Browser Battles: Opera, CrossOver Chromium and Flock
I first approached Flock 2.0 with my own Firefox-colored assumptions and habits, including a primal urge to summon each site I visit onto its own tab or window. I typically scroll through my tabs with Ctrl-Tab or my windows with Alt-Tab. As I dug in to Flock, I had to tell myself “Hold off on the keystrokes and start flocking”, as the animated introduction suggests.
As I began to “flock” on Flock, I realized the tight integration with its partner sites. To test Flock's capabilities, I sent a friend a hilarious Bollywood music video I had seen recently on YouTube. Culling my urge to call up YouTube on its own tab, I instead did it the Flock way by launching the Media Bar, which popped up one-inch wide across the top of the browser window. Because the Media Bar is integrated with several media-based sites, including YouTube, I could choose YouTube from the drop-down menu and search the site without going there directly. The Media Bar came back with thumbnails and mouse-over previews of the search results. Then—here's the coolest part—after finding my video, I sent it to my friend by dragging the thumbnail over to his Facebook entry in the People Sidebar, which automatically composed a message to him, including the link to the video and the thumbnail. All I had to do was click Send. I could have done the same with my Yahoo Webmail, Twitter or blog entry. Similar drag-and-drop functionality and integration works while blogging on one of the supported blog sites.
Despite Flock's toolbar-driven modular layout, you're probably wondering how it packs so many goodies into such a small space. Admittedly, all that content was a bit scrunched on my 12"-laptop display, but it still was functional. The real estate found in a large LCD is more appropriate for flocking. Nevertheless, features such as the rapidly sliding tab bar allow you to open and manage a huge volume of tabs.
Otherwise, Flock was very customizable according to my whims, and the main toolbar was logical and functional after becoming accustomed to it. The degree of integration with other sites is unprecedented among Linux-based browsers. Despite the heft of features, Flock is based on Firefox, which means the options are familiar, browsing is nimble, and most, but not all, extensions are usable.
Whether you choose Flock really depends on the degree to which you hang out on social media sites, share pictures and video with friends, blog frequently and track RSS feeds. If you are a social media addict, I suspect Flock will save you time and hassle. If you are a more casual user, Flock may seem claustrophobic and cluttered. I, for instance, am a Facebook user who checks the site once or twice a day—probably not enough to warrant using Flock. However, I admit that having my Facebook (and Twitter) contacts right next door makes me more conscious of and interactive with my contacts. Who knows, maybe I'll stay on board. If you do decide to flock, however, be prepared to throw your typical browser habits out the window and re-orient yourself to Flock's all-in-one philosophy.
Before putting Flock to bed, I should add that Flock makes two special editions for the Linux platform: the Gloss and Eco editions. The Gloss edition is preconfigured for entertainment and fashion-related topics, and the Eco edition is for green topics. Being an eco-geek, I checked out the latter. On the negative side, the souped-up editions are a release behind—namely 1.2.6 at the time of writing, compared to 2.0 for the standard release. The Eco edition, beyond its earthy eye candy, preloads a plethora of enviro-oriented links, media streams, RSS feeds and favorites. As an avid reader of green media, I was impressed with the wide range of selections, many of which I had never seen before. Although the Eco edition is probably overkill on quantity, it provided me with plenty of new information sources, as well as a template for how to maximize Flock.
The Linux platform is blessed with several other Web browsers. Here is a quick take on two, Epiphany for GNOME and Konqueror for KDE.
If you are an avid Ubuntu user, you probably are familiar with Epiphany, the GTK-based Web browser built for the GNOME desktop. Besides integrating tightly with the GNOME desktop, Epiphany's goal is to be simple and easy to use. The browser utilizes Mozilla's Gecko layout engine and offers nearly the same functionality as Firefox, including its extensions. However, one feature that stands out in Epiphany is its topic-based, rather than hierarchical, bookmark management, which is similar to Gmail's labels. This system allows you to categorize a bookmark more intuitively with multiple topics. Epiphany also supports cookie management, pop-up blocking, tabbed browsing and its own extension package. Some native extensions relate to mouse gestures, a certificate viewer, an interactive Python console and smart bookmarks.
If you're a KDE aficionado, you know Konqueror well as your “everything tool”. Beyond managing and viewing files, Konqueror also is a decent and basic Web browser, though not as robust functionally or stylistically as Firefox or Opera. I find Konqueror to be a great backup Web browser when things go awry with others. The browser identification tool aids the troubleshooting process by letting you configure how Konqueror reports itself—for example, as Internet Explorer, Googlebot, Firefox and Safari, among others.
James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal