Browser pi­o­neer backs new way to surf Web

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TECHNOLOGY -

THE Web has changed a lot since Marc An­dreessen rev­o­lu­tionised the In­ter­net with the in­tro­duc­tion of his Netscape browser in the mid-1990s. That’s why he’s bet­ting peo­ple are ready to try a dif­fer­ent web­surf­ing tech­nique on a new browser called Rock­Melt.

The browser, avail­able now, is built on the premise that most on­line ac­tiv­ity to­day re­volves around so­cial­is­ing on Face­book, search­ing on Google, tweet­ing on Twit­ter and mon­i­tor­ing a hand­ful of favourite web­sites.

It tries to min­imise the need to roam from one web­site to the next by cor­ralling all vi­tal in­for­ma­tion and favourite ser­vices in panes and drop-down win­dows.

“This is a chance for us to build a browser all over again,” An­dreessen said. “These are all things we would have done (at Netscape) if we had known how peo­ple were go­ing to use the Web.”

An­dreessen didn’t de­velop the Rock­Melt browser the way he did Netscape, whose early pop­u­lar­ity waned as Mi­crosoft Corp bun­dled its In­ter­net Ex­plorer browser with the Win­dows op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

Rock­Melt is the hand­i­work of Tim Howes and Eric Vishria, who for­merly worked with An­dreessen. But An­dreessen’s seal of ap­proval has been stamped on startup.

The biggest chunk of Rock­Melt’s US$10mil (RM32mil) in fund­ing has come from the ven­ture cap­i­tal firm that An­dreessen runs with his part­ner, Ben Horowitz.

An­dreessen also sits on Rock­Melt’s board of di­rec­tors, and his ad­vice has been called upon fre­quently.

“When you are try­ing to rein­vent the web browser, who would you rather run your ideas by be­sides Marc?” said Howes, Rock­Melt’s chief technology of­fi­cer (Vishria is CEO).

Face­book’s im­print also is all over Rock­Melt, al­though the two com­pa­nies’ only busi­ness con­nec­tion so far is An­dreessen. He also serves on Face­book’s board of di­rec­tors.

Rock­Melt only works if you have a Face­book ac­count. That re­stric­tion still gives Rock­Melt plenty of room to grow, given Face­book has more than 500 mil­lion users.

Af­ter Face­book users log on to Rock­Melt with their Face­book ac­count in­for­ma­tion, the per­son’s Face­book pro­file pic­ture is planted in the browser’s left hand corner and a list of favourite friends can be dis­played in the browser’s left hand pane. There’s also a built-in tool for post­ing up­dates in a pop-up box.

The fea­tures ex­tend be­yond Face­book and Twit­ter. Rock­Melt in­cludes a tool that shows re­sults from Google searches in a drop-down box that can be scrolled through to pe­ruse the rec­om­mended web­sites in the main part of the browser.

The browser’s right-hand pane is re­served for list­ing favourite web­sites, with au­to­matic no­ti­fi­ca­tions when­ever they get fresh in­for­ma­tion on them.

Rock­Melt stores each user’s pref­er­ences on a re­mote server, mak­ing them avail­able on any com­puter that has the browser in­stalled on its hard drive.

Al­though its back­ers hail the browser as a break­through, Rock­Melt is bor­row­ing some technology and ideas from other sources. Its foun­da­tion is built on Chromium, the same open-source cod­ing that spawned Google Inc’s Chrome browser two years ago.

An­other browser called Flock has been try­ing to tap into the on­line so­cial scene for the past five years.

No browser has come close to sur­pass­ing In­ter­net Ex­plorer, de­spite var­i­ous chal­lenges through the years.

In­ter­net Ex­plorer still holds a roughly 60% mar­ket share, ac­cord­ing to the re­search firm Net Ap­pli­ca­tions.

The Mozilla Foun­da­tion’s Fire­fox, which drew upon Netscape, ranks a dis­tant sec­ond at 23% fol­lowed by Chrome at about 9%.

Rock­Melt is start­ing off with a mod­est goal: it hopes to at­tract a mil­lion users as it ex­tends in­vi­ta­tions to peo­ple in­ter­ested in try­ing the browser. Re­quests can be made through www.rock­melt.com.

An­dreessen is con­vinced In­ter­net Ex­plorer’s lead re­mains vul­ner­a­ble, even af­ter more than a decade of dom­i­na­tion and re­peated up­grades.

“I don’t be­lieve in ma­ture mar­kets,” he said. “I think mar­kets are only ma­ture when there is a lack of in­no­va­tive prod­ucts.” — AP

An­DreeSSen: ‘This is a chance for us to build a browser all over again.’ — AP

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