From Bloomberg

Review by Grace Aquino

Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) — Why replace a perfectly good Web browser like Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari with Google Inc.’s new Chrome? Because you want something simpler, a little faster, and less prone to crashing.

Google, the search engine giant based in Mountain View, California, released the beta, or test, version of Chrome last week, a Web browser that competes directly with market leader Internet Explorer 7, or IE7, from Microsoft Corp. Chrome also takes on Mozilla’s Firefox 3 and Apple Inc.‘s Safari 3 browsers; both have loyal followings but aren’t as widely used as IE.

I tested Chrome for a few days to see how it ranks against the competition. While it isn’t an absolute breakthrough, it does offer a few innovations and hits the mark on speed, stability and simplicity.

Chrome was noticeably faster in rendering Web pages than IE7 and Safari. Firefox was about as speedy as Chrome, but it lagged behind with multiple pages open simultaneously.

With more than a dozen sites open, including streaming radio, Chrome was able to maintain fairly steady performance, while its rivals tended to slow down or sometimes crash my four- year-old Dell PC.

Chrome uses a system that helps keep your computer running even when an application freezes, Google software engineer Darin Fisher and tech lead manager Lars Bak said in a telephone interview. Unlike other browsers, each website open in Chrome runs as a separate browser; if one stops working it shouldn’t affect the others.

Plain Interface

Similar to Google’s other online applications, Chrome is designed to be a very lean, simple browser. The emphasis is on the content of the page, not the user interface, software engineer Ben Goodger said in a phone interview. Chrome certainly has the plainest user interface of any browser I’ve used, including IE, Firefox, Safari and Opera.

Chrome currently runs only on Windows XP and Vista PCs, though Google plans to make it available for Mac and Linux machines in the future.

Chrome does lack certain features that some people might miss, including a menu bar (with function categories like File, Edit and View), a status bar, and an option to organize bookmarks. The Google Chrome team said they plan to add that last feature at some point.

What you get now is the bare minimum: back and forward buttons, a refresh button, an add-to-bookmarks star icon, a page icon with a drop-down list that includes Find in page (a page search function), Text zoom (for increasing or decreasing font size) and Copy and Paste. There’s also a wrench icon with a drop- down list that includes Options, History and Downloads.

Tab to Search

When I opened the browser for the first time, it imported my existing bookmarks from Firefox, adding the bookmarks bar and bookmarks folder in Chrome’s interface. The address bar, called Omnibox, doubles as a search field — a feature that’s also available in IE7 and Firefox 3.

The difference with Omnibox is the ability to run a search directly in a Web site’s own search engine — a feature called Tab to Search. For example, to search in Wikipedia, I typed the letter “W” in Chrome’s address bar (the first letter was sufficient because Wikipedia was already in my browsing history), pressed the Tab key on my keyboard and then typed my query. It can be a great time-saving tool.

Web Applications

Chrome is currently the only browser that lets you add icon shortcuts for Web applications to a Windows desktop, Start menu or Quick Launch bar (the gray bar at the bottom or side of your screen).

This enables a Web application or service like Gmail or Zoho Writer to behave like a desktop program. A difference is that the applications require an Internet connection and data is stored online instead of on your computer, a concept known as cloud computing.

To add icons to your Windows desktop, use the page icon on Chrome’s toolbar and select “Create application shortcuts.” When you double-click the icon from your desktop, Chrome takes you to the online application’s Web page. You won’t see any of the browser’s toolbars or buttons, so it looks like a standard application.

Chrome’s desktop shortcut feature could be the early stages of a Google operating system, squarely competing against Microsoft’s Windows platform. Instead of running a program on Windows, you’re running it online.

Unobtrusive Downloads

I like the way Chrome simplifies the file download process. It’s the first browser I’ve seen that downloads documents without opening a separate window. It creates an unobtrusive downloads bar and file icon at the bottom of the browser. You click the icon to open the file.

Those who want to keep their browsing habits private can use the Incognito window. It allows you to visit sites without leaving traces of your browsing history on your machine. Safari and the beta version of IE8 offer similar features.

Clever browsing concepts and speed made Chrome easy and fun to use. Though I suspect most people will continue using what’s already on their machine, Google’s browser is definitely one to watch.

Google Chrome Free Rating: 7/10 http://www.google.com/chrome

(Grace Aquino is a columnist for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Grace Aquino at aquinograce@gmail.com

Last Updated: September 8, 2008 00:02 EDT

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