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Google Chrome, the first web browser from the search engine giant, was released for download this week in a beta version.
Will it be a serious rival for Internet Explorer, Firefox and other browsers though? Here's a run-through of some of its features...
Chrome looks good, and has managed to ditch much of the clutter that characterises other web browsers. The toolbars and most of the normal buttons have all gone, leaving just the URL bar, links to options, and back buttons.
This means that more of a website's content can now be seen above the fold, which can only be a good thing.
Merged search / URL
This is an excellent idea, which simplifies the use of the browser, as well as reducing clutter. Users can now either type in a web address or a search term, and the box will handle both.
This uses your browsing history to suggest either websites or search terms, making it unnecessary in most cases to enter a URL at all.
Google Chrome certainly seems faster than IE or Firefox for the various sites I have loaded so far, and noticeably so.
ZDNet has some performance benchmarks, comparing the performance of Chrome with other popular browsers and Google's beta version managed to beat the competition.
In fact, it came out ten times faster than IE8, which is pretty impressive for a beta product.
Chrome learns from your browsing history and presents you with your most visited pages when you open the browser or click on a new tab. A simple feature, but one that saves time spent opening bookmarks or typing in the URL.
Other useful links are also displayed on this page, including any recently bookmarked pages or tabs that have recently been closed. Google also provides a box for you to search through your browsing history:
The tabs on Chrome are nice and easy to manipulate. I like Firefox, but prefer the option of clicking on a new tab to open it rather than CTRL + T. With Chrome you can do either.
You can also drag tabs around and change their position and, rather than having to select 'open in new window' as on other browsers, you can simply drag any tab out into a separate window, then back again. A nice touch.
This is a pretty impressive feature. As with Windows task manager, you can see what processes are going on in the separate Chrome tabs.
You can select this by right-clicking in the browser's title bar:
This gives you a useful rundown of active processes within the browser, and lets you know how much of your network resources, memory and CPU are being used by the browser.
This is handy to see which websites are using most of your CPU and potentially slowing down your computer and, as on Windows, you can end any processes for this reason.
If you want more information, the 'stats for nerds' link gives you this in much greater detail:
If you want to browse when you should really be working without leaving a trace, or look at anything else you shouldn't be, or perhaps for more legitimate reasons, Chrome has provided an 'incognito mode'.
This means that any pages you view in this mode will not be recorded in your search or browser history, and cookies and other traces will not be left on your computer afterwards.
With the merged search / URL bar, the Google Toolbar is unnecessary for Chrome users, but there are a few features that would be useful.
One benefit of using Firefox is the number of useful add-ons that have been developed for the browser and these are unavailable on Chrome. For instance, I use the Delicious plug in to bookmark useful web pages, as well as some screenshot and SEO tools.
Still, Chrome is in beta for the moment, so it may just be a matter of time before third party add-ons are developed for Google's browser.
Will it beat Internet Explorer?
The browser is at an early stage in its development, but on first impressions Google Chrome could be a serious rival for IE, and Firefox.
Most web users simply use Internet Explorer because it is already installed on their PCs and laptops, and are either too lazy to change or unaware of the alternatives.
This fact alone will be a major barrier to the growth of Chrome, but it is an excellent product and Google certainly has the resources to mount a serious challenge to Microsoft's dominance of the browser market.
It is fast, attractive, and contains some excellent features which IE cannot match at the moment. If you haven't already tried it out, I'd definitely recommend giving it a go.
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