RockMelt – your new social browser

So for about a month now I’ve been testing the new social browser called RockMelt. It’s still in beta and there are a few kinks to iron out and some features that should be included but so far it’s a great browser.

ABOUT ROCKMELT

Well, the browser is great to start off with because it’s a custom build of Google’s Chromium (development build of Chrome) browser and integrated into Facebook (you need a Facebook account to log into and use RockMelt). Like I said, it’s a social browser – integrating your browsing and social media interaction all in one place.

So what do you get in the browser that makes it social? Two applications are currently integrated into RockMelt, Facebook and Twitter. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t be a social browser, now would it.

EDGES

As I mentioned earlier you need a Facebook account so you get all your notifications and news feed from Facebook on the right hand side of the browser – the sides are referred to as Edges in RockMelt.

The top icon is for your invites you get to dish out to friends whom you also want to introduce to RockMelt.

The next icon is Google’s URL shortener extension which I added – yes a lot of Google Chrome extensions work just the same in RockMelt as they do in the latest Chrome browser.

Next is the GMail Labs Notifier extension which gives me a counter of unread emails and the next one is a RSS Feed of my Gmail Inbox which shows a preview of new emails as well as an unread count.

The next two icons relate to Facebook. The first is my notifications icon (when people comment on something I commented on, or my status update, or liking a status update or comment I made). The second is my Facebook news stream, which you see on the Facebook home page when you view your Most Recent news stream items.

Below that is the Twitter app which you can enable in RockMelt by supplying your Twitter username and allowing RockMelt to access your Twitter account. This means you get to view your Twitter stream, reply, re-tweet and update your own Twitter status.

The next is simply another Chrome extension to capture portions of browser screens for sharing with others.

The last icon on the right edge is where you can change which RockMelt apps are active or not as well as where you can include an RSS stream of the recently visited websites.

Yup, RockMelt identifies RSS streams of websites as you visit them so that you can include them on the right edge and get updates as and when they’re made available. I still prefer all my RSS feeds in Google Reader though.

The great thing about this is that you can be browsing a website, reading some RSS feed article and you can still keep an eye on your social stream. Once there are new unread items in either Facebook or Twitter you can see the count as an icon overlay. Simply click on the icon and you get a window appearing with the unread (and read) items.

The other great thing is that a number of third party sites are integrated by RockMelt so that for example if someone tweeted a photo and posted it through YFrog it automatically appears in the stream for the user that posted it, you don’t even have to browse to the image hosting site to view the photo.

The same applies to YouTube videos tweeted or included in a Facebook status update. The player is embedded into the stream so that you can play it from there.

The left edge is where you get to see, in real-time, all your Facebook friends whether they’re online, idled, or offline on Facebook. By clicking on the avatar of your friend you can open up a chat window to chat to them (through Facebook) and/or send them a Facebook inbox message.

Avatars with a green icon next to it means the user is currently active on Facebook and their Facebook chat is set to online so that you can chat with them or send them a Facebook message.

Those with orange icons have been idle for a certain period of time on Facebook so they may not be available to  chat but you can still send them a message.

Those that have grey icons are no longer online on Facebook or like me, are not logged into Facebook chat right now. I prefer to keep my real-time conversations in Skype, my preferred instant messaging platform.

The thing that I found irritating/intrusive to my browsing was the constant shuffling if avatars as people came online and/or went offline on Facebook so I use RockMelt with this edge hidden (ctrl+shift+left arrow to toggle the left side, use the right arrow to toggle the right edge or ctrl+shift+space to toggle both edges).

Depending on how active/inactive you are on Facebook and/or use the Facebook Chat facility you may or may not use this feature in RockMelt.

If, however, you want to see a specific friend’s wall only you can click their avatar on the left edge and click the recent activity tab. Click on your own icon on the top left to update your Twitter/Facebook status.

But that’s one of the great things about RockMelt is you’re not forced to use features you don’t want or don’t need. It’s customizable!

SHARING

Another feature that makes this a great social networking tool is the in-line sharing of stuff that you’re currently reading. So someone emailed you a link to a funny YouTube video, simply open it up in a new tab in RockMelt and check out the video. You think it’s worth sharing to others on your Twitter and/or Facebook stream? Great, hit that Share button at the top, to the right of the address bar.

You’ll then be presented with a Twitter/Facebook share window (you get to toggle between the two if you have both apps active in your RockMelt browser).

