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4/1/2011
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RockMelt Refreshes Social Browser

The 20th update in five months adds features that make it easier to chat and access Twitter without leaving the browser.

RockMelt Social Web Browser Revealed
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: RockMelt Social Web Browser Revealed
RockMelt, which is hoping to crack the browser market by piggybacking on the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, has released its 20th update in five months in its continuing effort to make its namesake software more social-network friendly.

RockMelt Beta 2 includes easier chatting with multiple friends, an overhauled Twitter app, and a new feature for saving content for viewing later, whether it's a Web page or a posting on Facebook. There are also the many bug fixes that typically accompany software updates.

RockMelt has gotten attention as much because of the person behind it as its attempt to ride the social networking craze. The social browser is backed by Marc Andreessen, a founder of Netscape; the company's eponymous browser was ultimately crushed by Microsoft in the early days of the Web. Microsoft's anti-competitive tactics led to government regulators forcing the company to change the way it drove use of Internet Explorer, which accounts for roughly 57% of the browser market today, according to NetApplications. IE's share of the market used to be much higher, but its size has been whittled over the years by Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and others.

RockMelt is betting that enough of the 500 million people on Facebook and the 500,000 accounts added to Twitter each day will want a browser that lets them browse online, while also chatting with friends and monitoring updates on the social networks.

The latest version adds a new chat bar at the bottom of the browser, so users can keep track of multiple conversations. Notifications have been added to let people know when a new message has arrived, and dragging a chat off the bar opens a separate window.

RockMelt integrates with social networks through two vertical bars, one on each side of the browser window. On the left are the user's Facebook friends, showing which ones are online and ready to chat. On the right are icons for all the applications connected to the browser, which can include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Flickr.

RockMelt Beta 2 adds to the app bar a clock icon that's clicked when users run across a Web page or a posting on a social network that they want to save for viewing later. The app edge also includes a new Twitter app that can edit retweets, view direct messages, reply to all users, and search the micro-blogging site.

In addition to having new features, the latest RockMelt, which is built on version 10 of Google's Chromium browser engine, also contains fixes for 78 flaws in previous versions.

Whether people are passion it enough about their social networks to switch to a new browser remains to be seen. It's not the first browser to fold in people's social networking activities. Firefox and Chrome can offer similar interactions through extensions.

The number of RockMelt downloads to date is fewer than 1 million, according to the company. While the number is small given the size of the market, users spend more than six hours a day in the browser.

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