By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 11:11 am
A year ago, I declared Flock–the “social browser” built on top of Firefox–to be my favorite Web browser. I’m still a happy user, and am happy to report that the official, final version 2.0 is now available for download at the Flock site.
As before, Flock is a browser for folks who are major fans of social networking and media sites: It’s got built-in support for Facebook, Twitter, Digg, YouTube, Flickr, and other services that let you do things like update your Facebook status and check your friends’ statuses without going to Facebook, Digging stories without going to Digg, viewing your buddies’ Flickr streams, and so forth. Much of this is done through Flock’s People sidebar, which sits to the left of the Web page you’re on so your social tools are always available:
Flock also has the Media Bar, which sits on top of the page you’re on and provides an alternative way to browse videos and images at Flickr, YouTube, and other sites:
I’ve been using the beta version of Flock 2.0 for months, and the biggest news about it is that it’s based on Firefox 3.0 and therefore has all of that browser’s goodness, including the Awesome Bar, new security features, and better speed and reliability. I had worried that it would be tough for Flock to move from Firefox 2.0′s platform to 3.0, but they did it in a matter of weeks, and it worked well even in beta form. (I hope that they move jut as swiftly to incorporate the improvements from Firefox 3.1, which was released in beta form today.) And one of the best things about Flock is that almost all Firefox extensions work with it, so it’s one of the most customizable browsers on the planet.
The final version of Flock 2.0 adds some stuff that wasn’t in the beta I’ve been using, including support for MySpace and the ability to skin the browser with Themes. It’s also the first browser to support Media RSS, an RSS variant that lets you subscribe to media streams. There aren’t many major sites that offer Media RSS feeds (SmugMug and Blip.tv are two), but if the standard catches on, Flock is ready.
Using Flock is a bit of commitment, since it’s so rich in features and tools that its interface is bursting with icons and dialogs. (I haven’t even mentioned some of its capabilities, like the built-in blogging and the ability to check Webmail accounts from Flock’s toolbar.) In a way, its philosophy about browsing is the opposite of Google Chrome’s: Chrome wants to be so mean, lean, and unobtrusive that you forget you’re using it, while Flock wants to provide lots and lots of tools for helping you get the most out of your favorite sites.
Bottom line: If you’re not a serious user of social networking and media sides, you don’t need Flock–just get Firefox 3.0, and you’re good. But if you do love the Web’s social and media aspects, you might love Flock as much as I do.
Which is not to say that I love it unreservedly. The support for external accounts is sometimes a bit flaky: For instance, it occasionally forgets an account I’ve added already, and makes me reregister it before it shows up in the People sidebar. And the Webmail feature confusingly shows my Gmail account twice at the moment–once logged in, once logged out:
Despite the odd glitch, I’m a fan. I’m pretty promiscuous when it comes to browsers: On any given day, there’s a chance that I’ll use Flock, Firefox, Safari, Internet 6 and/or 7, and maybe even Opera. So it’s saying something that Flock has been my default browser on all my computers for a year now. If that ever changes, I’ll let you know…