Just like the share option in Facebook you get to pick a thumbnail (if you wish) to include in your post and add your own comment – simple as that, without leaving the page you’ve just been reading/watching.

And for Twitter, RockMelt have acquired the me.lt domain to automatically shorten URLs for you and automatically pick up the title of the page you were viewing and include it in the Twitter status update. Of course, you can edit this as you wish, add hash tags, etc, before actually posting it as your Twitter status update.

And in case you missed it, there’s a search field at the top as well, so you can search even without leaving the current page you’re viewing since the results are shown in a window. Of course you can open any result (or the entire list of results)  in another tab.

Could it be any simpler?

But don’t just take my word for it – try it out for yourself. You can also watch the promo video below which screencasts some of the features I’ve spoken about above, and more.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAPKPhoTqFY&feature=player_embedded

New Google Chrome v4 released

As you should know by now, I favour Google’s Chrome browser and today (finally), Google have released their latest stable build of the Chrome browser, 4.0.249.78. And as you can see from the screen shot above (if you’ve not already used their beta releases of v4 already) extensions and bookmark syncing are now available.

After my previous problems with the latest beta builds and instability on my laptop I was hesitant to stick to the beta builds and opted to wait for the stable version to be released.

Now, finally, I too can enjoy the benefits of over 1500 extensions and bookmark syncing.

Below is a list of the extensions I’ve just installed and tried out (you can click on any of the images below to go to the relevant extension download page):

Since I use Google Reader to keep up with all my various news/RSS feeds the first extension I’ve installed is the Google Reader one. It downloads and installs in, literally, seconds. If you’re already logged into Google the icon will already show you how many unread items there are. Clicking on the icon shows you unread items at a glance which you can click on the title to read the article or open Google Reader in a new tab.

Next on my list of wanted extensions is the 1-click Weather extension provided by Weather.com which gives you a toolbar icon showing the current temperature in your city and clicking on the icon will give you a detailed weather map as well as a mini forecast. If you’re using Windows Vista/7 you’ve probably already, like me, got the Windows Weather widget on your desktop but this is always using Chrome.

Like many other people, I too have and use my Gmail account, especially when sending emails when away from my own laptop and when sending interesting posts to friends. With this extension I can quickly keep a tab of any new emails arriving and the unread email count in my Gmail account right from my browser toolbar.

If you have a Google Wave, Google Voice account as well as Gmail and use Google Reader you can always opt to use the One Number extension which uses a single toolbar icon to monitor all your Google accounts together.

Even though I read most of what I’m interested in via Google Reader, I occasionally search for something through Google or click through to view the full post on the website, since it may be limited in the feed article. I’m so used to where ads appear and how they appear that they don’t really bother me, but others may enjoy the AdBlock extension (works similarly to Mozilla Firefox’s ad blocker – and it’s customizable too).

Update: for developers and designers out there – I’ve just seen the following post recommending 15 must have Google Chrome extensions.

These are just a few extensions that I’ve showcased here like I said there are over 1500 extensions to choose from. Go and have a browse, try them out, if you find an interesting one and it works well, let me know in the comments. Happy surfing!

PS: Remember you can manage your installed extensions (and their respective options) by selecting Extensions from the Tools menu or type in chrome://extensions/ in the address bar.

Sorry Google, Chrome has been vindicated!

Last week I ranted on about Google’s Chrome browser hanging my laptop and after non-use of Chrome the problem went away. Well, it seems that I had spoken too soon. The very next day my laptop hung again, and I had not used Chrome since before I wrote the blog post.

So, frustrated with the hanging, I did a little more digging and found out that there was a known problem with one of Microsoft’s Windows updates, MS09-065 (969947), which caused hanging of the OS (with mouse movement still working) for users with Nvidia and ATI video cards. Now, I know, it’s an XP problem but the update applies to Vista as well so I thought it might be exhibiting the same problems with Vista so I removed that update as well as the Nvidia driver update and re-applied the Nvidia driver update again.

It was a short-lived experience, as the problem returned.

So, I gave in and restored my laptop back to it’s clean, factory-install version of Vista and began rebuilding it again. Many, many long hours later and about 1.7GB of various windows updates later, it seems I have a usable laptop once again.

And yes, this post is being written and posted using Google Chrome, again my browser of choice!

