Use Fluid to create a Gmail app on your Mac

Gmail offers a slick interface for navigating your email, but who wants to hunt through their browser tabs to find their inbox? Not me. That's why I use Fluid to create a true, standalone Gmail app on my Mac. Here’s how you can do the same:

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Show transcript

Hi, I’m staff writer Lex Friedman. Thanks for joining me for this Macworld Video Tip.

I use Gmail for my email, but I don’t connect to it using Mail, Mailplane, Outlook, Sparrow, or another dedicated email client of that sort. Instead, I use Fluid.

Fluid is an app from developer Todd Ditchendorf. It lets you turn web apps into Mac apps, by creating something called Site Specific Browsers—Or SSB’s. SSB’s, as the full name implies, are standalone browsers meant to point at a single site or URL.

So, with Fluid, I get a regular icon in my Dock for Gmail, and it points to the Gmail Web interface I’m so familiar with. Even better, as you’ll see, Fluid’s smart enough that it can even take advantage of true Mac app functionality like Dock icon badging, so I can see at a glance how many unread emails are demanding my attention.

Here’s how to get started.

First, download the Fluid app from the unsurprising URL fluidapp.com. It’s a free download, though there is a $5 upgrade option, which we’ll get to later.

Once you have Fluid installed, launch the app. You only need to fill out four fields, and three of them are really easy. For the URL, enter the link you use to access Gmail in a Web browser. For most of us, that’s Gmail.com; if you use Google Apps, that address might be unique to your company or organization. Your best bet is to go to your email in your Web browser of choice, and then copy and paste the URL into Fluid.

For the name, of course, enter the name you’d like to refer to your email account by. I actually use two Fluid apps for Gmail; one for my personal email and one for my Macworld.com address, so I named one personal and the other Macworld.

Location refers only to where Fluid will place your soon-to-be-created app; Applications seems like a great place to me. You could, of course, manually move the app should you decide it belongs somewhere else.

Icon is perhaps the trickiest part of this setup process, and quite frankly even it’s not too tricky. The default option is to use the website’s favicon—that’s the little icon that appears in the URL bar of your browser when you visit the site in question. That would be fine, if a bit lower quality than a traditional Mac icon. In my testing, however, Fluid doesn’t seem to pull down the Gmail favicon correctly anyway—so you’re left with a boring old generic Mac application icon if you go that route.

Luckily, the Internet offers an embarrassment of Gmail icon riches, perfect for use with Fluid. A popular Flickr group shares great Fluid icons, and Googling for “Gmail Fluid icons” will help you discover countless other sources, too.

Find one you like, download it, and point Fluid to your image. Then tap the Create button, and you’re cooking with gas.

Now, you can launch your newly-created app, and boom—Gmail’s available for you as a standalone application. You can switch to it like you would any other app, whether via Command-Tab, Mission Control, Spotlight, or any other means.

Obviously, you can create Fluid apps for any website. I use one for Google Calendar, and some use them for Facebook, YouTube, Google Reader, and oodles of other sites.

That $5 Fluid license we mentioned earlier? It lets you separate Fluid app cookies from Safari’s, meaning you could be logged into two separate accounts, say, on Facebook—one in Safari, another in Fluid. You can also create apps that live only in the menu bar, not in the Dock. And you also get the ability to run your Fluid apps as true full-screen apps in Lion.

But whether or not you choose to pony up the five bucks for the extra features, Fluid offers an excellent way to turn the websites you rely on into standalone Mac apps.

That’s it for this week’s video tip. I’m Lex Friedman—thanks for watching.

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