By Harry McCracken | Monday, March 2, 2009 at 6:05 pm
TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington (who’s back from his month-long blogging hiatus) is reporting that one of my favorite products is going to undergo a radical change. Flock, the browser with built-in support for Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites, will supposedly dump Mozilla, the platform that’s most famously used by Firefox, and build a new version of Flock that uses Google’s Chrome as its engine.
Arrington says that the Flock folks feel like they don’t get enough love from the Mozilla team, and while I don’t know if his scoop is the real deal and have no insider info on the back story here, I do recall once asking the Mozilla team a question that involved Flock, and feeling the tension in the room ratchet up a notch. It’s hard, of course, for Mozilla to both keep busy spreading Firefox and also help a Firefox rival like Flock be successful. But Flock might face the same challenges if it ends up working with Google. We’ll see.
A Chrome-based Flock could potentially have some upsides–the current version, like Firefox, is slow to load (on my Mac, anyhow) and sometimes feels piggy when it comes to resources. Chrome’s emphasis on efficiency could result in a meaner, leaner Flock. (At the moment, Chrome is Windows-only while Flock also speaks OS X and Linux, but Chrome’s support for those two OSes will likely be ready long before a Chromed Flock is complete.)
But if Flock does go the Chrome route, it has one major implication for current users: Right now, one nice thing about Flock is that it runs nearly all Firefox extensions just fine. There are surely Flock fans who, if forced to choose between sticking with Flock and keeping their favorite extensions, would keep the extensions and switch to Firefox. Given that Flock remains a cult favorite rather than the mass-market hit its creators would like it to be, it would be a shame if the lack of extensions bummed out too many of its existing users.
I’ve asked Flock if it has any comment on all this, and will report back…
Update! Here’s a statement from Flock CEO Shawn Hardin:
Flock hasn’t ceased development efforts on the Mozilla platform. Our upcoming release of Flock 2.1 is built on the Mozilla platform. Having said that, the browser space is heating up, and we’ve seen a variety of new technologies emerge over the last several months that are appealing.
We always have and will continue to make architectural decisions that balance what’s best for our users and what’s best for Flock as a business. This has resulted in a healthy, growing user base and business for Flock, and we expect this to continue in 2009. In fact, with almost seven million downloads almost entirely from word of mouth, Flock enjoys a highly satisfied user base (consistently over 92% customer satisfaction, with very strong net promoter scores, and an average of four hours of usage per day).
With a continuing focus on user-centered browser innovation, our team is in active research and development on a range of exciting new enhancements to Flock. It is still far too early to comment on anything specific, but we are very excited about this design phase.
That’s not an acknowledgment that Flock is switching platforms, but it also falls very far short of the commitment to Mozilla you’d think Flock might express if TechCrunch’s report was hooey. It’s not startling that there’s going to be a Flock 2.1, or that it’ll be built on the existing Mozilla underpinnings–if Flock is indeed moving to Chrome, it’s going to take awhile, so an interim Mozilla-based update makes sense.