Google Chrome – Brand Minus

For a long time now, actually since the very first release of Google Chrome, I’ve been an ambassador for how cool a browser it is and that it’s been my browser of choice ever since they released it. That is up until today when I realised Google Chrome has been the culprit of my Vista OS hanging (note, no BSOD). At first I thought it might have been a Windows Update or one of my other applications, however it always happened while I had Google Chrome also open.

Now, for over a year now I’ve never had any bad experiences with using Google Chrome (either with Windows XP or with Windows Vista). For the last couple of days I’ve explicity NOT used Google Chrome  and lo and behold, I no longer have to hard reboot my laptop anymore. And it seems I’m not alone – nor is it a recent occurance as others have had similar problems.

I guess I’ll have to monitor the news and forums feeds for a resolution before I used Google Chrome again – I sure am going to miss it until then!

Happy Birthday Google Chrome

It seems to be a week for birthdays this week. First the Internet turned 40, and now the Google Chrome browser, which I’ve blogged about a number of times already, is a year old. I raved about it when it was just released and today it’s still my default browser of choice, at home and at work.

The team at Lifehacker have put together a nice little roadmap of the last year from Google Chrome’s release to the public and where it stands today.

Happy Birthday, Google Chrome!

Review: Browsershots

BrowserShots-Logo

As a web developer I’m almost always tasked with ensuring that websites and web applications I build not only work but look good in the popular browsers for the target platform. Sometimes you may get a client with some obscure version of a browser (not necessarily Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome) and you don’t have that platform available to test it locally to try and replicate the issue and hopefully fix it.

browsershots-search

Along comes Browsershots – a website with a very simple front-end. Type in the address to the page you wish to view (obviously needs to be hosted online already and not a password protected site) and select as many or as few browsers (and platofmrs) to test, whether or not JavaScript and/or Flash is required or not (even which version must be avaialble) and even screen resolutions and colour depths. Click the button, and sit back.

browsershots-browsers

browsershots-options

Through what I’m assuming are multiple virtual machines on their servers which are instructed to browse to the site you requested and then a screenshot is taken of that browser and added to your screenshot queue.

It will notify you of the progress, whether or not the browser screenshot will be available or approxiamtely how long it will be before your screenshot is queued and taken.

browsershots-queuedetails

The site even allows you to download all the screenshots in a single ZIP file – how handy is that.

I’m definitely bookmarking this site for my next browser-compatibility issue resolution!

Google Chrome, the need for speed!

Back in September last year I told you about Google entering the browser wars with their own web browser, Chrome.  Then next day, I gave you my first impressions. If my job didn’t require me to develop web sites in Internet Explorer and Firefox I’d have long since set Chrome as my default browser. Although, for my own day-to day use I almost exclusively use Chrome as my browser of choice.

Today, Google have announced and released the latest stable version of Chrome.

stable-google-chrome-about

Some of the improvements and new features include:

Improved New Tab Page: The most requested feature from users was the ability to remove thumbnails from the New Tab page. Now you can finally hide that embarrassing gossip blog from the Most Visited

Ha, ha, I was wondering when this would be implemented – not that I have to worry about this but still a nice added feature. Watch the video later in this post to see how this works. I find this new tab page very useful for quickly getting back to pages I use frequently.

Full Screen Mode: If you’ve ever given a presentation or watched a large video using Google Chrome, you might have wished you could use every last pixel on your screen for the content. Now you can hide the title bar and the rest of the browser window by hitting F11 or selecting the option in the Tools menu.

Although I don’t use this often, at times I’ve found myself needing to maximize the window and this will now come in handy – in the beginning I often found myself looking for this feature since being used to it in IE and FF.

Form Autofill: Filling out your information in forms over and over again can be tedious. Form autofill helps by showing information you’ve previously entered into the same form fields automatically. If at any point you want to clear out your information, that’s easy to do from the Tools menu.

This is actually something I’ve often found very useful when filling in forms over and over again while testing – or similarly named fields on various websites (like your name, email address).

Increased Stability: Google Chrome is more stable than ever–we have fixed over 300 bugs that caused crashes since launch.

I’ve only ever experience one or two crashes while using Chrome but they’ve been isolated incidents and always only a plug-in or tab crashing.

