The new version of Google's Chrome browser adds speed, password syncing and a new Options tab.
As Web sites become increasingly complex, streaming media becomes more common, and applications migrate from PC-client-based to Web-based, it becomes increasingly important for browsers to be as fast and responsive as possible. In fact, if you spend most of your life in Web-based apps, a speedy browser has gone from being a nice-to-have to a must-have.
The just-released Chrome 10 comes with speed improvements that make Web sites load faster and Web-based apps run more quickly. It also offers a revamped Options interface, such as improved security and better syncing. Put them all together and you have a winning upgrade.
A need for speed
Results showed that Chrome has caught up to the long-time speed champion, Opera. Chrome 10 averaged 312.23 milliseconds (ms) to complete the tests, while Opera 11.01 averaged 309.97ms -- a virtual dead heat. Safari 5.0.3 came in at 406.933ms, with Firefox 3.6.15 well behind at an average 978.37ms and Internet Explorer 8 lagging at 5,035.07ms.
Keep in mind, however, that Internet Explorer 9 could take the lead once it becomes an official release on March 14. My tests showed Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate proved to be fastest of all the browsers with a 274.6ms average time. In addition, Firefox 4 Beta 12 took 321.3ms to complete the tests, essentially a dead heat with Chrome and Opera.
Feeds and speeds are one thing, but personal experience is another. I can vouch that virtually every Web site I visited was exceptionally fast and responsive, whether it was a simple, straightforward page, one that featured plenty of graphics or a Web-based app.
The upshot: If you want fast browsing and responsive Web-based apps, you want this version of Chrome.
Happy news for tweakers
The most noticeable change in Chrome 10 is the Options settings, and they'll be welcomed by tweakers and anyone who ever changes Chrome options. When you click the gear icon in the upper-right corner and select Options (Preferences on a Mac), the menu now opens in its own tab rather than in a relatively small window, as with previous releases, making it easier to find the options you want to change.
More important is that you can now search through Options, so you don't have to hunt around for the feature you want to change. For example, if you want to make changes to any settings related to downloads or passwords, type in one of those terms, and you'll be sent directly to those settings.
As you use Options, the Omnibox (Google's name for the address bar) displays a local URL for your location -- for example, chrome://settings/advanced for advanced settings and chrome://settings/browser for basic settings. In some instances, an individual Option feature or setting will have its own URL, such as chrome://settings/passwordManager for the Password Manager. You can add this to your bookmarks if it's a feature you frequently use, which I found very convenient.
What else is new
Syncing among multiple computers and devices has been improved as well. Chrome 9 already synced bookmarks among versions of Chrome running on Windows PCs, Macs, Linux systems and Android Honeycomb devices such as the Motorola Xoom. (The Honeycomb browser looks and works like Chrome but is actually based on different code, although it syncs with Chrome.) With Chrome 10, passwords now sync as well.
I've found that to be a big bonus, because I use Chrome as my primary browser on my PC, Mac and Xoom. So now when I need to log into my Computerworld blog or my online library account from any of my devices, I no longer need to remember passwords.
Also added is increased security for synced data -- your passwords are encrypted so that they can't be snooped on.
It did take some time for me to figure out how to get the syncing feature to work. Finally, I was able to get it to sync by going to the Personal Stuff options page (chrome://settings/personal), clicking Customize and then clicking OK on the Encryption tab. After that, it took about 45 minutes for all the passwords to sync.
Chrome's already solid security has also been improved. Earlier versions of Chrome already used a virtual sandbox, in which programs were isolated from the rest of your computer, so that they couldn't break out of the browser and infect your PC. In Chrome 10, the browser's integrated Flash player is now sandboxed as well for PCs running Windows Vista or Windows 7.
The bottom line
Chrome may have only 10.9% of the browser market by the latest figures, but this version may help change that. If you don't yet use Chrome, you may want to try it out for the speed improvement alone. The new Options tab and the ability to sync passwords are the icing on the cake.
Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).