Fractal is a new messaging app for the GNOME desktop, powered by Matrix

Sean Tilley
May 22, 2018 · 3 min read
An early implementation of Fractal’s UI

ot too long ago, we wrote about Riot, a Slack-like web application that leverages the Matrix federation protocol. Lots of people within the federated web space and Free Software community love it, but a lot of people weren’t too thrilled to see another electron app on their desktops.

That all is changing now with the development of Fractal, a Matrix client that lives as a first-class citizen of the GNOME desktop. Development is led by Daniel García Moreno, and is being designed by Purism’s Tobias Bernard. The app is quickly gaining traction within the GNOME ecosystem. Here’s Tobias’ take:

The Matrix protocol is a modern alternative to IRC. It provides features such as persistence, inline media, and multi-device syncing. Importantly for GNOME, it is also backwards-compatible to IRC using bridges, allowing us to use the fancy new Matrix features without being cut off from the rest of the community. Over the past few years, some GNOME developers have started using Matrix, but the lack of a good native client has held back adoption.

A mockup of two apps, one for chatrooms, the other for messaging contacts

Coming off of a 4-day hackfest in Strasbourg, France, an announcement was made to split Fractal into two applications: one for private messaging, another for chatrooms. Tobias goes on to explain:

If we want Matrix to succeed as more than an IRC/Slack replacement we need multiple apps, each focusing on a distinct use case. For messaging, I think the most important distinction to make is between what I call the Banquet and the Barbecue. The Banquet is a big, loud place. There are tons of people, and you don’t know many of them…The Barbecue is at the other end of the spectrum: It’s a calm, private environment…conversations are mostly between 2 or 3 people, slow, and often very personal.

It’s an interesting design decision, but in appealing to everyday desktop and mobile users, the concept makes a lot of sense. As far as approach is concerned, the two applications would share the same Matrix backend.

With luck, Fractal will likely become a core experience that ships on the new phone by Librem, and a communication tool adopted by the wider Gnome community. It’s exciting to see a convergence between the Free Desktop and decentralized communication, and I have a lot of hope for this project.

Thanks for reading this article! If you want to get involved with Fractal, here are a few useful links:

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Sean Tilley

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Editor of WeDistribute. Obsessed with Free Software and Decentralization. Also makes things, sometimes with Elixir.

We Distribute

Reporting on decentralization and the free web.