Safari versus Flock: showdown at the OK corral

Almost exactly a month ago I started using Flock on all my computers. Now it’s time to evaluate: was it worth the switch?

  • User interface
    I came from Safari, so I expected a clean, simple, understatedly elegant application, and I got that in Flock. Without this, I’m not interested in using an app – which I why I never took up Firefox for long. But Flock made me forget Firefox. 

    Still, it’s hard to beat Safari for pure elegance – I still find myself hankerin’ for some brushed metal.

    Slight edge: Safari

  • Speed
    Safari is a fast browser, and one of my primary concerns with Flock has been speed. Loading pages and performing actions in Flock seems almost but not quite as fast. 

    But opening up a new window seems to take a looong time – almost 4 seconds – on my 1Ghz PowerBook G4. Not great.

    Also, Flock tends to run down with use. I’m a power web user, and it’s not unusual for me to have 10 or 15 tabs open. After a day of that – or several days, I reboot my Mac only every month or so – Flock slows way down, and the dreading spinning beachball of death becomes a constant companion.

    The solution is to quit Flock and restart it, and presto, it’s as fast as usual. Perhaps Flock’s memory management is not the best – I’m not sure. It took me a while to figure this one out, but now that I have, this is no major trouble.

    Advantage: Safari

  • Flickr integration
    OK, this is a no-brainer. Flock’s integrated Uploadr has become my preferred application for uploading photos to Flickr, even though I have an iPhoto plugin for that very purpose. 

    Uploadr is just better, seems quicker, and lets me properly tag and categorize (add to sets, in Flickrese) all my photos before they even get to Flickr.

    In a walk: Flock

  • Blogging
    Flock has strong blogging capability, includes a full WYSIWYG editor that can be configured for multiple blogs. Very cool. Also, it will save a local copy of your blog entries, which makes a lot of sense for people who are paranoid about data loss. 

    But I’ve actually decided that I like writing my posts in WordPress‘ admin interface better. It lets me write, then Save and Continue Editing, view what I’ve written in the context of my actual blog look and feel, and repeat the process until I’m ready to publish.

    Still, major kudos to the Flock team for incorporating this functionality. I’m certain that some, and maybe many, will really appreciate this feature.

    Decision: have to give the nod to Flock

  • Compatibility
    One of the things you know you might have some issues with when you’re using a browser like Safari with about 2% usage across the internet (if that) is that there will be sites that you can’t see, or that cause problems 

    (Aside: oh how I detest Windows Media Player for the Mac.)

    So I figured that Flock – being based on the mighty 15-20% market share Firefox – would be superior. Actually – not always.

    Not only does Safari render just about as many sites as Flock, it lets you lie. After enabling the Debug menu in Safari, you can tell websites that your browser is Internet Explorer, even MSIE 7.

    Which comes in very handy when you want to get a free domain name from Microsoft, but need IE on a PC to access the site. No you don’t – just set Safari’s user-agent to MSIE 6 or 7, and away you go. Some things won’t work, but most will … and that free domain name will be nicely wrapped up in your hot lying little hand.

    On the other hand, there are sites that say: only works in MSIE and Firefox (and Flock). Google, of course, has released many tools that are initially MSIE and Firefox only, such as Google Calendar. Usually Safari support comes along, but usually a little later.

    Verdict: hung jury

  • Extensibility
    One of Flock’s weaknesses in comparison to the multifaceted Swiss army knife that is Firefox is extensions: little bits of code to do cool things like see what the pagerank of the current page is, or expose all the tables on the page, or extract and download videos from YouTube so that you can cackle with glee at all the stupid things people do while you are safely offline. 

    But no longer: the unreadably understated Flocker to the rescue. And, if that does not suffice, no worries, Flock’d is there to help.

    Since you can now convert just about every Firefox extension to a Flock extension (note to Flock: it’d be a good idea to do this proactively, and offer the converted extensions on your site), and since Safari has a small (though growing) list of extensions, this one is farily easy to call:

    Advantage: Flock

  • Bookmarking/saving/tagging
    One of the things you want to do on the web is save important or interesting things. Why, I don’t know, because you never go back to them – new important or interesting things come every day. 

    But you still want to.

