Mozilla Firefox has been out for more than five years and is just at Version 3.0. Apple Safari was originally released six years ago and is at Version 4.0. Google Chrome has been out for less than nine months, and Google just made Version 3.0 available. Google clearly is hell-bent on quickly making up for its late start in the browser market.
Of course, sometimes going too fast can be a bad thing, leading to a product that isn't as stable as one that takes a slower upgrade path. But while Google has been moving fast with its browser, so far things are looking good.
The Google Chrome 3.0 beta showcases several new features, most of which are examples of catching up to similar features in browsers such as Apple Safari, Opera and Mozilla Firefox. But they are welcome changes, and, if we see a few more additions by the time it releases, Chrome 3.0 looks like it will be a worthwhile upgrade.
From a usability standpoint, the most obvious new capabilities are found in the page that Chrome launches when a user opens a blank new tab in the browser. Chrome 3.0-like Safari and Opera-lets users customize this page, which by default shows thumbnails of the most frequently visited Websites.
I could choose to delete Websites from showing in this page and could move thumbnails by dragging and dropping them. I could also pin a site so that it would always show in a specific spot on the page no matter how frequently it was visited. It is also possible to display a list of sites, rather than thumbnails.
The Omnibox-the term for the address bar in the browser-has always been one of my favorite features of Chrome. Chrome auto-suggests content as a user types in the Omnibox, and in the 3.0 beta the browser also displays icons to show what type of content is being suggested-such as Websites, searches, or content from the browser bookmarks and history. This feature was nice, but the nature of the icons isn't instantly apparent (Is the clock history? Is the magnifying glass search?).
In the browser world, the generic term "chrome" has usually referred to the ability to trick out an interface with custom themes and icons. So it was always somewhat strange that Google Chrome had limited features for controlling the "chrome" of the browser.
That's all changed with the 3.0 beta, which provides users with the option for changing the look and feel of the browser by applying new themes. From the browser Options screen, choosing Get Themes took me to a Web page where there are currently 29 themes from which to choose. This is a pretty basic customization option, but it's a start.
Google has always emphasized the speed and performance of Chrome, and with the beta of Version 3.0 the company is once again touting the browser's speed. I used various online performance tests and Futuremark's Peacekeeper benchmark (at http://service.futuremark.com/peacekeeper/) to evaluate performance and found that the 3.0 beta did show an improvement over Chrome 2.0 and was right at the top of the browser performance chart alongside Safari 4.0.
Standards support is also being touted in Chrome 3.0, most noticeably in terms of support for the anticipated HTML 5 standard. Like Opera and Firefox 3.5, the Chrome 3.0 beta supports many elements of HTML 5, including the ability to run HTML natively within the browser without need for third-party plug-ins.
Chrome 3.0 also appears to improve on Chrome's already very good rating on the Web Standards Project's Acid3 test. During my evaluation, the Google Chrome 3.0 achieved a perfect score in the test.
If you are a Chrome user who subscribes to the beta or developer channels, your browser has most likely already upgraded to the 3.0 beta. If you'd like to download it yourself, to try it out, go to http://www.google.com/landing/chrome/beta/.
Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.