Friday, August 14, 2009

10 Reasons Why We Don't Need Another Browser


News Analysis: Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist and founder of Netscape Communications—the company that created the first popular Web browser—has invested in a new startup called RockMelt. The business plan of this venture: to market yet another new browser. But with so many browsers already available, it hardly seems possible that there is room for another.

Famed investor Marc Andreessen is at it again. Andreessen announced recently that he has invested in an early-stage startup called RockMelt, which promises a new browser experience. He wouldn't divulge any information about the browser, but he said that it's being built from scratch to reflect market desire. Great. But the problem is, we just don't need another browser.

Right now, the market is overrun with a variety of browsers that appeal to every need. Flock is for the social-networking fanatic. Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Google's Chrome browser are for companies and consumers looking for a traditional browsing experience. Opera and Safari are less-popular than the competition, but they also offer some nice features that appeal to end users. And that's just a small sampling. There are many more browsers. It's a crowded space.

The companies competing in the market are innovating at a rapid rate. Mozilla's Firefox is faster than ever. Microsoft has high hopes for Internet Explorer 8, and Chrome is one of the most user-friendly browsers ever made. Is there room for another browser to further segment the market? I don't think so.

Here's why:

1. What will it offer?
Unless RockMelt has something innovative and unique that Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Mozilla employees haven't thought about, it's doubtful that RockMelt will grab users attention. At this point, consumers want speed and more usability. Current browsers are addressing those desires with each new update.

2. The name means something
Microsoft is the leader in the browser market because its software is installed on Windows and, just as importantly, Internet Explorer is a browser that comes from a trusted source. The same can be said for Mozilla's Firefox, Google's Chrome, and Apple's Safari. Companies and consumers tend to deploy browsers from companies they know. RockMelt will have a difficult time addressing that issue.

3. Is it really worth it?
Although Mozilla is gloating that its browser has hit over one billion downloads, it took seven years to do it. Microsoft has far more users than that. RockMelt would have to win over users from the millions of people who are already comfortable working with Mozilla and Internet Explorer.

4. What we have is just fine
Maybe it's me, but I think the selection of browsers currently available to end users is just fine. If the user wants extensions, they can use Firefox. If they want a Microsoft product, they can have Internet Explorer. If they want speed, they can use Chrome. What purpose will RockMelt serve?

Resource Library:

5. Extensions are extremely important
One of the main reasons why users download Firefox and subsequently stick with it is its thousands of extensions. From social networking tools to e-commerce add-ons, the browser goes beyond Web surfing. It's a key advantage Mozilla enjoys. It's also one of the main reasons why so many Firefox users are loath to switch to other browsers. RockMelt will be no exception.

6. Third-party application integration
Several companies use Internet Explorer because some enterprise software is only compatible with Microsoft's browser. If employees want to be able to access an online application when they're away from the office, it might require Internet Explorer. If Mozilla and Chrome haven't been able to break those companies away from Internet Explorer, I don't see how RockMelt can.

7. Innovation continues
Although every browser on the market today is in need of some improvements, they're constantly being updated to address those shortcomings. Google, Apple, Microsoft, and the others are currently working on ways to increase their userbase with new features. Who's to say RockMelt can improve upon the innovation that continues in the market?

8. Time matters
When RockMelt finally releases its browser is anyone's guess. Andreessen told The New York Times in a recent interview that RockMelt is still in its early development stages. And since it's building the browser "from scratch," it could take quite a long time before it's released. The market could be a different place by then. And RockMelt's browser might be obsolete the day it's released.

9. The OS is going online
We also can't forget about Chrome OS. With Google and Microsoft vying for the online OS market, it's possible that browsers might be a thing of the past. Over time, I believe more computing will move to the Web, causing browsers to be a part of the computing experience, rather than being a tool to help us surf the Web. If RockMelt isn't prepared for that, it could be a problem.

10. Competition is fierce enough
There is still competition in the marketplace. RockMelt will be up against major companies with billions of dollars in cash to invest in anything they want. If RockMelt innovates in the marketplace, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla probably wouldn't hesitate to build a similar feature into their own browsers. In the meantime, RockMelt and its relatively nominal market share would be pushed aside.

Overall, it seems that a new browser is an awfully tough sell.

Netscape founder backs new browser RockMelt


Netscape Communications founder Marc Andreessen is reportedly back in the Internet browser business, backing a new browser named RockMelt that is being created by a pair of former business partners.

The New York Times reported that it has been told by unnamed sources that Andreessen is helping Eric Vishria and Tim Howes, who he co-founded Opsware Inc. with. Howes also worked with him at Netscape. Opsware was sold to Hewlett-Packard Co. (NASDAQ:HPQ) in 2007 for $1.6 billion.

Little is known about the new browser, but the Times reported that language that was included in the privacy policy indicated that it is designed to work somehow with Facebook. Andreessen is on the board of the Palo Alto social networking service.

In an interview with the Times earlier this summer, Andreessen hinted that he was backing creation of a new browser but didn't provide details, only saying, "There are all kinds of things that you would do differently if you are building a browser from scratch."