Welcome to Browser War III, Brought To You By Open Source

Flock is the latest player in the war where Open Source plays the arm dealer

The shots are really flying in Browser War III, the mother of all browser wars. In this version of the browser war, open source is playing the part of the arms dealer, giving all of the combatants the ammunition to fight.  The latest combatant is Flock, which today announced its long anticipated v.3.5. With this release Flock is offering a "socially aware" browser that is built on the open source Chromium platform.  Prior to this Flock was built on top of the open source Mozilla. 

With this release Flock is making no bones about who it considers its primary competition, RockMelt. I wrote about my early impressions of RockMelt a week or two back. I was not all that impressed then and in using it since, am still not.  I find the window that pops up when searching all but useless. I almost always just click to open search in a tab.  I never initiate a chat with all of the people on the right edge and go to the facebook, twitter and the other pages themselves, rather than use the left edge pop ups. The latest update has an endless stream of little pop ups telling me every new tweet and facebook post that my friends put up.  With well over 500 on both facebook and twitter, you can imagine how annoying this could be.  I have now shut that down. But I digress.

Whatever, RockMelt is or isn't, it plainly has the Flock people lathered up.  They want to make sure that the world knows they were the first browser that integrated social networking into the browser experience. On top of this they also integrate more social networks than RockMelt does. So if more and bigger is better, Flock must be better. The North/South Korea-like paranoia is so profound in fact that Flock has actually posted a spreadsheet that details out its advantages over RockMelt. You can view the spreadsheet here.

I downloaded the new Flock, signed up for an account and gave it a quick twirl. My initial thoughts were that they did a better job of actually building something on top of Chromium. I didn't feel like was using Chrome with the icons going down both edges, like I did with RockMelt.  The social media stuff is hidden behind built in tabs in the browser.  When you open them, you don't get flying pop ups, you get Mozilla like panes on either side of the main browsing screen. You can open or shut them pretty quickly. One thing I did not see was the ability to add Chrome extensions though.  It is hard for me to use a browser today where I don't have my password manager loaded. So without that, I can't use Flock much just yet.  

I am not entirely sold on the whole integrate the social networks thing being the new holy grail of browsing. I kind of like having multiple tabs open in my browser and when I want Facebook, I go to Facebook. But obviously, some people think this is a big thing. Flock says in their release that they are over 9 million downloads of their browser. That is a pretty impressive number.

One thing for sure is that we are in a new, third browser war. If the first browser war was Netscape versus Internet Explorer and the second was Mozilla versus IE, this new browser war is a multi-player war.  You still have the old war horse IE with version 9 in beta promising some new tricks. Mozilla is still a force with its newest major release in beta too. On top of this you have Apple's Safari. But lets face it, Safari is only a force on iPhones and iPads.  However, the mobile browser battle could be the deciding one in this war.

On top of those three, we now have some next generation browsers. Chrome has made a name for itself on speed.  As they say, speed kills. Flock and RockMelt are two others, but I am sure we will see more. The mobile market, whether it be smart phones or tablets will spawn new innovations for browsers.  It has long been prophesied that the browser will ultimately be the OS. Many think Google's Chrome OS is that prophesy come true. True or not, the browser both on traditional computers and mobile devices is becoming the real place for innovation and change in the computing environment. The move to the cloud will only reinforce this trend.

What is really interesting to me, is how many of these browsers are based on open source platforms. But if you think it about it, it makes sense. People aren't fighting over how the browser renders a page or app. Everyone wants to move to standardized HTML/XML.  The battle is not over that anymore.  It is over what else can we do in the browser. With social networking being so popular, building a better social networking experience into the browser itself seems logical.  I just have not used anything that replaces having the page open in front of me.

The stakes are high in this new browser war. With so many combatants it promises to be an all out battle. With so much at stake, I am sure we have not seen the last of the mud slinging either. We will all have to wait to see how this shakes out, but the browser you are reading this in, may not be the browser you use tomorrow.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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