    Browser bookmarks are passe and have been for years now. Locked in one application on one computer (or on two or three, if you happen to be paying for .Mac), they not accessible, they’re not contextualized (other than one single attribute: category), can’t be mashed up and re-published as a clickstream elsewhere, and they’re simply not cool/social/hip and so on.

    Social bookmarking and tagging are in, bigtime.

    Safari integration (and Firefox and MSIE, for that matter) is limited to a toolbar link. It contains Javascript; it redirects you to your del.icio.us homepage, you wait for that to load, you tag your page and enter anything else you want, hit save and get redirected back to the page you just bookmarked.

    Flock, on the other hand, lets you click a little star just in front of the browser address bar, and, if you set it right in your search/bookmarking preferences, automatically tag the page right on the page, save it to del.icio.us, and stay right where you are the whole time. Easy, fast, clean, integrated, sweet.

    Distinct advantage: Flock

  • Searching
    I do a ton of searching. It’s probably one of the things I do most online, with the possible exception of reading blogs. So a browser has to have excellent search integration. 

    Safari was the first browser to recognize this and to incorporate search right into the browser itself. (I wonder how much money Apple makes from this; Firefox makes a significant sum via a relationship with Google on proceeds from the ads clicked by people searching with Firefox.) Who actually goes to www.google.com to search anymore? The only times I’m there is when I have to do a complex, advanced search.

    Flock also lets you search right from the browser interface, but it defaults to Yahoo! (Yup, revenue-sharing deal.) Well, sorry, Flock – I don’t want to deny you the revenue, but I think Google results are better and the result pages load faster.

    No fear, you can change the default, which I did. But here Flock shines, because you can change the default to a variety of search engines – and key sites, like Amazon.com, and Technorati.

    But a feature that Flock adds for the Yahoo! results is live search – similar to the Ajaxy live search you see on cutting-edge blogs or on Google suggest. And while I don’t use Yahoo! as the default, you can bet I am check that list as it appears, and if something stands out as a potential good choice, I click it. Fast, friendly, not in my face, but occasionally useful.

    Advantage: Flock

  • Rendering pages
    Well, last but not least, the primary function of a web browser is to retrieve and display web pages. And the question of any given browser is: does it properly render the pages that it’s fetching? 

    This one is too tight to call. Safari is probably just a little more standards-compliant, but Flock, being Firefox under the hood, is more often used in testing by web developers.

    Overall, I can say I haven’t had a significant problem with either.

    Upshot: dead heat

Well, those are some of the vectors that came to my mind when comparing browsers and trying to decide whether or not to stick with Flock or go back to Safari.

By my count, Flock wins 7 to 4.

And therefore, Flock remains my default browser.

 


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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great review! A couple of things you may have missed, though:

    * Flock does list a number of extensions at http://extensions.flock.com. With a release we spun last night, even that isn’t necessary, as we’ve got better support for Firefox extensions. That is, you should be able to install any Firefox extension without even bothering to convert it, though you may get a warning message you can ignore.

    * In addition to the functionality you mention, the search box actually does a fulltext search on your browser history and (further) floats things you’ve starred to the top. You gain a significant advantage by filtering your search results within pages you’ve actually visited, as that signifies a potential relevance that simply doing a google search for the same string can’t. These results appear in the flyout that appears when you begin typing a search string.

    Thanks for the review. I’m glad you dig Flock, and I hope we can continue to add value to the browsing experience as we forge ahead.

  • Although I don’t always agree with all of the points made in the review it was interesting to read what other users think of Flock…I recently started using it as my main everyday browser and I’m slowly falling in love with it…! 😉

    It still has a long way to go, but it’s a beta right now, so we can all look forward to more improvements and great features, I’m sure…

  • Welcome to WWW, where everyone’s a power surfer with 10-15 tabs open, and everyone’s a reviewer. “I expect and reward performance”. Oh joy.

  • Hmmm … I see people every day – smart, reasonably technologically savvy people – who don’t use tabs at all because their interests and expertise is not in technology and they don’t know or don’t care about tabs.

  • John, great compare and contrast of Flock and Safari. Hopefully we’ll get speed and perfomance improved even more for the next major release…then we can have all the points! 🙂

    Cheers,

    Will Pate
    Community Ambassador, Flock