I am writing this blog directly from my browser. Not strange, is it? Well, let me make clear what is happening at this moment. I am blogging, not from the web interface on the page where my blog is hosted. Nay good sir, I am blogging from an interface integrated within my browser.
You see, I am using the FLOCK browser, a web browser based on Mozilla technology that is optimized for the new interactive web we frequent. I can now write a blog from my browser, no matter what page I am actually visiting, and can drag and drop, or right click to embed anything in the blog.
Not since the “Blogger for Word” plugin have I found a blogging tool that works so well
Have a Facebook Account?
The whole point behind the development of FLOCK is the tapping into social networking tools. Take for instance Facebook. If you have a Facebook account, and you visit your Facebook profile, FLOCK will offer to remember your Login details. If you agree, your Facebook friends will show up in what is called the People Sidebar, along with their latest updates, and reminders of any messages and invitations you might have.
More About Those Toolbars.
I fear I am getting ahead of myself here, so let us backtrack a little. When you first launch FLOCK, you will notice two things. First, it is reassuringly familiar to FireFox users. It is based on Mozilla technology, in fact, my FLOCK browser registered as FireFox 2 on my Java counter that I have for my blog. Most of the widgets and dialog boxes are straight from FireFox 2, as well as the “Preferences” tab, where you set browser preferences. Here and there are FLOCK specific settings.
The second thing you notice is the Navigation and Flock toolbar that is radically different from that found on FireFox. The Navigation Bar is rather common fare for browsers, with a few nice tweaks. Where you normally find the STOP button, next to the Home button, you will find a star. In fact this is the FAVORITES button. You can click this button while on any page to add it to your favorites, and when you click it again you will see your favorite pages listed.
Below that you will find the FLOCK Toolbar. There you will find a plethora of useful buttons, that are; My World, People, Media, RSS Feeds, Webmail, Favorites, Accounts and Services, Web Clipboard, Blog Editor and Photo Uploader.
Now each of those buttons you will find have useful functions – the people button opens the People button opens the aforementioned People Sidebar, where you can instantly view your Facebook friends and latest Facebook Activity. Facebook is not the only social networking app supported, Flickr, Youtube and Twitter are also supported.
To the right of this area you will find your normal FireFox Bookmarks Bar, preloaded with FLOCKcentric buttons.
The default flock homepage is called the Myworld page. Here, customizable of course, you will be presented with your latest chosen RSS feeds, Facebook activity and other nifty news, like Google Mail, if you so please. Clicking on the Myworld Button on the FLOCK toolbar also launches this page.
The media bar is not a sidebar, it opens up on top of your browser window, just below the bookmarks toolbar. Here you can see pictures loaded by your Facebook contacts, Flickr feeds, Photobucket pictures, even Youtube videos, while you are browsing other sites. You can also upload pictures with FLOCK’s photo uploader, and then drag them from the media bar to anywhere on the web you want to share them, such as Forums.
RSS feeds are handled very nicely in FLOCK. You can add them to the RSS sidebar, via a login, or drag and drop. And a single click on the RSS button next to the Address bar lets you subscribe instantly.
Yes FLOCK does webmail. In fact, I no longer need Thunderbird to check my Google Mail. When I logged in to my Google Mail web account, a dialog popped up and asked if I wanted to let FLOCK handle it. I said yes, and now the Webmail button glows orange whenever new mail arrives. I can also compose mail on the fly without logging into gmail, and send it right from the browser mail plugin. Really handy for me that spends a lot of time surfing and preparing blogs and mailing, often all at the same time. You can also drag links and pictures to the compose mail window and share with friends. On the right of the address bar you will see a little envelope, click this while on a page and instantly and transparently share pages with your mail contacts.
Other Nifty features
I have mentioned the blogging plugin, it supports a wide range of blog software, Wordpress and Blogger are just two of many, and setup is foolproof and easy. Web Clipboard lets you store things web discovered for later sharing, and media streams are a doddle with the Media Streams button, that lets you subscribe to a person or sites media stream with the click of a button. View the content in the Media Bar later on.
If you land on a search engine, you can add that search engine to FLOCK’s search bar, also with the click of a button, although whenever I select a search engine I get pointed to the page instead. I am not sure if this is a bug in the software or not.
Okay, now impression time. Overall my FLOCK experience was very satisfying. In fact, I have eschewed using FireFox altogether. Even with FF3’s new features and functionality, FLOCK is the more usable browser for me. Apparently a new version of FLOCK is on the way with the new features of FireFox 3 integrated. FLOCK seamlessly optimizes your web experience, and I would (and have) suggested this browser to anyone who spends a lot of time on the web, especially those who use the Internet as part of their daily work.
FLOCK can be a bit overwhelming at first. Sure the features are really nifty, but it took even me a few days to get used to all the bells and whistles. It is a bit like getting out of a car and into a helicopter. You need to keep your wits about you when you use it at first, and start using it when you have some free time to set up all your accounts and feeds. That is not strictly necessary, since FLOCK adds them so quickly that you can add them on the fly while going through your daily browsing, but I am still finding new ways to do things and think if I took special “FLOCK time” to do everything right I would have been so much happier.
The FLOCK community is still small though. This is a bit of a drawback. I asked a few technical questions of the community/developers in preparation for this review, and still no reply. I trust though that all my questions will be answered soon, and I will update this review accordingly.
FLOCK is heavier than Firefox on resources. If you have limited memory, be prepared for some holdups here and there while everything is happening behind the scenes. FLOCK has a lot going on while it is working and integrating everything you told it to do, and it shows. I am willing to live with a small penalty in performance in order to enjoy all that it offers.
Yes every review has a verdict. Now, if you know me, I am a serious Ubuntuphile, and if you read my review of Hardy Heron, you will know – fanboi or not, I do not play favorites, flaws are flaws and should be addressed. And from that background my verdict: FLOCK is awesome. It is everything a browser should be, and then some. The small niggles are a pain sometimes, I have a recurring issue; sometimes when I scroll a page a previous page loads, and I have to click the “back” button to get back to where I was going. That detracts from my browsing nirvana, but not enough to make me can FLOCK and go back to FireFox.
In fact, I would suggest the Ubuntu developers give FLOCK a serious consideration as the standard Ubuntu web browser. This is a zing element that would really make Ubuntu stand out from the normal desktop Linux fare out there. Yes it is that good.
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