systems (see the "Flatpak" box). If you have Arch Linux, you can alternatively install Tangram via the Arch user repository. The AUR helper, Yay, lets you set up the program with a single command:

Flatpak

Flatpak lets developers bundle their application into containers that can be installed across multiple distributions. You will, however, need to configure Flatpak support. The Flatpak project website explains the procedure required for configuring support in most common Linux variants [7].

yay -S tangram

Looking Around

When first launched, Tangram looks like a simple browser. The application window is empty for the most part, although you will see an address bar and a Done button. To add a service, type its URL into the address line in the usual way, and press Enter to open the page. Then log in and go to the main page of the service, such as its dashboard or profile page.

Then click on the green Done button in the Tangram user interface to firmly anchor the page in Tangram. If necessary, you can still edit the name and URL of the page manually. Add lets you close the setup dialog; Tangram now stores the service as a tab on the left side of the sidebar.

Repeat the process for all of your web services, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Gmail, or your employer's web-based email portal or wiki (see also the "Whatsapp" box). Click on the plus icon in the window bar to add a new site. The sidebar will gradually fill up with the desired services (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Tangram is a single application that lets you combine social media services like Facebook and messengers in the style of Whatsapp or Telegram.

Whatsapp

In our tests, all of the common web services, from Facebook to Twitter and Telegram, worked fine. Only Whatsapp proved a little stubborn: Instead of the QR code necessary for linking to a mobile phone, Tangram only shows a rotating circle. The code appears, but it takes several minutes for the system to get organized [8].

The individual entries work like tabs in a web browser. If required, you can shift the position to the header or to any other border of the application window (Figure 2). Tap on the Hamburger menu and select the Tabs position entry.

Figure 2: Tangram gives you complete freedom in the choice of services. You can even integrate forums and news portals with comment functions.

When you click on a link, Tangram opens the page in its own application window. The navigation icons in the window bar let you jump backwards or forwards in the history. The Home button takes you to the start page of the service you initially configured.

If you right-click on a link, a context menu opens. The Open link entry is equivalent to a normal left click. The Open link in new tab option lets you open the selected link in an external web browser.

Strictly Isolated

Tangram passes notifications to the desktop messaging system (Figure 3). It is important to make sure that the desired services support the function. For example, for Gmail, you first have to activate the notifications in the Desktop Notifications section of the web portal settings. In our lab, notifications worked for Gmail and Telegram, but not for Twitter, Facebook, or Whatsapp.

Figure 3: Tangram forwards notifications about new messages to the desktop environment. This service does not work with all services.

Unlike a web browser, Tangram strictly separates the individual tabs from each other. So the Facebook tab doesn't know that you are also logged in to Twitter. This design reinforces your privacy and also lets you create multiple accounts for the same service in Tangram. To differentiate between the accounts, simply add the account name to the tab name. On the downside, for services that use the same credentials, such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Contacts, you will need to log in multiple times.

Conclusions

Tangram offers a lean and powerful alternative to the Electron apps Franz and Rambox. The program integrates smoothly with the desktop, and it saves resources, because the software does not have the overhead of Javascript ballast. The Tangram application does still have room for improvement. For example, developers should provide DEB and RPM packages, in addition to the Flatpak, until Tangram finds its way into the repositories of the major Linux distributions.

Another drawback is the somewhat reticent notifications display. It would be ideal if every service could tell you when a new message arrives, but currently notification only works on some of the platforms.

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