New browser gives taste of Web 2.0

Flock is based on Firefox and includes automatic RSS feeds, photo and bookmark sharing, and other next-generation Web technologies. Images: The Flock browser's debut

Renai LeMay Special to CNET News
4 min read
A small team of developers in California on Friday launched a cutting-edge Firefox-based Web browser dubbed Flock, which integrates next-generation Web technologies such as RSS content feeds, blogs and bookmark and photo sharing.

The team of developers was spearheaded by Bart Decrem, who is well known in the open-source community due to his involvement in the Mozilla Foundation and his ill-fated start-up Eazel, which from 1999 until its demise in 2001 aimed to bring greater usability features to the Linux desktop.

"Indeed the time is upon us," wrote Flock co-founder Geoffrey Arone on his blog shortly before the release. "We are gearing up to allow public, unrestricted downloads of the Flock browser within the next couple of hours."

"Please note that this is a developer preview and that there are still plenty of bugs, many of which we are aware of."

The new browser's look

The public unveiling comes after Decrem this week e-mailed invitations to try his new software to a select group of recipients who had previously registered their addresses on the project's Web site. The round of invitations was the third to be issued for the software during its development.

Flocking to new features
The browser's new features are based on new Web technologies fast attracting fans in the online community--part of a movement that has come to be known as Web 2.0.

For example, the traditional Web browser bookmarks menu has been replaced in favor of close integration with del.icio.us, an online service that allows bookmarks to be stored and shared with other users.

The Flock team has taken note of the Internet community's rapidly growing obsession with both blogs and the Really Simple Syndication (RSS) standard that makes it possible to speedily know when a blog has been updated.

Flock includes a built-in RSS reader, which allows a user to read all of their favorite blogs in one place, without the need to separately navigate to each one. Various Web sites and software programs already provide this functionality, but Flock is one of the first to integrate it into a Web browser.

The browser also facilitates blogging by the user with a "Create a blog post" button located in the main navigation bar. The button launches a sophisticated blogging tool that integrates on a drag-and-drop level with Flickr, a popular online photo management and sharing service recently acquired by Yahoo.

Flock integrates with a number of popular blogging services, including Wordpress, Six Apart and Blogger, according to Decrem's own blog.

All of the features both reflect popular usage within early adopter elements of the Web and are squarely aimed at providing collaborative Web browsing features.

Firefox tensions
Decrem has taken steps recently to convince the open-source Mozilla community that his new start-up isn't aimed at making their popular Firefox Web browser obsolete.

"I am a firm believer in the power of the open source development model," he wrote yesterday. "So it's always been obvious to me that Flock should leverage existing open source technologies and contribute most, if not all, our enhancements back under an open source license."

He said Flock was not interested in causing problems by creating a code base that diverges from Firefox's own, a development known as "forking."

"In architecting our software, build systems and engineering processes, we have given considerable thought to how our code will be able to evolve alongside the Mozilla code, without forking it," he wrote.

"Of course, time will tell how successful we are in avoiding unnecessary divergence between the Flock code base and the Mozilla code. This ultimately depends on the thousands of engineering decisions we will make in the coming months and years, but also on the level of communication between folks here and the broader Mozilla community."

"For our part, we are very serious about becoming active participants in and contributors to the Mozilla community, starting in the very near future. We are also very open to working with folks at the Mozilla Foundation, the Mozilla Corporation and elsewhere to minimize the risk of platform divergence and have taken the first steps to start that conversation."

Decrem also addressed the issue of how his free software project would attract revenue.

While he acknowledged most Web browsers were freely available, he said several companies, such as the Mozilla Corporation and competitor Opera, had been able to leverage integration between their software and online services like search engines to make money.

"Opera's CEO recently explained that his company was able to release the browser for free thanks to an expanded search sponsorship arrangement with Google," he wrote. "The Mozilla Foundation has alluded to search related business arrangements and has created a for-profit subsidiary."

"In sum, we're quite comfortable that, if enough users choose our browser, we can keep the lights on here at Flock without violating users' privacy or compromising the user experience."

Flock is available for download Friday for the Windows, Mac OS X and Linux platforms from the project's Web site.

Renai LeMay of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.