Flock 2: The Silent Evolution of Flock

If you use a little thing called “The Internet” you probably heard about the launch of Firefox 3. Mozilla successfully set a very high world record for most downloads in a single day (8,002,530 to be precise). They plugged their new features and bragged about how version 3 would leave all other browsers in the dust.

Flock 2You may not have noticed another launch that happened shortly afterward. Flock, the unrelenting underdog of the browser world, fired up their servers and asked their testers to try out Flock 2.0, Beta 1. It had a host of new features and more importantly, integrated the new architecture of Firefox 3. As a loyal Flock user (aka, “Flockstar”) since version 0.4, I rallied to the cause and downloaded the latest rev.

It was a rocky road. I had problems with my rather ancient profile, it crashed repeatedly, and even some of the interface was broken when I started out. Still, I weathered the storm because I remembered how tough things once were before version 1.0 came out and I trusted the Flock developers.

Now, after at least a month of serious testing, Flock 2.0, Beta 2 has been released and most of the serious headaches have been fixed. If you’re at all interested in trying out Flock 2, I would definitely recommend this version of the beta.

Note: If you have an old Flock or Firefox profile, make sure you back it up and then export your bookmarks in HTML format. This will make importing the old bookmarks (which were organized differently in previous versions) easier to import.

Features:

While Flock has always had a ton of great features (check out MakeUseOf’s article about version 1.2), version 2.0 has really upped the ante. It focuses primarily on three things:

  1. Performance
  2. Security
  3. Upgrades to the Interface

The first thing I noticed when testing Flock 2 was the speed at which the program now operates. If you’re a normal user who only has a few tabs open at a time, you might notice a slight difference. However, if you’re like me, the number of tabs you keep open is larger than you’d like to admit. In previous versions this would slow down Flock to an almost unusable speed. Now Flock opens, closes, and loads new pages just as fast as you need it to. It also uses fewer system resources, so multi-tasking is possible again.

One of the less conspicuous upgrades in Flock 2 is its security. Similar to the changes made in Firefox 3, Flock now checks the top-level domain of each site for site validation information. The validation can be checked easily by clicking on the site’s icon next to the URL bar. When nothing is available it turns gray, when it is verified, it turns green, and when it is a potential phishing or malware site, it turns red and Flock brings up an extra alert, temporarily blocking the page.

The password manager has also been updated. Whenever Flock prompts you as to whether you want to save a password or not, it will allow you to wait until that password has worked properly before saving it. This has greatly reduced the number of faulty passwords that get saved by ill-timed notifications.

Ok, now for the fun part. Brand new features:

  1. Integration of the new Firefox 3 bookmark management system
  2. Addition of the Firefox 3 “Awesomebar” (explained below)
  3. RSS reader can now be updated manually
  4. Upgrades to the People sidebar and Media Bar integration
  5. Tweaks to the general user interface (just to make it look better)

The new Firefox 3 bookmark system is very cool and long-time Flock users will recognize several features. That’s because it uses tags, a “bookmark star,” and even a search-as-you-type search bar. Didn’t Flock already have these things? Well, the functionality is much the same, but the back-end is much more stable and the results from searches populate much faster. Also, the “Awesomebar,” the new URL bar, is able to find previously visited sites intelligently because it looks first at recent or frequently visited sites. Its learning algorithm will actually get better the more you use it.

As I said before, there are a few other tweaks that make the user experience a little better. The old version of Flock was having some growing pains with all the different social media sites that you could integrate. Consequently, the new sidebars and Media Bar have been made more flexible. Also, the Media Bar, which allows you to view picture and video streams has now integrated “Media RSS,” a new standard RSS format. If you go to a site using Media RSS (like ICanHasCheezburger.com), images from the site’s front page will be immediately viewable in the Media Bar.

Why did I title this segment “The Silent Evolution of Flock?” Well, aside from it being a really sweet title, it does a good job describing Flock 2. With Flock 1.2 being stable for so long, many Flock users are probably going to wait until Flock 2 goes “gold” before upgrading. Also, these new features and updates to Flock are important, but they are not nearly as flashy or exciting as previous updates. Even so, this is a great evolutionary step for people who not only like to play with Flock, but now use it as their everyday browser.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s the Beta page.


P.S. – On a sidenote, Flock has just launched a new subversion of Flock 1.2 for the ladies (and metrosexual gents). It’s called Flock: Gloss Edition and it’s been retrofitted to focus on fashion and entertainment. Plus, it’s PINK! If you want to give it a try, you can download it here.

(By) Jimmy Rogers is a biology major at George Mason University and an avid freelance tech blogger. Check out his blog, Mason Tech Beat.





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