Browser Wars! Part 3 of 7 – RockMelt

This is the first post on the BetweenBytes blog by EasyOSX. EasyOSX is a wordpress Mac technology blog founded specifically for the Mac community. This is the first product of the BetweenBytes – EasyOSX collaboration. Keep a look out for more from EasyOSX.
Recently, an upstart browser called Rockmelt has been getting a lot of attention, especially since the fall of Flock. It is my personal browser, and I wrote about in an earlier post on my own blog (https://easyosx.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/app-of-the-week-rockmelt/). With the new update to beta 3, the browser has undergone a major overall in design and functionality, one that I thought I’d take another look at.

Rockmelt runs on Chromium, the same engine that runs Google’s Chrome, meaning it is very fast when in regular surfing, and tests show that it consistently lags only behind Chrome itself. It integrates best with Facebook (it has acquired the nickname of “the Facebook browser”), but also has sidebar apps for Youtube, Twitter, Tumblr, any RSS feeds, and its own Read-It-Later feature (which I have found very handy). Rockmelt also supports multiple Twitter accounts. As of this post, it runs on Chrome 11, while the current version of Chrome is 12. So while it is a step behind, Rockmelt has a great track record for staying up-to-date with the latest versions of Chrome. They push out smaller updates at least once a week, if not more.

It looks similar Chrome, but it has small sidebars that are called “Edges”. On one side is your “App Edge”, which keeps up with your social feeds, Facebook, the Read-It-Later app, and RSS feeds. It’s also where you’ll see any Chrome extensions you’ve installed. On the other side is your “Friend Edge”, which is specifically a feature for Facebook. It allows you to see which of your Facebook friends are online, post to their wall, send messages, and, of course, chat with them without having to go to Facebook. These are usually on the right and left edges respectively, but with the update to beta 3, you now have to option to switch which side each edge is on.

The Friend edge has been massively improved. Your online status for Facebook is displayed as a small colored line above your favorite friends (green=online, yellow = inactive, gray= offline). Your favorite friends (which you set within Rockmelt) are now permanently displayed above the rest of your friends under the status bar. The rest are organized in order of their online status (online up top, followed by inactive, and offline). The chat box is also expandable and scrollable.

You will also notice that, unlike Chrome, there is not only the standard “omnibox” ,but a search bar as well, with a “Share” button separating them. The share button allows you to instantly share the webpage your on with Facebook, Twitter, and/or Tumblr. The search bar allows you to search for anything, but then pre-loads the top 5 results in the background without you loading any new tabs. These preloaded results can be opened in a background tab. On the left edge of the URL line is the status updater, where you can update Facebook or tweet without having to go to the sites. On the right edge is the Quiet Mode switch. Quiet Mode, a feature added in an earlier update, turns off your original social settings, and basically runs Rockmelt like any other browser; it takes away the edges, logs you out of the accounts, and just allows your to work. You can adjust these settings, for example, to allow for Growl notifications, keeping the edges on-screen, etc.

But, by far, the biggest change brought to Rockmelt is the deepest level of Facebook integration ever. For this beta update, Rockmelt worked directly with Facebook to bring better integration between the browser and the network. Beforehand, Rockmelt would retrieve your Facebook feed and notifications in the App Edge. Now, though the Facebook feed remains, Rockmelt notifies and can display friend requests and new Facebook messages. But it doesn’t put them all in the App Edge; it puts them on the far left edge of the title bar, right next to your tabs

A Screenshot of RockMelt

From there you can compose new messages, check your notifications, and confirm or deny friend requests. Not having this feature was always a complaint in earlier versions, but I’m very happy to see it in this new implementation.

All that being said, the browser does have some drawbacks. For one thing, it is a beta browser (though a very stable one) so you may see occasional hangs in the browser. While I like the new features added to the Friend edge, I find it annoying that my friends aren’t listed in alphabetical order in each category. Rockmelt couldn’t be reached to explain this problem, which never existed in previous iterations of Rockmelt. Also, while it does work with Chrome extensions, some extensions don’t always function correctly, specifically I’m thinking of Lastpass. However, this browser’s update is a great improvement over the previous version (which I though was a great update anyway). The browser’s startup time is a little slow, but given the deep connections it has with logging on to Facebook, as well as any other networks, this is understandable.

It works on Windows, Mac, and also for iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch). You can download it at: http://www.rockmelt.com/

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