Reviews: Firefox 2.0 Beta 1, And What The Flock Is Up With That New Browser?

For months now, Firefox 2.0 has been getting a bum rap because there's really no significant new features in it. Critics say Firefox 2.0 really doesn't deserve

Today we have a review of Firefox 2.0 beta 1 that's sure to be a crowd-pleaser, as well as a good review of a new browser, based on Firefox, called Flock.

For months now, Firefox 2.0 has been getting a bum rap because there's really no significant new features in it. Critics say Firefox 2.0 really doesn't deserve to be called 2.0; it's really just an incremental upgrade from the current version.

All of that is true--but largely irrelevant to our review, which describes and praises the upgrades, minor though they are.

Firefox 2.0 will be a must-have for Firefox users. It'll have improved tabs, improved handling of RSS feed subscriptions, a built-in spell-checker (that'll be a favorite for people who do a lot of blogging and participate in online discussion forums), protection against phishing, and better handling of the browser history. None of this stuff will convert anybody from using another browser, but if you're already using Firefox and like it, well, looks like when 2.0 comes out, you'll like it even more.

I'm hoping that when Firefox 2.0 finally ships, we'll see some of Firefox 1.x's major bugs addressed. We wrote about major Firefox bugs 13 months ago, and since then the biggies haven't changed, most notably:

  • Firefox turns into a fat, slow resource hog when you have more than three or four tabs open, and sometimes for other reasons as well.

  • Sometimes when clicking on a link in another application, such as an e-mail message, Firefox will take forever to open the page, and during that time the originating application is frozen.

The authors of Flock bill it as a "social browser," which, as a marketing tagline, is just too, too cute. Even Flock designer Chris Messina doesn't seem entirely thrilled with that tagline; in an interview on the Inside the Net podcast, he said he'll believe a piece of software is social when it can buy you a beer.

But stripped of the Web 2.0 marketing baloney, there's some intriguing and promising technology in Flock. It includes a blogging tool to enable you to compose blog posts from within your browser and upload them to blogs on the most popular blogging platforms. Flock also includes tools to integrate with photo-sharing services Flickr and Photobucket.

This whole business of "social browsing" comes down to this: Flock isn't just a tool for reading the Web, it's also a tool for publishing on the Web.

My colleague Barbara Krasnoff did a nice job on her review, but she does give short shrift to a feature I find most interesting about Flock: the way it handles bookmarks. For years now, I've been frustrated by the bookmarking and favorites tools available in Firefox and Internet Explorer. The only way to organize your bookmarks is by folder, and you can only assign a bookmark to a single folder.

Flock offers tools for organizing your favorites by user-assigned keywords, called "tags," and grouping favorites into collections called (naturally enough) "collections." You can search for favorites that share common tags and assign a single favorite to multiple collections. You can also share your favorites using the Shadows and community-bookmarking services.

It's a promising approach--but so far, the implementation is pretty poor. Flock is currently in its pre-Version 1.0 beta, and I hope it gets its Favorites management cleaned up by the time it ships.

This whole business of bookmarking and favorites is a pet peeve of mine. Neither Firefox nor Internet Explorer handles bookmarks particularly well--the technology hasn't really changed since 1994, and it's not adequate to the task of helping us stay on top of sites we've visited once and would like to visit again. The rest of the Web has changed almost beyond recognition since then, but bookmarking is stuck in the era when Forrest Gump first said life is like a box of chocolates.

How do you keep track of favorite Web pages on the Internet? Do you use any third-party tools? Plain text lists or Word documents? Or are Internet Explorer Favorites or Firefox Bookmarks good enough for you?

Editor's Choice
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author