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Hands-on with the RockMelt browser

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RockMelt, a browser with integrated social networking capabilities was launched last week and since then it has been making its presence felt.

Based on Chromium platform (the platform on which Google Chrome runs), this newbie has Facebook integrated into it. And the first appearance itself gives an impression that it’s different!

Appearance and Features

The browser’s user interface (UI) has two sidebars, one on right and the other on left. And the address bar is split into a couple of elements – the address bar, a search bar and a share button. There’s no status bar and all the menus are piled up inside the button labeled “RockMelt” on the top left, pretty much like the latest Firefox 4b7. The tabs are the extreme top of the window, again following the culture of Chrome and Firefox.

The RockMelt browser with two sidebars on either side, a feed widget open on the right and the Facebook chat window open on the left.

The left sidebar is called the “Friend Edge” whereas the one on the right is called the “App Edge”.

With RockMelt you don’t need to keep the Facebook window open! The friend edge acts as your chat client whereas the notifications and news feed can be seen through the app edge.

The Friend Edge lets you update your Facebook status message and tweet, lets you manage your online chat status, and shows you your online friends in a list form. It also allows you add favorite friends into a ‘favorites list’.

Keeping the favorites lists on however doesn’t means you won’t be seen online to other friends and that’s a bummer. I haven’t figured out a way to go offline to some friends, just the way lists in Facebook chat allows you to do. Neither I can see my friends categorized according to the lists.

The sidebar on the right called the App Edge can boasts various Widgets. Widgets as in RSS feeds widgets. This edge comes built-in with Facebook profile (notifications) widget, Facebook news feed widget and Twitter widget which shows the tweets in real-time.

It’s pretty easy to add another feed widget. More so when you click the add button while the active tab has some feed stuff available. Likewise, my TechCrunch, Gizmodo, Cricinfo widgets were automatically pulled by the browser. I pressed ‘add more’ button, and there was this recommendation on each site.

The address bar is shortened up and there is this nifty search bar and a “share” button placed alongside the address bar. The refresh button like the latest version of Firefox is placed on the right and there is also a “mark as favorite” button and two navigation buttons (forward and back).

The search feature in RockMelt

What more, if you are browsing the results through the arrow keys which you should, the current tab will automatically open the link of the corresponding search result and the moment you click the arrow key and highlight another result, the tab will automatically open the another link!

Now that is an awesome feature; more when you have a wonderful bandwidth to play with or if you are searching for something not bandwidth-killing.

No matter how killing this feature is, I guess it would have been awesome if there was a way of searching a couple of engines together. One default search engine is not cool enough. But there is a way to add some more engines to it. Right click on the search, and go to “Edit Search Engines” option.

The Share button in RockMelt

The Share button is again a very nifty feature that the RockWell developers have popped in the package.

Now what does this thing do?

It helps you share the content of the current open tab with your Facebook and Twitter friends by a click of a button. (See image). You can even send the content via a message (in Facebook) or a direct message (in Twitter).

Apart of these groovy features, it has an incognito mode like Google Chrome, it lets you hide the Edges (the sidebars) if you want to. A similar Chrome-like download manager, and that’s it I guess. All these basic features can be accessed by clicking the small RockMelt button on the top left corner of the browser.

Performance

As far as the performance goes, I compared RockMelt with Mozilla Firefox.

As RockMelt is built on Chromium platform, it, like Chrome runs different processes for different windows. Add to these a couple of widgets and edges (sidebars) and you’ll find RockMelt running like a hell lot of processes at a particular instance.

Now take the following figures for example.

In RockMelt, I was running two tabs – Cricinfo and Gmail. I was chatting with two people on Facebook chat and so there were 2 chat widgets open. Twitter’s widget was open as well. All in all, seven widgets were installed including the built-in ones.

Look how many processes RockMelt ran while only two tabs were open

And with all this stuff running, RockMelt ran like 10 processes on my system (see image) which accounted for like a memory usage of 241,436K which is like 235 mega used from 6.o gigs of my system’s physical memory.

Now I compared the CPU usage of RockMelt with that of Firefox’s. How?

Well I started Gmail and Cricinfo in Firefox. As RockMelt had built-in Facebook and Twitter, and also built-in feed reader, to make things even stevens, I opened Facebook, Twitter and Google Reader in Firefox.

And with all this open, Firefox accounted for 307,300K of my memory which is like 300 mega off 6.0 gigs.

And so in CPU usage tests, RockMelt used fewer resources than Firefox even though RockMelt ran more innovative and user friendly features than the latter. It was a surprise but that’s the way it is.

And though a difference of 69000K isn’t a much of a difference to my machine cos it runs an i7 processor and has 6 gigs of memory onboard; for a normal CPU with a relatively slower processor and less memory, these 69000K could have been an excellent performance booster. And that is worth a note.

And then came the final tests – the all-important speed tests. (These tests were done on a network having a maximum bandwidth of 256Kbps.)

Before starting the speed test, I cleared all my internet junk just to make the competition a fair one. And the tests were conducted individually for both browsers. I restarted the system before running the tests each time and also made sure there were no processes from either of these browsers which started automatically at boot time.

I ran six tests (see chart) – four webpage time tests and two start time tests.

Cold start means starting the browser for the first time after a system boot whereas Normal start as it implies doesn’t means the browser is starting for the first time since the system has been up. The four webpage tests were done random web pages – CNN, Facebook, Google and Yahoo.

The graph clearly suggests Firefox losing to RockMelt in as many as four tests.

Now that is a surprise indeed but not so much. Firefox has been beaten in speed tests in the past by Chrome and as RockMelt runs a Chromium engine, this was expected.

And again, the speed tests could mean so much for people that they might just be tempted enough to give it a shot and perhaps many could get obsessed about it.

The browser is just in beta stage and a lot, lot more can be expected from it. The social networking guys, especially Facebook junkies will love it but as far as I’m concerned, I’m not much of a social networking junkie and I might not switch over completely given Firefox’s lovely features like keyword search and ad-block plus!

RockMelt is available as invite-only software right now but RockMelt is accepting requests. It also requires you having a Facebook account to use the browser. You can hop on to http://rockmelt.com, see the lovely video that explains everything and request an invite, and don’t worry I’ve heard they are pretty responsive to the requests!

Written by rahulbhagchandani

November 17, 2010 at 11:50 pm

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