6 Google Chrome remixes worth trying

Chromium-based spinoffs bring privacy, security, social networking, and other interesting twists to Google's Chrome browser

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Another intriguing spin of Chromium into a semi-commercial product is RockMelt, which tightly integrates social networking features -- specifically, Facebook -- into the browser's interface. Your affinity for this sort of thing will depend on how heavily you use those systems, and whether or not you care for the way RockMelt has integrated them. (I suspect privacy advocates are already cringing.)

When you first launch RockMelt, you're obliged to sign in to Facebook (hope you remember your password!), although you can run RockMelt without logging in. On connecting to Facebook, icons appear at the top edge of the browser to let you access your notifications, messages, and friend requests, while the right-hand edge becomes a persistent, expandable Facebook chat panel.

The left edge is reserved for RockMelt Apps, little portals akin to the mobile site versions that some sites (e.g., YouTube) have created for quick consumption of their content. One of the functions enabled by RockMelt Apps is Social Reading, where you can automatically alert other RockMelt users to what articles you're looking at in real time. Social Reading works on a site-by-site basis, so you don't have to broadcast all your reading habits to the world at large. Note that if you add a site that doesn't have a formal RockMelt App built for it, its RSS feed (should one exist) will be used instead.

One very nice RockMelt feature is "quiet mode." Click the bell icon at the top right of the browser and all your social networking functionality is toggled off with one click. If you're like me and you're easily distracted by this feed or that update, this is a godsend of a feature.

RockMelt is still technically in beta, and there are some rough corners. For one, Chrome add-ons don't work -- not just some of them, but all of them. They flat-out refuse to install. Anyone with a clutch of favorite Chrome add-ons will be irked by this, and it's not clear whether this functionality will be added later on. One can only hope.

Until RockMelt reaches the official release stage, it won't be clear how much better it is than Chrome plus some Twitter or Facebook-centric add-ons. The RockMelt Apps functionality is handy, but it's a toss-up whether or not your favorite sites will support it.


RockMelt turns Chrome into a front end for Facebook and adds some more conventional browsing tools as well.  

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