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Hands-on with RockMelt, the underwhelming Chrome 6-based Facebook-connected Web browser

The day you've all been dreading has finally come: RockMelt, a Web browser that forces you to log into Facebook, is here. Lee covered its release earlier today, but now I'm going to give you my hands-on impressions Looking through the accompanying gallery is by far the best way to understand what RockMelt is, but read on if you want my opinions.

RockMelt is, for all intents and purposes, Chrome 6 with a couple of attractive sidebars. On the left is the 'Friends Edge', where you can see your online Facebook friends, and on the right is the 'App Edge', where you interact with activity feeds. There's also a 'Share' widget up near the address bar... but that's it. As I said, this is Chrome with some sidebars that could easily be added with extensions.

But as they're not extensions that you can simply add to your current installation of Chrome, you're forced into using RockMelt and its antiquated Chrome 6 underpinnings. You're also forced into logging into Facebook -- which takes ages every time you load up the browser. I guess it's downloading my entire profile every time I connect (incidentally, if you try to browse before RockMelt has finished scraping data from Facebook, the browser crashes and refuses to restart.)

Once you get going, though, it's actually quite fun. Sharing links with friends, or Twitter, is very easy. The interface is attractive and easy to use. Chatting with Facebook friends pops up a new window, which is handy, and the search box displays results on top of your current page, in a layer, rather than navigating you away from your current page. You can also search for friends from both the address and search boxes -- neat. Third-party extensions can be installed as normal onto the right-hand bar -- but so what? Chrome could already do that.

No matter which way you look at it, FaceMelt RockMelt is a proprietary browser that offers a Chrome 6 base with a bunch of extensions. You don't get hardware acceleration, or up-to-date versions of the WebKit layout engine or V8 JavaScript engine. Then there are the security concerns -- with Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer you have industry-leading support from three huge companies. With RockMelt you have a small team of coders working with a deprecated version of Chromium. Their proprietary extensions are probably riddled with holes, too -- and considering RockMelt hasn't published its source code, the first sign of a security breach will be a zero-day attack.

Awesome.

Hands on with RockMelt, the socially-connected Web browser

Tags: browsers, chrome, chromium, rockmelt, v8, web browser, WebBrowser, webkit

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