Meet Franz

How do you communicate with your teammates and customers in work on daily basis? Do you have more than just one communicator running? What about mail – is there only a single account?

In my case I have 3 communicators (Slack, HipChat and Skype) and 2 mail accounts (both for work) open. And Slack could be counted twice, since I am logged in two separate teams. Of course, mail accounts are in a single app (Mail) and both Slacks are using a single instance of the application as well. But this means there are still four applications used to communicate. Luckily there is a hibernate/sleep option in our computers so I don’t have to start them every morning. 🙂 However switching between those applications and managing their windows can be a nightmare.

And here is the moment where Franz shows up. This is a communications hub that allows to manage various communication apps (called “services”) in just a single window on your desktop.

The application is quite new. The first release was in March, 2016. It was created by Stefan Maligner. The mission of this tool is to make communication way, way easier than it is now – especially if you are using multiple apps simultaneously. At the moment of writing there are 23 integrated applications which is a pretty good number of them.

 

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The UI of Franz is extremely simple but this does not mean it is bad. Not at all! This is actually good. The application has the first tab static, containing a list of enabled services (configured communication apps), a list of available services, and some settings. Every service enabled is presented in its own tab, in the main window of Franz. There is a couple of useful keyboard shortcuts to move through tabs defined in Franz. Services use the same keyboard shortcuts as in their native editions.

I was curios how it is working, and what I have found in one of Stefan’s post on Medium information about the Electron Framework. So a quick glimpse into the file system on my Mac and indeed, there is the framework. So, as far as I am aware it simply shows the web versions of registered services. This means a user probably needs to forego some (if any) features available in the native desktop versions of the used apps.

The author of Franz mentioned in one of his blog posts that the application has a smaller memory footprint and CPU usage than using apps separately. However I did not notice such gains in my case, and this heavily relies on what services are enabled in Franz, I guess.

 

Franz

 

Migration to Franz is painful, not because of the app itself, but because of configuring all of the various applications and accounts – unless you use one password and do not have to make an effort to remember all of them. 😉 After this initial setup everything works just fine. I am using the application for a couple of weeks now. Below you can find a list of my conclusions, findings and so on.

Pros:

  • I don’t have to log in to all of those various services manually, Franz does it for me during the startup 🙂
  • a LOT of supported applications
  • no need to switch between various tabs in browsers and apps to communicate
  • less space taken on the screen
  • possibility to have a couple of instances of the same service
  • no single crash or freeze during those weeks.

Cons:

  • GMail service refresh is slow (I have received email’s notification earlier on my phone and from Mail App on OSX than in Franz, new email appeared there after a couple of minutes)
  • not possible (or just difficult?) to connect to the Outlook mail if it is configured inside company’s domain (Franz requires a Microsoft account to sign in)
  • a number of unread items in GMail is sometimes not refreshed properly, e.g.:
  • two consecutive mails from the same address I have received I have and read them but there was information about one mail still unread, restart of the application helped
  • removal of unread email from the GMail account does not update the number of unread mails presented in the tab
  • no notification in a tab nor an OSX popup when somebody sends you a message on a private channel in HipChat (Franz only plays a sound)
  • no context menu from HipChat/Slack so when you would like to easily copy a URL to clipboard it is not possible
  • no possibility to turn off a single service tab (at least I have not found it)
  • on OSX if you have Franz with the Slack window active and there is a notification from Slack’s other channel, then clicking on notification does not move you to the conversation the notification applies to.

As you can see there is a list of small issues. They are not critical for me and I can live with them, I think. All of them I reported to Franz Support. Will see how fast they will be solved.

So this is Franz. After those weeks I have been using it, I can say the application is quite good despite the issues mentioned above. I am still testing it and encourage you to give it a shot. Or maybe you are using it already? Let me know in the comments what are your impressions.

Photo credit: Charles Forerunner

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