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Firefox's oldest friend dumps it for Google Chromium

Flock: 'We pushed it as far as we could'

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Flock — the so-called social web browser — has dumped its traditional Firefox core in favor of Chromium, the open source incarnation of Google's Chrome browser.

CEO Shawn Hardin calls Flock 3 — released today as a public beta — the first major browser other than Chrome to use a Chromium base, and in making the switch, the Silicon Valley outfit is dumping nearly six years of history. The Flock dev team began building browsers from a Mozilla base in late 2004, which predates the arrival of Firefox 1.0. Before going to work on their eponymous social browser, the team helped develop Netscape 8.x, the first AOL Netscape browser based on Firefox.

"Flock and Mozilla share both source code and a mission to preserve choice and innovation on the Internet," the Flock website still reads. "In 1994 Netscape introduced a web browser that ushered in a new era of the Internet as a mass medium. The Mozilla Project traces its roots to Netscape where the open source project was formed in February 1998. Exactly one decade later, Netscape was discontinued. From the DNA of the original web browser, two exceptional, world-class web browsers have been created: Firefox and Flock."

Flock is a browser that plays particularly nicely with the likes of Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, and Flickr, streaming stuff from such sites onto a sidebar, so you can see it even as you surf other sites in the browser's main window. The new Chromium-based public beta, CEO Shawn Hardin says in a blog post, is an effort to make it even easier to deal with all that Web2.0rhea.

"Our goal was to redesign Flock to meet the needs of all active social media users, and anyone who seeks to better manage the volume of information, media and relationships they interact with online each day," Hardin writes.

This means it lets you create groups "organized by people, topics and information" and "'Channel Surf' the web by switching the view of the scrolling sidebar between the conversations and information they are most interested in at any moment."

For people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like. Hardin claims that over the past year, the site's Facebook users have grown 600 per cent to 7.5 million. The browser claims at total of about 8 million users.

But the real news is the switch to Chromium, which Flock refers to with words like "blazing fast" and "superfast" and "rocketship-fast." According to a blog post from Flock CTO Clayton Stark, the change was all about speed.

"We had already pushed the technologies we were using about as far as we could, and we needed to make things much faster," he says. "Enter chromium.org, the next step in the evolution of the Web browser. The technologies that make up Chromium let us push much farther than before, and package our vision into rocketship-fast software. There isn't a limit to what we can do on this platform (which is fantastic, as we have a lot of things we still want to do!)"

Flock likes to go over-the-top, then. Stark does give a nod to Firefox, but he leaves no doubt that the company sees the Mozilla browser as a has-been. "As we start this new chapter with Chromium, it seems important to mention that I believe chromium.org would not even exist had mozilla.org not come before it. We didn't choose Chromium over Mozilla as much as we chose Chromium after Mozilla. It was a natural evolution. I see Mozilla as a venerable deity in the space, and I feel thankful for everything its enabled."

But at least some Flock users are sorry to see Firefox go, if only because they'll miss those famous extensions. "Without [Firefox extensions] being supported, I will probably be looking for a different browser," writes one commenter on Hardin's blog post. Of course, Flock 3 can handle Chrome extensions, but these aren't quite as mature.

The Flock 3 beta is available today for Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7, and a Mac version is expected later this summer. "Offering Windows-only Beta earns you a Big Fail," says another commenter.

The current stable version of Flock, 2.6.0, is based on Firefox 3.0.19, which does not include Tracemonkey, the Javascript engine boost that arrived with Firefox 3.5. You can download the Chromium-based Flock 3 beta here. ®

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