I never thought I’d do it, but yesterday I switched over to a new default browser — Flock.
I’ve been a huge Firefox fan for a long time because I need a browser I can customize extensively. And Flock is very similar to Firefox — It comes from the same code base and has a very similar interface. Most Firefox plugins run well on Flock. So I could carry over to Flock almost all the functionality I valued from Firefox. It took a fair amount of work because I’d customized Firefox so heavily, but I think it was worth it.
MY REASONS FOR SWITCHING TO FLOCK
I first tried Flock because I rely on the excellent GTDinbox personal productivity tool, which is a Firefox/Flock plugin for Gmail. The creator of that tool, Andy Mitchell, is putting a lot of work into upgrading GTDinbox to cope with the fallout of a recent major Gmail upgrade. As I tried out the various incremental updates of GTDinbox, I noticed I was having problems other people weren’t reporting in the forum. I suspected it might be some conflict with one of my many Firefox plugins, settings, or preferences.
At Andy’s suggestion, I did a clean install of Flock in order to try out the latest GTDinbox plugin — which worked fine in Flock. Also, Flock picked up my bookmarks and most other settings and preferences seamlessly from Firefox
But in the process I learned that Flock also offers me some compelling benefits over Firefox:
1. A really good built-in feed reader.
I rely heavily on RSS feeds as my “radar screen” for my various blogs and other projects. I subscribe to hundreds of feeds. For a long time I had been using Newsfire (a Mac feed reader application, but it was starting to creak under the weight of my usage. Newsfire would routinely thrash my CPU; it was too much for my low-end Macbook to run Newsfire plus Firefox plus any other apps I needed. My fan was running waaaaayyyy too much.
So I was able to transfer my feeds into Flock, and now I don’t need to run Newsfire at all. Easier on my CPU, and why run two apps when you only need one?
It wasn’t easy getting all my feeds into Flock, however. Newsfire was the problem here — when I told it to export my feeds, it only exported about 25% of my feeds, and the resulting OPML file didn’t have any folder information. ARRRGH! So I had to do a lot of manual feed-adding in Flock, but now that it’s done I love the result. Plus, I exported my feeds from Flock and saw that it included ALL the feeds and preserved folder information.
So long, Newsfire!
2. Improved usability through sidebars.
I really like the way Flock has collected features into its sidebars that normally would have led me to go to separate sites or apps — particularly the way they handle “favorites” links, social networking, and feeds. I’m only just starting to figure out the most effective way for me to use these sidebars, but I think they’ll vastly simplify my current browser navigation. I’ve got way too much stuff in my links toolbar. This’ll help.
3. Built-in link sharing.
On the right side of the URL field in Flock’s navigation bar is a “share this link via e-mail” button. Clicking on that generates an Apple Mail e-mail message with a link to the page I’m currently viewing, and I can customize that message. I actually prefer using Google’s Shared Stuff service for sending most links, since I like to keep a coherent record of what I recommended. But sometimes I don’t want links I recommend to be public, for competitive or personal reasons. So this Flock feature is a help to me.
2. Social networking integration.
Eventually I expect this feature will be VERY useful to me. Right now it’s only moderately useful because Flock only supports a handful of social networking services, the only one of which I use regularly is Twitter. But once they get LinkedIn and Ning support, that’ll be helpful.
Basically, Flock allows your browser to be a kind of “social media dashboard” that integrates all your different social networking accounts and collections in one interface. I’m still learning how to navigate this effectively, but I think it’ll be a big benefit.
More later… But in the meantime, I’d love to hear from other Flock users. What do you like/not like? What tricks have you learned? Please comment below.