Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: Nothing revolutionary about RockMelt, the new social web browser

If you follow technology news, you may have heard something about RockMelt, an effort to create a social web browser backed by Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen. RockMelt has been in alpha for a while (meaning early development), but recently, it entered beta, and people who have a Facebook account and agree to allow RockMelt to access their personal information can try it out.

I decided to give RockMelt a whirl to test how it measures up to the hype. After using it for a bit, I've come to the conclusion that it needs a lot more work before it's ready for primetime. It turns out RockMelt is really just a Flock clone, except it's glitzier and it's built on Chromium instead of Gecko.

(Gecko is the platform underlying Mozilla's Firefox; Chromium is the platform underlying Google's Chrome).

The only thing that distinguishes RockMelt from another Chromium browser is that it has built-in Facebook and Twitter integration. People who are heavy users of the world's two most popular social networks may find this integration to be very handy, but aside from that, there's no reason to use RockMelt.

Annoyingly, RockMelt asks you to login to Facebook when it first starts up. I don't know why it does this, because when I'm in a hurry and need to open my browser, the last thing I want to be looking at is a login prompt.

I also found RockMelt to be somewhat slow. Even on a blazing fast connection, it can take half a minute for it to populate information on its "edges", which are basically bars on the left and right side of the screen which allow quick access to Facebook friends and status updates.

Worse, RockMelt's search functionality doesn't work properly. If you change the search engine from Google to Yahoo or Bing (the other provided choices), and you try to execute a search, RockMelt still runs your query through Google. Even if you remove Google from the list of search engines!

I would find RockMelt more appealing and revolutionary if it came with a suite of powerful tools for managing privacy. That's what today's browsers are missing.

Firefox has such a suite of tools, although they're independently produced and don't come with the browser... you have to install them yourself.

RockMelt could have broken new ground by blocking scripting, cookies, and external domain requests by default, and allowing users to mark a website as "trusted" to bypass those restrictions, thereby helping users protect themselves while surfing. Alas, there is no such feature present in the browser.

Currently, RockMelt is only available for Windows and Mac users. It's not clear whether the company is planning on making a version for GNU/Linux distributions.

It's kind of ironic, since some of the components in Chromium (which RockMelt is built on) are originally from one of GNU/Linux's major desktop environments, KDE. Other Chromium browsers, including Google's Chrome (which we strongly recommend against) and Maple Studio's ChromePlus (which we can recommend, as it contains no Google spyware) are available for GNU/Linux.

RockMelt may improve in time, but there's really nothing revolutionary about this social web browser. The concept isn't new, the technology it's built on isn't new. The execution might end up getting better as the product matures, but for the moment there's no compelling reason for most users to try RockMelt.


Post a Comment

<< Home