What is RockMelt? That question has been burning up the Internet since late Thursday (or rather it would be, if speculation that Apple isn't introducing its fabled tablet in September hadn't taken over).
RockMelt will be a browser, we know that much. And it has an excellent pedigree: Marc Andreessen, the mastermind behind Netscape, is involved, and former Opsware execs Eric Vishria and Tim Howes are the company's co-founders. Opsware is the infrastructure company that Andreessen co-founded in 1999 before selling it to HP for a healthy $1.6 billion in 2007, giving him a nice paycheck and ego boost after getting pummeled by Microsoft in the first browser war.
According to ReadWriteWeb, Netscape Navigator software engineer Robert John Churchill is RockMelt's principal engineer. Oh, and RockMelt has a very nice logo, though it vaguely reminds me of Firefox's. But the name? I can't get behind that.
What kind of browser will RockMelt be? A Facebook browser apparently, though that's probably not the whole answer. ReadWriteWeb posted a RockMelt screenshot that included the text, "Connect the RockMelt Browser to Facebook to interact with your friends, share updates and media, and view your News Feed." It also pointed to rumors that Facebook staff is involved in the development. Andreessen, by the way, is on Facebook's board.
But RockMelt will likely do more than act as a Web browser that keeps you connected to Facebook. Flock, a "social Web browser" that's a souped-up version of Firefox, already links to Facebook Connect and streams Twitter updates within the application. Nothing new there.
RockMelt will have to do more to be special. But with the names involved, many people expect that it will.
In an interview in the New York Times, which was conducted earlier this summer but published Thursday, Andreessen said that browser development hadn't kept pace with the evolution of the Internet. "There are all kinds of things that you would do differently if you are building a browser from scratch," he said. It turns out he is.
Of course, Andreessen may have kick-started browser development in the 1990s, but it's a very different world now. The browser is becoming the center of users' computing experience, both at home and in the office, as more and more applications go online -- even Microsoft is getting into the game with Web-based versions of its Office suite. Everyone wants a piece.
Maybe there's room for a high-profile upstart. Firefox, after all, managed to emerge as a legitimate rival to Explorer, with 22 percent of the browser market. But Google Chrome has captured less than 3 percent, and Apple's Safari 4 percent -- though both have seen their shares grow slowly but steadily.Facebook connection aside, RockMelt will need to do something revolutionary, or this round of the browser wars might end up looking like the last one.