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.