Chrome reflects need for internet speed

Google says the release of its internet browser, Chrome, is simply to encourage more people to use the web more often, instead of outmoded means of communication such as the telephone.

For that, it says, speed is of the essence, and Google Chrome certainly shines in this respect.

But on first impressions, Chrome lacks that single knock-out feature that one might expect from a browser that has been two years in development at one of the world's leading web companies.

Indeed, many of its features are already available in other browsers - conveniently packaged into one slick bundle.

Opening regular web pages on Google Chrome is noticeably faster than the most widely used versions of its competitors, Mozilla Firefox 2 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.

Pages load in a heartbeat, and navigation backwards and forwards between previously viewed pages is also smooth.

It does not feel quite the same leap forward as the 2004 launch of Firefox, which was a vast improvement on IE, but back then the browser market had lacked competition for some time.

Chrome's speed gap over the very latest releases of Firefox (version 3) and IE (version 8) narrows, but it has the edge in most cases.

Where Chrome is really designed to improve on its rivals is in showing complex, data-intensive web pages, such as Facebook, Gmail and Google Maps.

Google's own demonstrations of its browser have suggested Chrome is about three times faster than its main rivals at rendering such sites. But to the naked eye, Firefox looks just as smooth when zooming in and out of Google Maps or opening e-mails in Gmail.

Beyond speed, Chrome's main features include anonymous browsing - the very same privacy feature in IE8 that many interpreted as a way for Microsoft to impede Google advertising technology; an opening screen that offers pictures of recently or commonly viewed sites, similar to Opera's "speed dial" design for favourites; and underlying technology that promises to prevent crashes.

Chrome is named after the area at the top of a browser screen that contains the address bar, tabs, settings and navigation buttons.

By "hiding" lesser-used features, this area is narrower, leaving more room to show the web page and makes for a cleaner, simpler look.

The address bar and search box have been merged, while personal favourites are also found by googling words here.

This is reminiscent of Firefox 3's new "awesome bar", which automatically suggests popular, bookmarked or visited pages as you begin to type. Chrome is not perfect in its current "beta" testing incarnation.

But its main contribution to its stated mission of making the web easier to use may be the decision to give away all of the Chrome source code for free. This will allow programmers to improve on Google's attempt at creating an internet browser.

By Tim Bradshaw

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