Google Chrome has been a colossal success. Google’s browser now has between 19 per cent and 34 per cent of the desktop browser market, depending on who you listen to. But there’s no disputing Chrome’s meteoric rise, and due to this, a sizeable number of derivative alternatives have been created, offering many interesting features and fundamental differences. A vanilla Chrome installation, even with extensions, just cannot mimic some of this functionality.
These alternatives range from Google’s own open-source Chromium Project to specialty browsers like the security-focused Comodo Dragon. There are too many to count, and there doesn’t seem to be any end to their creation. However, three Chrome derivatives are particularly of interest, and a number of their ideas are worth considering for the main browser itself.
First up is SRWare Iron. This browser is designed with user privacy in mind. Some of us are uncomfortable with the amount of data that Google can track when you install and use Chrome, and this is absolutely a solution for that issue. Features like search suggestions, installation tracking, and error reporting don’t even exist in SRWare Iron. While Chrome can be configured to be more privacy-focused, some options can’t be changed easily, if at all. While it’s in Google’s best interest to gather as much data about you as legally possible, it would be very nice if the company offered a single toggle to turn off all tracking features (we can dream).
In 2005, a browser called Flock came onto the scene. It launched using Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine, and focused on the idea of social browsing. Later, it switched to WebKit, the same core rending engine used by Chrome (and Safari). It soon changed hands and was swiftly discontinued. Flock.com now cites the famous Twain quote “The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” and features a newsletter signup field. Flock might not be around anymore, but it does have a spiritual successor.
RockMelt launched in 2010 for Mac OS X, and it continued the idea of a social web browser. It integrates both Facebook and Twitter into the interface with the intention of making it easier to share and discuss web content very easily. It’s still not available in a finished form, but you can sign up to be notified of version 1.0′s release.
Now, many social extensions are available in the Chrome Web Store. Cortex, for example, is extremely useful for sharing content on social networks. It’s worth having around, but it just doesn’t have the same utility that a true social browser does. While extensions are good at sharing, there isn’t much in the way of receiving updates from friends in a simple and easy way. Chrome could certainly take a page out of RockMelt’s book, and the social experience could be greatly improved for the end-user.
Finally, a little browser called Robin is worth noting. It started out with the name Raven, then trademark concerns arose, and updates have been a bit spotty since. The beta download link isn’t even working as of publication. That said, it does include a rather good idea that Google could take advantage of: A dock.
Google introduced installable web apps in 2010, but there isn’t really a good way to launch and switch between them as you’re browsing. Robin solves this problem by having a dock permanently attached to the left hand side of the browser. Not only is it easy to launch and switch web apps, but navigation is also baked right in. For example, launching the Tumblr web app allows you to easily switch between your dashboard and editor. If Google wants web apps to overtake traditional native apps, this would be a good step in that direction.
In summary, each of these Chrome derivatives might not be revolutionary by themselves, but they do offer up some great ideas ripe for the taking. If Google starts implementing some of these concepts, the gap between Chrome and its competition will undoubtedly widen even further.
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