RockMelt Enters Browser Wars with Backing from Marc Andreessen, Focus on Facebook and Twitter

Change in the browser market, compared to newer areas like mobile apps, is truly glacial: the main trend over the past few years has been the gradual migration of Internet Explorer users (the Microsoft browser still has a 60 percent market share) to Mozilla’s Firefox (23 percent) and Google’s Chrome (9 percent). But if anyone can help shake up the browser market, it may be the guy who created it: Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen. His venture firm Andreessen Horowitz is the lead investor in RockMelt, a Mountain View, CA, startup that released its new Mac and Windows Web browser in private beta today.

RockMelt, built using the same open-source Chromium code behind Google’s Chrome, is designed to let heavy users of social media services like Facebook and Twitter interact with their friends and followers from the main browser window, without having to switch tabs or pages or fire up separate client programs or widgets. So the biggest visual difference between RockMelt and other browsers is the presence of two “edges” down the right and left sides of the window—a Favorites Edge showing individual Facebook friends, and an App Edge showing how many new RSS news stories, Facebook news feed updates, or tweets are awaiting viewing. Appropriately enough, you need a Facebook account to use RockMelt, and even to request an invitation to download it.

RockMelt ScreenshotIn a press release, Andreessen described RockMelt as “the freshest, most innovative take on browsing since browsers were created.” Tim Howes and Eric Vishria, who co-founded the company in 2008, have “rethought the browser around the massive shifts in user behavior that will drive the Web over the next decade,” meaning social networking and media sharing, Andreessen said.

Howes, RockMelt’s chairman and chief technology officer, is the former CTO at server management software maker Opsware, where Vishria, now RockMelt’s CEO, was vice president of marketing. Both spent about a year at Hewlett-Packard after the Palo Alto computing giant acquired Opsware in 2007. They’ve built a team of 30 employees at RockMelt; to fund the effort, they’ve raised about $10 million from a group of Silicon Valley luminaries including Andreessen Horowitz, former Intuit CEO Bill Campbell, angel investor Ron Conway, former VMware CEO Diane Greene, and First Round Capital managing partner Josh Kopelman.

The association between RockMelt and Andreessen Horowitz (which closed fundraising on a second, $650 million fund last week) is deeply genetic: Opsware, originally called LoudCloud, was … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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3 responses to “RockMelt Enters Browser Wars with Backing from Marc Andreessen, Focus on Facebook and Twitter”

  1. Sunduvan says:

    Rockmelt? I think they will melt before they able to surpass the mighty Google and Yahoo. But it is a nice contribution to search engine evolution. A slight change in internet browsing will be ok.

  2. Nguber says:

    An interesting idea. I watched the video and it seems the browser is pretty cool. Why can’t user download the browser directly?

  3. James Massey says:

    Marc Andressen Can’t Be Wrong!

    The 1993 founder of the original mass market “browser” is the right boss to push out a new generation browser. Rockmelt could become a massive hit for the heavy social media users.

    I believe future users will use multiple browsers, websites, apps, etc. etc. etc.

    I am looking for Marc Andreesen to add in interface plug ins that make this browser a cut above all others. This might also provide the monetization interface that turns a browser into a payment processer manager.