RockMelt – Or The Story Of Neo-NeoPlanet (Mac)

Recently some parts of the internet have been heralding the coming of a new browser that is about to enter into the Browser Wars. The saga began many years ago when the Jedi like minded people in the internet business decided that enough was enough, and Internet Explorer was going down. They had had enough of the tyrannical ways of the Sith-like Internet Explorer. First to answer the call, in terms of popularity, was Netscape, and from it’s ashes was born not a fiery bird, but a giant Internet Explorer eating Dino called Mozilla. About the same time there were a few other minor browsers, but none that really made it mainstream. One such was NeoPlanet. A small browser that seemed to pop out of nowhere and boasted one killer feature; themes. This sadly was all that NeoPlanet seemed good for, however. Over the years Mozilla evolved into FireFox, and Safari joined the ranks among the world of Macs, but the industry is still pretty much ruled by FireFox and Internet Explorer. Mostly due to the fact that a high percentage of End-Users are people who are not 100% what their web browser actually is, and whether or not using a different web browser would change their internet experience at all.

While the two larger camps of armies who backed their favorites, no one really was paying attention to Safari, and Safari was just more than likely being quiet and mindful, waiting for a turn to strike. During the days of FireFox’s near victory over IE came a deafening call on the battle field. No one saw Chrome coming. Google decided it was time to join the fray and make their name known. Promising faster web pages, and better features, Google launched an impressive campaign that still rages on, mostly on any Google sponsored website or web ad-space, which is just about everywhere.

As FaceBook, Twitter, and to some lesser extents RSS feeds, are becoming more and more popular destinations on the web, a small band of Rebels has decided it is time to heed the call of battle. Enter the new-comer, RockMelt. This “new” browser, however, has a familiar scent to it. Allow me to explain.

Back when the Browser Wars had as many as five or so armies, Opera, Netscape, and the like, there was among them a lier. One whom was not what they seemed. While Mozilla openly admitted that they had picked up the arms of their fallen fellow, Netscape, NeoPlanet on the other hand didn’t seem to talk a whole lot about where they came from. Sure, one could find out easily enough by digging through a few web pages, or taking a glance at the source code, but most of the people, like myself, who got behind the NP flag did not know that they were really backing Darth-Exploder himself. NeoPlanet, in short, was Internet Explorer with new and different colored armor. So, why do I say that RockMelt is the Neo-NeoPlanet? Because, it is. They have taken the open source Chromium project, made by Google, and added their own work on top of it.

At first blush this sounds to be dishonest, or like cheating, but I repeat the key term from above again; Open-Source. The reason I have gone to great lengths, and hopefully with some humor, to explain the title of this review is that I slightly take issue with their video claiming, “RockMelt – A Brand New Web Browser”. This is only based on the fact that it’s not really “new”. It’s just a new face on Chrome. With that out of the way though I am pleased to report that RockMelt is a very nice browser.

So, What can you expect when you download RockMelt for yourself when it becomes open for public consumption? Well, here is a list of some of the browsers primary features.

1.         Live FaceBook, Twitter, and RSS Feed updates on the right edge of your browser that allows you to keep on top of any new updates.

2.         The ability to update your own status or to tweet directly from inside the browser, regardless of whatever webpage you are currently on. You’re always connected.

3.         The ability to share web pages, images, chunks of text, and other noteworthy things via FaceBook or Twitter at the click of a button or two.

4.         You can also drag and drop some of those same elements right on to a tile on the left side of the browser and post it to your friend’s wall, or send it to them in a message.

5.         You can even chat with them through FaceBook from the edge on the left side.

6.         Another useful feature is the ability to preview google search items before leaving whatever site you’re currently on.

Most of these features are original, or an older idea done in a new way. And the first four of those features help keep you being social even while you’re busy checking up on the status of whatever that thing was that the boss said needed to be on his desk like twenty minutes ago… oops.

Having a backbone primarily comprised of Chrome, however, doesn’t loose them any points either. The visual history of webpages, the new tab button being conveniently placed, and the easy one button book marking are all good things most people like about chrome. One thing that is missing, visually speaking, is the single address bar that Chrome implemented in their browser. Google, I’m guessing, took a poll or survey and found that most people type web addresses into the dedicated search field on the right, and/or search terms for Google to look up in the address bar on the left. So, as a way to save confusion they bound those two concepts together into one uni-bar. Just type an URL and you’re off, or don’t add .com at the end and you’ll get a search result. Easy, right? So, why does RockMelt have two text fields?

First let me say that the uni-bar functionality is there, it’s just accompanied by the other search field. I am assuming that this separate field was added so that their preview function would not get in the way of the current web page nearly as much.

There are some draw backs or bugs that I’m sure in time they will fix. First one is the option on the App Edge on the right to add feeds from most visited sites. This populates a list from the sites you visit most often, and doesn’t appear to have a filter. So, if you decide to click on a link, innocently, and accidentally end up on a porn site devoted to bondage as opposed to a how-to-guide for tying rope knots, it ends up in your list of possible feeds to add in the App Edge. This is fine and all, but what if you did this on your personal laptop and then had to bring it to work and someone starts to fiddle with your browser for two seconds while you grab more caffeinated fuel? That could lead to some awkward questions.

Another minor bug is one that I found in Chrome too. When a drop down menu extends over top of the dock in OSX, the dock will hover as though you’re actively trying to select an App to launch from the dock. Clicking on a bookmark way at the bottom, while activating the dock’s magnify function, doesn’t actually launch the App thankfully, but it does tend to confuse one so. And also, having the whole browser window disappear when you accidentally click ‘close’ on one tab too many is also sort of jarring.

I have my own misgivings about putting my faith in big brother, I mean Google, but hopefully RockMelt doesn’t report back to Google everything you do like Chrome has been said to do. Over all though, RockMelt seems to be a solid browser with nice features, up to and including the NeoPlanet-esque skins that Google Chrome users are used to seeing. Shame there aren’t more of them like there are for FireFox’s Persona feature, but it’s a good start so far. I like the slogan, “Your Browser. Re-Imagined,” as a good way of explaining the Google Chrome back bone issue, but over all I rate this browser as a decent clone, with some very nice shiny new armor.

Application receives a 7 on a 10 point scale.

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