The internet is evolving, and many of the websites that we use every day are becoming more and more like web applications, whether they be sites that we live in, like Facebook or YouTube, or sites that function as services such as e-mail or Google Docs. In fact, Google has been specifically pushing the development of web apps with its Chrome Web Store. But there are disadvantages to web apps: mostly that they have to live within a tab of your browser alongside other websites. Wouldn’t it be great if your web apps could actually act as their own self-contained applications on your computer? Well, that’s exactly what Fluid is all about.
Turn Web Apps into Mac Apps
To put it simply, Fluid is an app that lets you generate a dedicated web browser app for a specific website. When you open Fluid, you are presented with a prompt to create a Fluid App. You specify the URL for a website that you want to turn into an app (i.e. “www.facebook.com”), the Name for the app (“Facebook”), an icon for the app, and a location to save it (by default, your Applications folder). Click the Create button, and you have a brand new Fluid App for the website you just created. You can create as many of these as you want.
There is a Fluid Icons Flickr group containing a bunch of open-sourced icons that you can use for various popular websites, licensed for personal use. Of course some of these are better than others, and on some of them I had to make manual tweaks to get the icons right. It would be nice if Fluid helped you get a perfect icon aligned for your app, but ah well.
What A Fluid App is Like
Fluid apps run completely independently of Fluid itself, but they are fundamentally the same. They operate within a minimalistic type of Safari-like browser. By default the toolbar is hidden, but you can reveal it to show your standard browser controls and a URL bar. Tabbed browsing is also supported, as are bookmarks, browser history, downloads, WebKit inspectors, the works. Fluid also gives you access to the advanced feature of setting a User Agent, which lets you masquerade Fluid as though it was actually Safari for Mac/Windows/iOS, Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Opera. And Fluid is also supported by 1Password.
However, Fluid apps are limited to the website domain that you specify when you create the app. For example, if you’re using a Fluid app for Facebook but click a link to a website outside of Facebook, that link will instead open in your default standard web browser. But if this is a limitation, Fluid has two so-called “Browsa” panels. Essentially you can open these in either the left- or right-hand side of the window to do more general web browsing. However the purpose these Browsa panels aren’t explained very well and I personally choose to ignore them.
For certain websites, such as Facebook, Gmail, Flickr, etc., the Dock icon for Fluid apps can actually display a notification badge. For example if you have a Fluid app for Gmail, the number of unread messages can show in a badge in your Fluid app’s Dock icon. In my testing, this only works if the Fluid app is open and the window for your account is open, so I keep mine open and hidden in the background.
The core functionality of Fluid is completely free, but purchasing a $4.99 license unlocks a couple of additional features. One of these is separate cookie storage: by default, any cookies stored by a Fluid app browser are shared with Safari’s cookies; if you prefer to have Fluid apps designated for separate accounts on a similar service, for example, you would want this separate cookie storage feature.
The $4.99 license also lets you pin Fluid apps to the Mac OS X Status Bar, apply userscripts or userstyles to Fluid apps, and in Mac OS X Lion will enable full-screen functionality for Fluid apps.
A lot of web applications have various client applications made by 3rd-party developers that you can download (usually for a cost) and use, but with the exception of Twitter, most of these are quite crappy. Fluid is an outstanding application which lets you liberate these web apps from the confines of your general-purpose web browser, while still letting you use these web apps with the native interface that they were meant to be used with. Fluid is an outstanding app that makes infinite more app possibilities possible. And the price (free) is hard to beat as well.