Marc Andreessen broke critical Web browser ground back in 1994, the Dark Dial-Up Ages, with Netscape Navigator, arguably the most influential Web browser (and, in some circles, best technology product) of all time. Navigator delivered previously unheard-of innovations, such as enabling Web pages to load on the fly, piece by piece, instead of making a user stare at a blank screen until every bit on the page had been received.
Fast-forward to November 2010. Andreessen has re-entered the Web browser fray with a new offering called RockMelt. Andreessen has once more started out with a solid open source code base foundation in Google Chrome (Netscape was built on Mosaic). But rather than providing a single pane for enhancing Web-page hopping, RockMelt joins Web browsing with instant sharing and collaboration, via tight integration with Facebook.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Oddly useful alternative browsers offer such advantages as 3-D searching, social networking, easy scriptability, and powerful page manipulation. See "Top 10 specialty browsers you may have missed." ]
The end result is pretty slick: A user who frequently spends time updating his or her Facebook status, sharing links, and chatting with Facebook friends will find a lot to like about RockMelt, which performs those tasks with click-drag-drop simplicity -- and without even having to be on a Facebook page. If you want to go anywhere on the Web and never leave Facebook behind, RockMelt is for you.
For the Facebook agnostic, RockMelt could be just as significant as a sign of what may be still to come: If the Chrome browser could be so cleverly integrated with a website that connects us with our friends, how about integrating it with a website that is central to our work? As I was using RockMelt, I couldn't help thinking how powerfully productive it would be if, instead of Facebook, it were integrated with Google Apps and Docs.
RockMelt follows in the footsteps of the various other specialty browsers such as Flock. RockMelt's UI is almost identical to Chrome's, with the same uncluttered navigation bar and minimal drop-down menus. One difference is a Share button, which you can click to instantly share the Web page you're viewing with your Facebook family. Additionally, there's a search box that simultaneously queries Google and Facebook as you enter text.
But the real innovation is the two sidebars, called Edges, that run vertically down either side of the browser window. The Apps Edge (on the right side of the screen) is for monitoring your favorite websites; the Friends Edge (on the left) provides ever-present access to your Facebook friends.
The Chrome-based RockMelt browser, with the Friends Edge on the left, the Apps Edge on the right, and the Share button up top.