Increased Speed: Making the web faster continues to be our main area of focus. Thanks to a new version of WebKit and an update to our JavaScript engine, V8, interactive web pages will run even faster. We’ve also made sure that JavaScript keeps running fast even when you have lots of tabs open. Try opening a bunch of web applications and then running your favorite benchmark. You can read more about V8 in our JavaScript scalability post on the Chromium blog. – source Google Chrome Blog

I’m going to see in the next few days/weeks whether this improvement is more apparent.

You can take a look at some other Chrome-related posts here. Are you not using Google Chrome yet? Why not? Go and download it now and try it out for yourself.

Internet Explorer 8 unleashed!

Microsoft finally (today) made the release version of Internet Explorer 8 available to the public. It seems Microsoft has taken a page out of Google’s book (don’t they always) with regard to browser performance and functionality. 

According to Microsoft the new browser is faster and more user-friendly. Some of the features included to help you are as follows:

  • Quickly access a street map by highlighting an address and using an Accelerator such as Microsoft Live Search Maps effectively taking a 7 step process to getting a map from an address to simply 2 clicks.

    ie8-address-map

  • New and improved powerful search bar makes searching for and comparing products so much easier – without leaving the current browser window or tab.ie8-smart-address-bar  
  • Multi-tasking stability – now when a web page causes the browser to hang/crash only that tab is affected, not the whole browser – no more losing work or your train of thought. Should the browser crash it will automatically recover the previous tabs and sessions upon restarting.
     
  • Internet Explorer 8 now remembers your recently opened tabs so that you can quickly re-open them and go back to a previously visited page.

    ie8-reopen-tabs

  • Just like Google Chrome’s Incognito browsing mode, Internet Explorer 8 has a new InPrivate mode which acts in the same way keeping your browsing in that session private by not storing cookies, cache items or browsing history for that session.
     
  • Again (starting a trend here) just like Google Chrome warning you of a website that is potentially unsafe, Internet Explorer 8 will attempt to do the same – making your web surfing so much safer. ie8-unsafe-site 
  • Compatibility mode for browsing websites, that aren’t geared up yet for Internet Explorer 8, using the Internet Explorer 7 rendering engine instead.ie8-compat-mode
  • A new feature is tab-grouping which makes related tabs have the same look so that you can easily switch between related tabs, or close them at once. And closing one tab from a group will switch you to another tab from the same group so that you stay within the same context you were in. 

For those of us already using Google Chrome, most of this will be something you’re used to, yet not accustomed to from Internet Explorer.  Remember that this is the first release version of Internet Explorer 8 so there may be a few teething problems, as always, expect a patch or two or a service pack in the not too distant future.

I’ve not tried IE8 for myself yet but early reports are that it’s not as fast as they claim – will that have an effect on its two-third market share? Read more at TechCrunch.

Download IE8 now for yourself.

Google Chrome officially out of beta!

I guess I need to eat my words. Only yesterday I told you about Google Chrome being ready to come out of Beta, but I wasn’t sure as to when it would happen (since GMail’s been in Beta for over 4 years).

Well time for me to have a helping of my own words – Google Chrome is officially out of Beta. My previous version was 0.4.154.29 and the new official version is 1.0.154.36.

We have removed the beta label as our goals for stability and performance have been met but our work is far from done. We are working to add some common browser features such as form autofill and RSS support in the near future. We are also developing an extensions platform along with support for Mac and Linux.

100 days for a beta – not bad, good going Google. [via Lifehacker]

Google Chrome coming out of beta (soon)

google-chromeEarly on in September I told you about Google Chrome being launched and subsequent to that I gave you my first impressions regarding Google’s browser. Today I read on TechCrunch that Google Chrome, after nearly 3 months, will be coming out of beta. As to the exact date that this will happen still remains a myster – according to Google VP, Marissa Mayer.

Incedentally, today was the first time that my copy of Chrome has crashed (while viewing Google Reader as an application).  Coincidence? Did they build in a use-by-date in their beta? I’ve not looked at the source, so I’m not sure. 

As far as betas go when it comes to Google, I’m not holding my breath, since Gmail has been in beta since it’s public release back in 2004.

Extensions for Chrome (also coming soon)

I was just about to publish this post when I spotted another Chrome article on Gadget Advisor about the future of extensions for the Chrome browser, like there is for Mozilla’s Firefox. 

One of Google’s developers made the announcement that Google is looking into integrating third-party browser plugins for Chrome. They also released a design document that provided an outline for what needed to be done in order to add plugin support.