My continuing coverage of RockMelt, the Chrome-based browser with integrated Facebook and Twitter interaction, continues with a major upgrade today. RockMelt has long focused on its tight integration with Facebook and it appears Facebook is paying attention. Beta 3 of RockMelt has seen collaboration with Facebook in order to make its integration tighter and more useful to users. UI enhancements are some of the most striking changes. RockMelt’s signature “edges” which aggregate RSS feeds and maintain running lists of your online Facebook friends, have swapped sides on the browser window. With friends now on the right, the list can be expanded and scrolled to allow faster searches without the older, more intrusive module windows. This lends to a more streamlined chat system which is cleaner. The window bar has also integrated Facebook’s standard notifications, allowing for better requests and messaging management.
RockMelt’s collaboration with Facebook has lead to significant reductions in redundancy. Facebook’s website can now tell when a user is running RockMelt and logged in. Now notifications and chat windows will only appear in the RockMelt window even if you are also on the website. Facebook has also lent their more powerful photo app to RockMelt, making viewing photos far easier. The rapid improvements of RockMelt over the past year has been truly astounding. The browser has moved from a flawed concept to a pretty polished reality with relative fluidity. Another Beta will probably drop before this reaches the golden 1.0 release, but I’m pretty excited for this software to continue improving.
The RockMelt browser project was of particular interest to me back when it was first announced in 2010. The notion of browsers with social networking integration is not a new concept, but it looked like RockMelt could be one of the first to really do it well. The development team, backed by Netscape founder Marc Andreesen, seems remarkably enthusiastic about their product and has continued to aggressively improve the browser. Still, over time the novelty of RockMelt was lost as its Chrome underpinnings continue to frustrate me. Plainly, I have a faulty Flash player that no matter how many times I reinstall has a tendency to crash on all my Chrome browsers. Firefox and Safari have their fair share of crashes as well, but Chrome seems to fail religiously. My hope was the some update to the browser would fix it but here we are at Version 11 and things seem to be the same.
Regardless, it’s hard to argue that Chrome 11 and its derivatives are powerhouse browsers when Flash player plays nice. With 4 browsers on my computer, it gets very hard to decide between them and I am constantly juggling Safari 5, Firefox 4 (plagued by slow downs over extended use), Chrome 11, and now RockMelt Beta 2. Beta 2 was released about a month ago but I completely missed the announcement. Since Chrome 11’s release a few days ago, it seemed pertinent to see if RockMelt has had any major improvements with the refreshed underpinnings. Boy oh boy, it sure has.
The RockMelt team has worked extensively to hammer out stability issues and performance flaws through numerous updates in the first Beta. Beta 2 is all about fixing their features for the future and it shows. The “edges” which maintain access to your social media and RSS feeds have become far more powerful. Each icon is more of an application than simple feed aggregator. The Twitter icon is now a full blown Twitter client, allowing you to Tweet, retweet, look at messages and @mentions all from the same window. The chat infrastructure has also improved to handle multiple conversations better (a greatly appreciated improvement over the old, frustrating system). There is also a full-blown Youtube and Tumblr app that lets you watch videos and post updates right from the Edge. RockMelt has worked very hard to make the Edges powerful additions for applications, which plays great into Google’s attempt at pushing the Chrome App store. One last great feature is View Later. When browsing Tweets, Facebook updates or any article from your RSS, you can click View Later and pin that content to an icon at the top to look at that content later on. It’s a fantastic thing for a guy like me who is often too busy to go through several hundreds of RSS posts in a day.
For a first release though, the RockMelt app is pretty nice and can get much better pretty rapidly. The team is doing a great job in improving both applications, which are both still free and pretty strong for Betas. Glad to see this promising software series continue to get stronger.
It is hard for me to think of a software war that sees more action than the browser wars. Today the browser is probably the single most important program on one’s computer. We live in a world where not having a computer connected to the Internet is unthinkable (kinda makes me wonder how I survived my first 5 years with a computer, huh mom and dad?) Yes, the browser is that indispensable window to the world that makes up most of our lives. Name one other program in your arsenal that sends as much time running as the browser.
At anytime I have about 3 browsers on my computer, and I’m constantly cycling through them as my tastes change. If I find a deficiency in one, I move to another for a time until something else arises. However, on the whole I juggle my time between Safari 5 and Chrome 10 (mostly because Safari is needed for launching my school’s VPN). RockMelt is used from time to time, though my love of the browser has waned overtime. Firefox has long been absent from my arsenal because version 3.6 is pretty slow.
So today, with the release of the much-awaited Firefox 4 that vastly improves Mozilla’s offering, I’ve decided to compile a guide to browsers. Hopefully you can all make some better-educated decisions about which programs you’ll allow on your computer. Each has their pluses and minuses that I hope to weigh in on, from UI design and utility, performance and stability, and real world convenience of design. As well, I will be running a few benchmarks to give you some quantifiable differences. Pretty graphs and everything! But don’t just look at the data, make sure to browse on and see my opinions on the real feel with each browser.
On friday my invitation to RockMelt, a new social media browser, came through. So naturally I have promptly downloaded the software and spent some quality time with the browser. Yeah, its only been a few days, but so far I’ve come to some pretty good conclusions. The primary one being this: RockMelt is a total winner, providing some of the best integration with Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feeds that I have ever seen.
RockMelt, at its core, does what I had hoped programs like Adium and Socialite would do: make my access to Facebook, chat protocols, and RSS less obtrusive and tab-dependent. The system is depends on two columns on the left and right of the primary browser screen. The left is devoted to Facebook, allowing you to see (or search for) friends who are online, look at your profile, see friends’ activity, post to walls, leave messages, and chat with them. The amount of things you can do through simple icons is pretty extensive. You can also star certain friends to a favorites list. This column is in many ways more in-depth than Facebook’s design, as clicking on friend icons does not just bring up a chat menu, but lets you see what they are up to. RockMelt also supports Growl notifications, so you can get status updates on the fly, another cool inclusion.
