Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Are You a Flockstar?

I moved away from Opera 9 a while ago and went back to Safari. I really had only been using the Opera for a little over a week when I did the review. I kept with it for several months, but over the course of the months of use I found that I had to go back to Safari for several different sites including my online banking. I don't want a browser that doesn't work on some of the sites that I visit regularly. Hence going back to good ole Safari.

Being a Mac user I have loved Safari and still think it is a wonderful browser, it is very fast and reliable for the most part. But, recently I started having some issues with Safari on certain sites. It would completely freeze up and cause my mouse to jump all over the screen and my CPU to jump to 100% and stay there. As you can see this would be very annoying. It happened a lot on some myspace sites that had a lot of video/ music/ javascript running. I never had this problem till a few months ago, so I think it is something wrong with my browser specifically my bookmarks and I did not feel like rebuilding my bookmarks from scratch, not when we are close to Leopard being released and I do a fresh install.

I decided to start looking into other browsers for the mac again just to see what was out there. What I came to was Firefox, thought about Camino, but I wanted to finally see what different kinds of extensions were out there. (One thing Camino lacks.) I installed all kinds of extensions that really interested me which really opened my eyes to the amazing power and ability to customize Firefox, one that I had always overlooked before. I really enjoyed using Firefox, but noticed it was a little sluggish due to the amount of extensions I was running. Which led me to start looking for more browsers and then found Flock.

Flock is based on the Firefox browser, but has been called the social web browser. It has a lot of neat functions built into the browser leading to less extensions. Having said that, Flock is not still version .7.11, not a 1.0 yet and has a few little problems. I am very excited about what the people at Flock are doing. They are creating a browser that adds many functions that add to the social networking web that we are all a part of everyday.

Main features that I find very useful are:

  • RSS Reader: A very nice rss reader built into the browser. I really like Safari's rss reader functionality, but Flock has added a built in rss reader that beats Safari's and any that I have tried with Firefox extensions. I am not a big fan of stand alone rss reader and like having it built into the browser. It opens in the side bar, gives you the number of new items for each feed, there is even a front page that delivers the latest feeds from each section or folder. (I don't use it very much but it is pretty.) The only issue I have with the rss reader is that it only gives you the latest 50 items, I wish there was a way to increase it to a higher number. I would love to know how to do this if anyone knows. It also doesn't save viewed items for very long like Safari can save a weeks worth. While it isn't a big deal for me some people could find this to be a problem. One neat feature is the Saved Items. You can click Save and it will put the item into a Saved Items folder in the rss reader, very nice to have if you find an article that you want to blog about later or send to a friend. Also there is a blog link at the bottom that allows you to blog about that particular article. A great feature for those that write blogs about articles they read.

  • Built-in Blogging: It has a built in blogging tool that is very clean and nicely integrated into the browser and works with most of the popular blogging services. I love the way it works and they way it looks, but it is missing one thing that keeps me from using it regularly. There is no way to add labels/ categories/ tags to my blog post. Ever since upgrading to the new blogger I have really loved labeling my blog post and find this very helpful for organization. I want my blogging tool to have it built in. I currently use Performancing extension which works very nice, but would love to uninstall it a strictly use the Flock blogging tool. I have downloaded and messed around with the latest nightly builds and it looks like they are going to be added this into the next release. I am really looking forward to seeing that one little thing added and then I will use it regularly.

  • Photo tool: Flock has an awesome photo tool that works with Flickr and Photobucket. I have it set up to work with Flickr as that is the only one that I have. It is very neat to hit the Pics button in the toolbar and see your photos drop down inside the browser and being able to browser all your photos without going to Flickr. From that drop down bar you can drag n drop photos onto anything you want. You can also upload photos, batch or 1 at a time, but I haven't and probably won't use this due to the fact that I upload straight from iPhoto. Another neat feature is the ability to add your friends from Flickr or Photosbucket and view their photos and get updates when they add new photos. I love this feature, but wished it supported other photo sites. While Flickr and Photobucket are 2 of the most popular photo sites, I use Picasa Web Albums for all my photos and would love and use this feature a lot more if there was a way to add support for Picasa Web Albums.

  • Social Bookmarks: Flock has integrated social bookmarking into the browser which works with and Shadows. I do have a account so I find this feature very useful. I can add any page to my favorites and then choose whether or not I want to share it with my other computers or everyone. It will then add that favorite to my bookmarks and either share them or not depending on what I want to do with the favorite. You can also tag and provide a description of the page that you are adding to your favorites. Adding to your ability to share pages that you find on the Internet. I love this feature and use it all the time it makes social bookmarking that much easier, just by clicking the Flock Star.

  • Enhanced Search Box: Flock really cool search abilities that are built in, but can be turned off if you find them unuseful or annoying. They have add the ability to search your local favorites, your history, Yahoo and quick ways to search else where. I use Google as my primary search engine, but occasionally I like to see what the top hits on Yahoo are and this search box does just that, gives me the top 4 hits with a link to view all Yahoo results. All at the same time it searches my local favorites and my history, very cool feature for finding stuff in your favorites without having to open up all of your bookmarks. Also being able to search recent history is pretty neat for finding that web page you viewed a couple of days ago and want to find again quickly. Having the ability to quickly change to other search engines or search other sites in the else where section is very handy. I love this enhanced search box and find it very useful over the regular search boxes built into most browsers.

As for the browsing experience it is a fast browser. Although I have no figures to compare the browsers but in terms of the way they feel to me. Safari is a lot faster when opening the browser, but as for browsing around it feels just as fast if not a little faster at rendering websites. I feel like it opens faster than Firefox (I have the same extensions in both browsers), browsing speed feels the same.

One thing that I have come across with Flock and have read it is the same with Firefox is the problem of a memory leak. While I don't understand it very much I do notice that after I have Flock open without quiting the application for extended periods of time my virtual memory has gone to as high as 1.2 gigs maybe even higher as I don't check it all the time. Right now it is 747.12 MB where as Safari is only 251.50 MB. Both browsers where started at the same time this morning from a fresh start, but as you can see Flock is 3 times higher. It does start to affect the speed of the browser once it reaches 800 MB and higher, I am noticing a little bit right now, but nothing big. A quick fix is to quit Flock every once and awhile and it resets. This is annoying to me because I generally leave my browser running as long as my computer is on. I don't like having to restart my browser when I shouldn't have to. I know that the Flock people are aware of it and I hope that they are able to find the leak and "plug" it, with a future release. Overall this is minor when I look at all the other things that this browser is capable of, and it's ability to add extensions just like Firefox. (I plan to write a future article about extension I use all the time.)

I absolutely love Flock and all the features that are built right into the browser, and am excited about the possibility for them to add/ fix some of the issues that I have with the browser and its features. The Flock community is awesome it is really neat to see a group of people excited about a browser, plus you can't beat the name Flock and their icon is awesome!!! If you haven't tried Flock or have tried an older version, give it a try the latest release is really cool and there can only be better things to come.

I Flock, do you Flock?