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Look at Flock Developer 0.49 Build

Date: October 24, 2005
Author(s): Rob Williams

There’s a new browser in town, and it has great potential if you use RSS feeds and other social networking sites regularly. Based on the Firefox browser, it should prove just as secure. Let’s check it out, and see if it has a chance to battle Firefox and Opera.



Introduction

There are a few things that you must know about Flock, before you decide to try it. Firstly, even though it’s based on Firefox, that does not mean you have to have a current Firefox installation. Flock is completely stand-alone, but uses the Firefox source code as a base. This is a smart move, as it’s already a reliable and very secure browser [to an extent] already.

What makes Flock different than most other browsers, is the integration of social bookmarking, photo sharing and of course, blogs. If you take part in these popular online activities, then that’s why you should give the browser a go. Personally, I don’t read or write any blogs, view any social bookmarking site or play around with photo sharing. Some of the screenshots will reflect this :)

Why Flock?

When you first open the browser, you are brought to a familiar “Get Started” page, which can help you get along if you don’t know what you are doing. You will likely want to at least read the “13 things you can do with Flock”.

The skin of the browser is identical to the Mac OS X applications theme, so this browser would really look great coinciding with that OS. The layout is very familiar to Firefox, even most of the options at the top are the same. One immediate difference is that they chose Yahoo! to be the default search for the quick search feature. Just like with Firefox though, you can click the Yahoo! logo to change back to Google or anything else.

Down with bookmarking.. up with starring

What you did with bookmarking, is now considered starring. This feature coincides with http://del.icio.us/, so you may as well go there to sign up, or forget about using Flock! In gist, del.icio.us is a social bookmarking website that allows you to recommend a link, and see if others enjoy the link also. In the end, the sites that attract the more users that like them, the more noticeable it is on the site.

I am an inexperienced user with del.icio.us, but was quite impressed with how the site works. For fun, I submitted our site, and it went off the front page within a minute. It certainly is an extremely fast moving site. At any rate, if you visit a site, you can Star it. This in turn, will automatically add that as a favorite to your del.icio.us account. When you access your bookmarks through Flock, all your del.icio.us links will be there.

Feed Flock.. it’s hungry.

RSS feeds are not dying off any time soon, because they are way too useful. For my testing, I chose to use digg.com, which is a user controlled news site.

After adding an RSS capable site to your del.icio.us account, you can access the RSS feed directly through your favorites manager. One thing I do like about Flock, is that while visiting a site, you can click to view it in RSS format instead, as you can see in the picture above. When you access the RSS feed through your favorites, it will be displayed the same way.


Blogging me down and Flickring yourself

Since Blogging has become something of a phenomenon, it’s one feature that will be quite welcomed to people who use the supported services. At the time of writing, Flock supports Blogger, WordPress, Movable Type and Typepad. More will be added in the future though.

Really, there is no way posting a blog could be made any easier. Simply click the feather pen button, and you are ready to go. You even have the ability to specify tags, format your blog and even handle multiple blogs. If you have a Flickr account, you even have the ability to drag and drop your uploaded photos directly into your blog.

As mentioned already, I do not have a blog, but there is no doubt that this is the tool I would be using to do so.

First Thoughts

Flock is definitely a browser with goals, and they implement them well. This will not be a fly-by-night browser, it has huge support already, and a staff of over 10 people. Since it’s based on the Firefox browser, you will already feel at home if you use that already. Learning how the new features work takes a matter of 10 minutes; it’s very straight-forward.

If you write a blog, then Flock is for you. Unless you have already become quite accustomed to a certain extension of plugin in another browser, Flock makes it so much easier. I don’t even write a blog, but almost want to just to use the program. It’s made even easier with built-in Flickr support.

Even though there are many RSS readers available, it’s nice to have one built into a browser. The developers have done a great job of doing this, and I like the way it works. Being able to visit a site and instantaneously switch to a formatted RSS view is a huge plus.

The only learning curve I found with Flock was the bookmarking. In the end, I’d rather have my bookmarks saved the same way as before. Sadly, I could not even find an “Import Bookmarks” option, which would have been quite welcomed. I have many bookmarks, and don’t care to have all of them on del.icio.us.

One final thing that may help your decision is extension support. I was happy to see that a few of my favorite extensions are supported, including Web Dev, Noscript and ForecastFox. You can check out the full support here. It’s actually quite easy to get an extension to work with Flock. All it takes are a few lines of code as seen here. Since it’s painless, I’m sure we will see full support of the most popular extensions in no time.

Overall, Flock is an enjoyable browser to use if you already make use of the services mentioned above. If you do not use any of those, there is really no sense of using Flock, as Firefox (Or Opera) will prove to be all you need. Without a doubt though, Flock does an amazing job of integrating the available services, and performs well.

Because it’s based off of Firefox, it’s more secure than Internet Explorer, and it will continue to be based on updated Firefox source code to retain the security level. To check out the early version of Flock as used in this article, grab a download here, which is available for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux. I look forward to seeing what this browser can bring to the table with later versions.

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