Sharing with friends is also easy. A “Share” button on the tool bar allows you to post whatever URL you are on to a friend’s page, but you can also simply drag and drop links into a friend’s icon to share it on their wall or in a chat. RockMelt has effectively taken the Facebook Graft API and applied it to the entire web, regardless if the site has Facebook pre-integrated. Search is also interesting on RockMelt, though also a mixed bag. Like Chrome, you can search in the omnibar where you type URLs, but the browser also offers a designated search bar in the right hand corner. What is unique is that this search bar generates results in another sub menu instead or linking to Google. It’s nice, but it’s also less powerful than a full google search – no picture or video search results come up.
The right column manages feeds. RockMelt comes standard with access to your Twitter feed (I don’t use twitter so it’s inactive), your Facebook notifications, and your entire Facebook news feed. As updates come in, a small badge on the icon indicates the amount of updates waiting for you. RockMelt also has subtle clues to tell you what you’ve already read on the feed wall. New updates have a bright, white background, while previously read posts have a more subdued grey background. Small visual cues like that are a sign of excellent attention to detail. Along with social network feeds, the right column supports RSS feeds and adding new sites to keep track of is as simple as typing in the URL. Clicking on the icon brings up subwindows that let you browse content. Clicking on links brings up the site in the background, which I thing is a nice touch. You can also drag these sub windows out of the side bar to make them float permanently.
As a general browser, RockMelt works very well. Being built on Chromium gives the browser some strong source code with good performance. It performs just as well as Safari and Chrome 7. It’s also very stable for what is still a beta release. In my two days with RockMelt, it has never freaked out, slowed down, crashed, or had a single tab become unresponsive. In contrast, Chrome 7 still freaks sometimes, and Safari became unresponsive an hour ago, requiring a force quit to stop the spinning beach balls.
Is RockMelt perfect? No. Chrome extensions are still finicky, and themes work, but seem to mess up the spacing of the UI in some cases. And as much as I like the columns, I wish I could also hide them at times. Just so I can focus on other things for a bit. I have no doubt most of these very minor issues will be ironed out by the 1.0 release. All in all, RockMelt is a great browser now, and will only get better. This is the first effort outside of the Chromium-Google alliance, and the RockMelt team has done a great job. Check out my video overview below for a more visual demonstration of the browser.
[UPDATE] Sorry about the video being private for a little bit, launched a new Youtube account today for the blog and apparently Youtube makes the video private as default. Should be working now.
In the world of computing, I face few dilemmas more daunting than which browser to use. About 6 months ago, on the eve of Firefox 3.6 release, I even published a basic break down of the multiple browser options so I could weigh their pros and cons. Ironically, in those 6 months I have removed Firefox from my list of usable browsers. Today, I share my time between Safari and Chrome due to their more aggressive update schedule and use of the faster WebKit engine. Unfortunately I can never decide which one to stick to. I love Chrome’s split process model, the omnibar for searching, and its restore on crash feature. However, Chrome doesn’t play nice with the security needs of my University’s VPN so I still have to launch Safari in order to get online. Running two browsers = waste of resources. Safari seems just as fast as Chrome, but lacks some of the features I like on Chrome. It’s a juggling act between the two as my tastes change.
That juggling act may be getting more complex in the coming weeks. Today, a friend of mine directed me towards a project called RockMelt. This is a new browser labeled as a “social network browser” running on the Chromium platform (the open source project that Google uses to make Chrome). The most novel thing about RockMelt are two columns, one on each side of the window, reserved for social network access. The right column has your Facebook profile, Twitter feed, and ideally other streams that you can pin to the column for constant updates. The left has your friends profiles and other information. RockMelt is designed around the notion of sharing, going so far as to include a share button in the menu bar for quick access to Facebook. Alternatively, you can simply drag links into your friends’ icons to share web pages.
RockMelt seems like a really cool project. I’ve registered for an invite to the closed-Beta which should be coming in the next few days so I’ll tell you all how I like it. Coming off my last post about looking for aggregation software and their failures to be replacements for Facebook, RockMelt could be the answer I’m looking for. Here’s hoping that RockMelt runs quickly, is stable, and plays well with GW’s VPN requirements.
Check out RockMelt at their website, and watch the video to see it in action: RockMelt
Today was an interesting day for browsing the internet, and one that has simply added to my dilemma. Today Firefox 3.6 was released, an update to the venerable browser that brings more speed, better performance, and scraps the inefficient themes system for the more streamline and gorgeous “Personas” customization. The Personas are actually extremely good, with several thousand ones currently available ranging from standard Firefox skins to Hello Kitty to Transformers. It’s a far better system than the older themes which created uneven UI that often slowed the program down. With all these enhancements, I wonder if I should use it.
Huh? What are you stupid? Some of you might be thinking this. Firefox is one of the most popular browsers in the world. It’s incredibly fast and customizable, why would you use anything else? Well, sorry to burst everyone’s bubble, but Firefox isn’t exactly the ultimate browser, in fact no one is. That’s the problem with the browser world today, we have so many options to choose from and many of them are virtually the same. I for one, have used Safari ever since version 4 – I’ve found it to be incredibly fast and very clean to use while Firefox is a resource hog on my computer. But Firefox is another completely viable option, as is Chrome (or Chromium if you’re using the Mac beta), Opera, and even Internet Explorer in a pinch. So what to choose? Continue Reading