6 Google Chrome remixes worth trying out

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

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Comodo Dragon

Here's an interesting concept: A variant of Chrome re-branded by security software outfit Comodo as a safe-browsing tool. Comodo Dragon, as it's called, is functionally identical to Chrome, but it sports a slightly reworked interface and a few security-related changes under the hood.

On installing Dragon, one of the options you're given is to use Comodo's own Secure DNS servers, either with Dragon alone or for your entire system. This feature, Secure DNS, automatically blocks access to websites that have been flagged as untrustworthy by Comodo's threat-detection network. You can toggle it back off if it creates more problems than it solves. (I ran into no issues myself.)

You can also elect to set up Dragon in a "portable" installation, where the program's executables and options are all stored in a single directory -- handy if you're using PortableApps or some other self-contained app solution, or if you want to try out Dragon side-by-side with an existing browser.

Cosmetically, Dragon resembles Chrome, but a few key changes have been implemented. Dragon's wrench menu is accessed by clicking the icon at the upper left-hand corner of the window. In place of the wrench menu is a quick link to Comodo's Site Inspector service, which can tell you whether a given website is a source of malware. Wedged between that and the omnibox is a button for quickly sharing the current page on one of a number of popular social networks (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn).

Like Iron, Dragon has a bundle of under-the-hood changes that address privacy issues, many of them identical to the changes Iron implements, such as removing the Chrome client ID system, RLZ tracking, and error-reporting mechanisms. Another addition is an option to suppress the HTTP-REFERRER header, essentially an implementation of the Do Not Track policy. That said, regular Chrome users could use Google's own Keep My Opt-Outs add-on to achieve much the same effect.

Other new options include allowing incognito browsing by default and clearing history and cookies automatically at exit. Dragon also uses its own custom updater, not Google's, again as a privacy-protection measure.

RockMelt

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.

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