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News, opinion, and links from Editor in Chief Harry McCracken.

I Have a New Favorite Web Browser: Flock

Posted by Harry McCracken | Tuesday, October 23, 2007 5:56 PM PT

newflocklogo.jpg
More than two years ago, I blogged about the preview version of Flock, a browser, built with Mozilla Firefox at its core, with a social bent. I said it showed promise and said I'd keep an eye on it.

And then...the Flock folks failed to release a final version and I sort of forgot about it. Two years later, this browser still isn't available in final form. But I've been using the iteration billed at the beta version of Flock 1.0--available for download here--for the past few days. And I'm so impressed that I've done something I didn't see myself anytime soon: I've dumped Firefox as my primary gateway to the Web. For now, I'm using Flock as my default browser on both my desktop Vista machine and my MacBook portable, and thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Two years ago, when the Flock people started talking about the notion of a social browser, they might have been a little ahead of their time. Today, the whole dang Web has a heavy social bent, and this current version of Flock is significantly different and better than the one I tried back in 2005.

A few of the features that make Flock a strikingly different browser from IE, plain-vanilla Firefox, or Opera:

Facebook integration. If you're addicted to Facebook--and I am, at least for the moment--Flock's Facebook-related features alone might make it worth switching from whatever browser you use. You get a sidebar with links to all your friends, messages, invites, your status, and other key Facebook stuff; it sites to the left of the main browser window and lets you keep tabs on your Facebook life without having to go to Facebook. Using the horizontal Media Bar, you can also browse your pals' Facebook photos.

Here's a look at the Facebook sidebar:

flockfacebook.jpg

I can think of ways Flock's Facebook integration could be even better--such as by giving you access to your news feed or supporting third-party Facebook apps--but even as is, it's extremely cool.

Flickr and YouTube integration. You can upload photos to Flickr and use the Media Bar to browse your Flickr friends' streams (and, for that matter, anybody's Flickr streams. including your own) using features built into the browser. Quick links let you e-mail links to photos or embed images in blogs, and you can Favorite streams so you can return to them in the Media Bar without having to go to Flickr. YouTube doesn't have the integrated uploading, but it gets similar browsing and sharing features.

Here's a peek at a Flickr stream in the Media Bar:

flockmediabar.jpg

Better bookmarks. Flock's Favorites might be the nicest bookmarks in any browser, with the ability to add tags and descriptions, plus the built-in ability to save your favorite sites to Del.icio.us so you can get to 'em from any browser on any computer.


Web clipboard.
This feature lets you drag images, text, and links into the sidebar for later use:

flockclipboard.jpg

Blogging. You can post directly to blogs on TypePad, Movable Type, WordPress, Blogger, and other platforms. The editor's a bit basic in some ways, but it's not bad overall and you can drag items from the Web Clipboard to put them in your posts.

RSS. Flock has a nice built-in RSS reader that lets you organize feeds into folders. I like it a lot more than Firefox's Live Bookmarks.

My World. A sort of built-in home page gives you quick access to sites you've recently visited and favorite feeds and media streams. It also includes a Yahoo search box. (Flock's business model involves getting referral fees from Yahoo, much as Mozilla makes millions of dollars from Google for the searches people do on the default Firefox home page. Here it is:

flockmyworld.jpg

One of the best things about Flock is that it's basically a souped-up variant of Firefox--so it's full of familiar and useful features as well as new ones. Flock says that "most" Firefox extensions will work properly in Flock: I found that several worked well, including the Google Toolbar, Greasemonkey, and the Meebo extension. One video downloading extension didn't seem to work; Flock's site says you should get a warning if an extension isn't Flock-friendly, but I didn't in this case.

As much as I'm enjoying using Flock, one fear is nagging in the back of my mind: Firefox 3 is on its way, and it's possible it'll have new features I'll want which won't be available in Flock. (Of course, Flock may get 'em eventually--but given the leisurely pace of Flock development so far, it might take awhile.)

And this beta is still a real beta: I've run into a few instances of things not working as they should (such as not being able to search my Facebook friends in the Windows version of Flock). None, however, have been showstoppers that sent me scrambling back to Firefox.

Bugs and all, the Flock beta is an impressive piece of work. I'd love to see this browser upstart thrive--and I hope thatit'll evolve and improve at a more rapid clip than it's managed so far...

Comments (8)

I'm using firefox for the extensions. Flock would be great...if it did that as well. But without it...it's useless.

filmgeek
October 28, 2007
12:22 PM PT

I too just came back to Flock and I LOVE it! The integration with the social media stuff is AMAZING and it works with all of my previous Firefox extensions. Great job, Flock team!

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mdelfs
October 28, 2007
4:49 PM PT

I'll stick with Opera, thank you. Stability at its finest.

mcohen
October 29, 2007
9:47 AM PT

Company or Developer Stability is more important than slick new features that work sometimes.

inbox
October 29, 2007
10:42 AM PT

I noticed you said you use it both on Windows and Mac. Short of having to try it myself (, where does the time go?) would you know if the Google Browser Sync extension/add-on works with it? Also, what about security? You didn't address that, did you?

marikavs
October 29, 2007
3:35 PM PT

@filmgeek: A significant amount of Firefox extensions work with Flock, and some others can be easily made to do so.

@inbox: I think you'll discover that, since some shuffling almost a year ago, we've been very stable, focused, and quality-oriented. This is a new Flock.

@marikavs: Unfortunately, Browser Sync has some issues because our favorites system is fairly different from Firefox's bookmarking system. However, our security is the same as Firefox's, and every Mozilla security update gets promptly rolled into Flock and released as an update.

Evan Hamilton
Flock Community Ambassador
evan at flock dot com

EvanHamilton
October 30, 2007
10:41 AM PT

I use Flock everyday now and it is my most stable browser yet! I also use 4 other browsers, all the most up-to-date of theirselves and none works better on my XP laptop than Flock (Just for the record, I also use Safari for Windows (beta), Opera, Firefox & IE7) as it [Flock] has all the stuff I use on it!
I spend most of my time on the net networking, so Flock is perfect for me. But one problem, my Google toolbar isn't showing up!
And I would prefer if Flock made something in it's People toolbar for Bebo and MySpace. And if you try to use a "Weirdmaker" (type text in and it comes out in special fonts for Bebo, MySpace MSN etc) and it doesn't work. But no browser comes without it's setbacks.
Overall, I'm not sure what everybody's going on for.

scriptkiddie
November 10, 2007
1:45 PM PT

Actually, I'm using flock to post this. But all extensions work fine. You just have to tweak it a bit. It's quite simple. If someone would like me to make an extension work with flock, hit me up on msn. - Angablade@hotmail.com

The only reason it doesn't want to work, is because it does not want to mess with the base code that comes with flock. I love flock, and I have tested over 300+ extensions. I do have to say tho, my favorite is the "all-in-one side bar". Remember, hit me up for the extensions.

Angablade
January 19, 2008
12:49 PM PT