Flock Contemplates Migrating from Mozilla Code to Chrome

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 03, 2009

According to Mike Arrington at TechCrunch, several sources say that the Mozilla-based "social" browser, Flock, will soon shed its Mozilla code base and start using Google's Chrome framework for future releases.

Flock's CEO, Shawn Hardin, responded to Arrington's post, saying that the browser's upcoming 2.1 release is being developed, and will be released with, its traditional Mozilla underpinnings. Hardin does not explicitly say that Flock will move to Chrome, only that the browser space has been "heating up" rapidly in the last few months, and that the Flock development team "will continue to make architectural decisions that balance what's best for our users and what's best for Flock as a business."

It seems safe to say that even if Flock hasn't finalized any decisions on whether or not (or when) to adopt a Chrome base, it has come up for discussion. Even if moving Flock from a Mozilla to Chrome foundation is, programming-wise, fairly straightforward, there are other issues to ponder.

Chrome, of course, is very new. It's officially out of beta, but it's still new. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it could complicate, at the very least, Flock's planning process in the short term. Chrome is still a Windows-only browser, for instance (though early summer should bring Chrome's first Linux and Mac builds).

Flock has dubbed itself "the social web browser." In many ways, it's very much Firefox with numerous social networking and content creation tools already built in. This is a strong point for Flock, as it runs significantly faster and more smoothly than a Firefox installation retro-fitted with a lot of add-ons, extensions, and plug-ins enabled. Moving this to the Chrome framework would be an effort at the outset, but when the migration was complete, code upkeep and development wouldn't be radically different. The tricky part would be not losing any of Flock's current features in the move -- instead (hopefully) improving existing functions and adding new features. How well will it make the transition, and if any features are not quite what they were on the Mozilla code, will users understand why? Will users wait even an incremental release or two to get any transitional bugs out?

It's possible they would. Flock seems to have a different user base than Firefox. Flock has had seven million downloads over the past few years, and Hardin attributes most of these to "word of mouth" recommendations. It's not at all a slouchy browser. It's fast, it's easy to use -- and though it specifically focuses on social aspects of web browsing, the smaller pool of users seem, generally, more technically inclined than the Firefox crowd.

Another area of consideration for Flock's developers has to be the lack of extensions in the Chrome world. Though this should change in the near future, Flock's ability to run most of Firefox's extensions is a plus for the browser.

Consider, though, the idea that Flock developers might produce a browser that runs on Chrome that pulls the best from that framework, yet manages to bring Firefox-esque strengths and a familiar-but-different-enough user interface and feature set to it. One of the most heated areas of discussion in the Chrome on Linux camp is making it feel native. Flock, with its Mozilla history, could quite possibly bring something new and unique to the Chrome development arena.

After all, it managed to do so with Firefox.

UPDATE TO THIS STORY: Om Malik, on GigaOm, covered this story yesterday as well. For his post, "Who Says Flock Switching to Chrome? Not Flock," he notes a Tweet from Flock employee and director of engineering Matthew Willis saying this: “No, we haven’t switched. We’ve looked at it, just as we’ve looked at Mozilla 2, and will look at whatever else is promising.” Check out more details in the GigaOm post