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Google Launches Chrome Beta for Adventurous Browser Users

By Jack M. Germain
Mar 18, 2009 2:26 PM PT

Google opened a new channel on Tuesday to distribute its latest beta release of the Chrome browser. The company also began on Tuesday a blog devoted exclusively to the Chrome browser.

Google Launches Chrome Beta for Adventurous Browser Users

Google launched Chrome as a beta in September of 2008; a final-release 1.0 version come out in December. By last month, it had grabbed 1.12 percent of the market behind Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari, according to data from Net Applications. Since then, Google has issued 29 updates, each revision finessing Google Chrome's speed, stability and usability, according to a post in the new blog by Jason Toff of the Google Chrome team.

Speed is clearly the most noticeable improvement in the latest Chrome beta release, Toff noted. Compared to the current stable version, this new Chrome beta is some 25 percent faster on Google's V8 benchmark and 35 percent faster on the Sunspider benchmark, he said. It is nearly twice as fast as the first Chrome beta version, he added.

"I can't think of a single reason why Chrome won't be accepted. We might see some success with it," Zippy Aima, analyst at ABI Research, told TechNewsWorld.

Channeling Attention

Until Tuesday, Google maintained two regular outlets for its beta versions. Since taking the beta tag off Google Chrome in December, the company has been updating its browser on two release channels, developer and stable, according to Brian Rakowski, product manager.

Now Google will use the new beta channel to regularly update Google Chrome with new speed enhancements, features and bug fixes, Rakowski said.

The goal is to turn out new features quickly as they are ready instead of waiting for occasional major releases, he explained. However, faithful beta users yearning for the latest new adornments should expect flaws and problems, as the software is still a work in progress. Those bugs are just what Google's Chrome developers want to hear about. The new Chrome channel will provide a system for rapid user feedback.

Featured Features

Better speed performance aside, the new Chrome beta version introduces several new features. These additions focus on convenience and usability factors. They include form autofill, full page zoom and autoscroll.

Perhaps the snazziest new feature is a new way to drag tabs out to get a side-by-side view. Preeset docking positions quickly resize the browser window. Dragging a tab to a pre-defined location snaps it to that docking position.

Clicking the middle button or mouse wheel activates auto-scrolling. As users move the mouse, the page automatically scrolls according to the direction of the mouse. New zoom options increase or decrease the size of text on a Web page.

The form autofill feature keeps track of visited Web sites and the content entered in text boxes there. On return visits users can autopopulate the text field with the saved information.

Room for More?

Google's push to grow a user base for its Chrome browser comes at a time when rumors abound about Microsoft possibly ending development of its Explorer browser. Also, Google recently joined the European Union's antitrust case against Microsoft. The EU has charged Microsoft with abusing its dominant market position by bundling its Internet Explorer Web browser with its Windows personal computer operating system.

"It's almost mind-boggling, all the excitement that is developing over Web browsers. They are the new gateway to the Internet," Al Hilwa, program director for application development software at research firm IDC, told TechNewsWorld.

Google faces a market with five popular alternatives bashing it out, he said. Browsers are becoming the new operating systems for computer users. Today's browsers have their own languages and programming styles.

'Vigorous Competition'

Google's activities in the browser battles are a good thing for consumers, according to Hilwa. The competition is providing better performance, features, speed and security.

"What we need is vigorous competition to keep innovation going," He said.

The prominence of open source in the browser space is also highly significant, noted Aima.

"Anything based on open source is interesting to see," she said.

Likes and Dislikes

Google's various Web-based applications have drawn mixed reactions from users. The same could occur with Chrome.

Bill Trifiro, an account executive for Matter Communications, has been using Google Chrome since the launch of the beta browser. In general, he prefers it over some of Google's other products. The browser is cleaner, more intuitive than the rest of the pack and pulls up pages more quickly, he noted.

"I have the big three browsers on my desktop, and Chrome gets the most use," Trifiro told TechNewsWorld.

Early Problems

Still, Chrome has its drawbacks. For instance, Chrome and Internet Explorer do not play well together and will sometimes lead to freezing his computer, he said. He experienced this problem on three different computers, each with decent processor speeds and RAM.

"I sometimes have to have IE and Chrome open at the same time because there are still Web pages that run applications that do not work with Chrome. For instance, it was only a couple of weeks ago that Hotmail began to work with Chrome, and even now there are bugs, so I use IE or Firefox. Some video apps on, say, Hulu work with Chrome, some don't. I have the same problem if I go to Fox.com or any of the other major networks and try to watch a show," Trifiro said.

The other big issue Trifiro has with Chrome is its download function. Chrome tends to force the download to the Download folder. An Icon at the bottom left side of the screen allows users to click and drag the file to the desired destination folder. But this is an extra step that essentially wastes hard drive space because the same files save to two different places instead of just one.

Rakuten Super Logistics
Is "too much screen time" really a problem?
Yes -- smartphone addiction is ruining relationships.
Yes -- but primarily due to parents' failure to regulate kids' use.
Possibly -- long-term effects on health are not yet known.
Not really -- lack of self-discipline and good judgement are the problems.
No -- angst over "screen time" is just the latest overreaction to technology.
No -- what matters is the quality of content, not the time spent viewing it.