Specialization is the future in browser wars

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The browser wars are starting to heat up again. In the last three years, it has been a three-way race between Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer. But there is a new contender entering the race: RockMelt.

IE sees a lot of use at the corporate level these days, however it is not the browser of choice for most people. That title goes to Firefox, which commands almost a third of the market. Chrome comes in at third, but has been growing steadily in popularity, taking market share from the other browsers.

IE and Firefox are fighting back with new versions. Firefox 4.0, released last week, brings a faster Java engine and a new add-on management system. Firefox revolutionized browsers by introducing tabbed browsing to the masses and have now created a new way to manage tab clutter with grouped tabs. These groups can then be kept in memory without being displayed on the tab bar.

IE9 looks like it may finally bring Internet Explorer in to the modern era by supporting html 5 and the ability to search from the address bar, features that are the bare minimum for modern browsers. In addition to playing catch up, IE9 now allows you to pin websites to the Windows 7 taskbar. This integration between the web and the desktop is a nice step forward.

RockMelt, the new contender, is built using the Chrome engine with a focus on the social web. It integrates Facebook and news feeds into two slim sidebars. These sidebars allow you to chat with friends, see the latest twitter updates and view search results without leaving your current webpage.

Social integration is one of those features, like tabbed browsing, that seems like an interesting curiosity at first. But after an hour or two of use, it becomes indispensable. The efficiency of not having to leave the page to share a link, check your e-mail and search the web becomes invaluable.

Typically, Facebook serves as a distraction, but RockMelt’s integration of the website’s communication and networking tools eliminates the need to wade through, and be distracted by, link spam. Suddenly, Facebook is transformed into an efficient communication tool.

RockMelt’s Chrome underpinnings also give it good speed and reliability. It plays well with Chrome’s extensions, however with the feed sidebar a number of extensions become irrelevant.

What is truly important about RockMelt is that it signals the beginning of the specialized browser. For years, browsers have looked the same because they interpret webpage code the same way. Specialized browsers, on the other hand, could be fine tuned to deliver specific types of content. Maybe the next specialized browser will be a secure shopping browser or perhaps one fine-tuned to stream media into our living rooms.

For now, specialized browsers are in the future. Today IE9 is still playing catch up and trying to integrate the web and the desktop, Firefox is going for speed and tab management and RockMelt is changing how we use web apps and websites.

But innovation spreads. When the time comes to fight the next battle in the browser wars Google, Mozilla and Microsoft will have to create even more new tools and toys to wow us.


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