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Flock Flies the Firefox Coop

Flock has undergone a major evolution in the last year. From the Swiss-Army knife of social media to a slimmed down browser that tackles Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube only. Even more shocking, the project has dumped Firefox for Chromium. Was the switch worth it?

The Flock folks have abandoned Firefox and embraced Chromium. The social browser is taking a turn away from Firefox and a social media Swiss Army knife and towards a slimmed down browser that focuses on Twitter and Facebook.

Flock has always struck me as a good idea with execution that has fallen just short of the mark. It’s never been entirely clear what the company’s plans for revenue were based on Flock, and if there’s really enough demand for a social media Web browser. But with millions and millions of Facebook users racking up billions of hours in Farmville, maybe a Facebook focused Flock is what the doctor ordered. The last time I reviewed it, Flock was pretty good — but not great. I used it daily for a while, and then went back to Firefox for my primary browsing. That was almost exactly a year ago, and the company hadn’t come out with a significant update since — even though Flock 2.5 was based on an aging release of Firefox.

Now we know why, I suppose. Last year the company denied it would be switching to Google Chrome. It looks like the company has rethought that.

The New Flock

First of all, I can’t say I’m particularly pleased with the company’s shipping a Windows version but nothing for Linux or Mac OS X. Really? Even Opera got back on the ball with the 10.60 beta (which we’ll look at soon) and shipped Win, Mac, and Linux versions at the same time. The beta page isn’t promising on the Linux front, either. It has a slot to ask for an email when the Mac port is ready, but says nada about Linux. First Songbird, now Flock? That’s disappointing.

The upshot is, if you want to play with the new Flock (as of this writing, anyway) you’re going to be doing in on Windows. So I went ahead and fired up a Windows 7 virtual machine and gave it a shot.

After launching the reborn Flock, it asks you to sign up for a new Flock account and you can also sign in to your Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. After churning a bit, it creates the Flock account and signs you into your social media account(s). Note that the Flock folks have opted to concentrate on just a handful of services, rather than trying to offer support for several photo sharing sites or multiple social media sites. So you get Flickr, but no Picasa. Twitter, but (sadly) no Identi.ca. Facebook, but no LiveJournal or MySpace.

Compared to first-gen Flock, the Chromium-based Flock is very limited in additional features. You get the standard Chromium features, plus the ability to have a sidebar for Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. You’ll see updates, be able to respond to messages, create groups, and search your through updates from your contacts in addition to searching the Web. That’s about it. Flock’s custom home page that shows all your feeds and contacts is gone. Its RSS reader features, toast. Flickr uploader? It’s gone. The Flock tools for blogging are out. The tools for clipping material from Web pages are gone.

With all the subtractions, its hard to see why a fork of Chromium is necessary vs. just shipping an extension for Chrome. What made Flock particularly interesting was all of the features straight out of the box. Blogging, microblogging, picture sharing, feed reading, etc. That might have been too unfocused for many users, but it was what I found appealing about Flock. The new Flock doesn’t really provide much more functionality than a tool like Gwibber or TweetDeck. It’s easy to use, and maybe Flock’s value add on top of Chromium is enough to drive adoption, but it seems like a step backwards.

Look out Mozilla

Whether or not Flock succeeds, it’s not a ringing endorsement of Mozilla. Last week I looked at Firefox losing its foothold with some of the Linux distros. It was once a sure thing that distros would ship Firefox, and companies that wanted to build browser-based apps would go with Firefox or its components. Developers might have grumbled a bit about problems with XUL or Gecko not being as slim or fast as it could be — but Firefox was the leader of the pack for open source browser development.

Now the landscape has shifted, and Webkit, Chromium, V8, etc. are getting a lot of love from developers. Yes, lots of people still love Firefox and its mission. Lots of users would sooner fight than switch. But part of Firefox’s health is judged not just by the impressive market share it’s grabbed from IE, but also the developer community around it. Google seems to be siphoning off some of that with the Chromium project, and many developers seem to prefer working with Webkit over Firefox technologies. That could have a pretty hefty impact on Firefox in the long term. The Flock blog that announced the new release notes that it’s a natural evolution to use Chromium after Firefox, and credits Mozilla for leading the way. But the basic message remains: Chromium was a better platform to build a derivative project.

Join the Flock?

If you really like Chromium, but also want a little social media spice to liven things up, give Flock a try. If you’re on Windows, anyway. We’ll keep an eye out for Linux builds, and see how the project will move forward. Flock has become a bit less of a power-user tool and more of a mainstream, but lightweight, project. That might just be crazy enough to work.

Comments on "Flock Flies the Firefox Coop"

meres

Personally…as much as I don\’t particularly like Microsoft (putting it mildly), I like anything Google much less. I will stick with Firefox.

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parnote

Personally, I think Mozilla has gotten sloppy with the Linux version of Firefox. Only recently (since the change to 3.3 and higher), I have experienced random \”freezes\” in Firefox. I\’ll be browsing along, and all of a sudden, the mouse freezes on the screen and Firefox just stops — dead in its tracks. The freeze lasts about 30 seconds, and then Firefox resumes its duties of browsing the web.

This forced me to give Chromium a try. Chromium never has the random freezes that I experience with Firefox. Chromium has been exceptionally fast on whatever computer I put it on … from a P3 laptop to a new Intel dual core laptop.

For those folks who are scared off from Chromium because of Google\’s data collection, there\’s always Iron, the version of Chromium with the \”phone home\” sections of the Chromium code eliminated.

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campbell2644

From my experience Chrome\’s speed has been exaggerated.I\’m not tempted by Flock and will happily stick with Firefox as my primary browser.

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davestj

I use flock as an app, not a browser replacement, that\’s all it should be looked it, even more so now, use it in conjunction with firefox, opera, safari etc..
I did try this new beta and it wouldnt even install, some beta, how about alpha version?

Albeit im realy loving yoono desktop, not the ff plugin, but the standalone app.

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bloodsugarwilksm

I could care less about Flock using Gecko or Chromium. Flock is a niche browser that is bloated and generally unusable unless you\’re obsessed with social networking all of the time, constantly in your face.

Mozilla has more heart than Google does and they make the better browser in my opinion. Chrome is slightly faster than FF, but it\’s not enough to make me switch. Firefox 4 is going to be awesome and we can attribute that to the competition they\’re getting from Google. So for the consumer it\’s all good.

As far as FF on Linux goes? I use it every single day and I typically have 10-20 tabs open without any crashes or issues. I\’m running Fedora 13 x64 with 32-bit FF 3.6.4 Beta. Runs fast and never crashes.

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hollow

To be honest I use both Chrome and FF on Linux without an issue on either. I like Firebugs ability to track javascript for debugging when I\’m developing and I like Chromes ability to track resources in a website, so if I\’m developing an https page, and something is coming over unencrypted, I fire up Chromes developer tools and find the culprit immediately, likewise if I\’m developing something with a bit of Ajax and I want to monitor the whole process, I fire up firebug. Both are excellent browsers, very different from each other. I do tend to find Chrome a little faster than FF, but I have a 10 Meg line, so it\’s marginal.

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bempey

I\’m not a browser expert, but my company has lived \”in the clouds\” for a couple of years now. I\’ve found Chrome to be much faster for Google APPs, but lacking in some extensions. So I use Chrome for business and FireFox for personal stuff (with Yoono for tracking social media). It works for me!

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