Thursday, August 6, 2009

Google Chrome - New Beta Released

Google has announced the availability of a new beta release of its Chrome Web browser. This version introduces several new features and user interface improvements, including support for a theming system that allows users to customize the browser's look.

Chrome was first released last year and hit 1.0 on Windows in December. Although the product was somewhat feature-anemic at launch, Google has been fleshing it out and adding a lot of useful features. The browser is attracting a growing number of users and is said to have overtaken Opera based on marketshare statistics published by several analytics firms. Google is building an entire operating system around the browser and is planning to thrust it into the fragmented netbook market later next year.

The new Chrome beta release brings significant improvements to JavaScript performance. Although Google adopted Apple's WebKit renderer, the search giant opted to build its own high-performance JavaScript virtual machine called V8. Google contends that the new and improved version of the V8 engine that is included in the latest beta is 30 percent faster than the one in the latest official stable version. This is a significant leap forward and it strongly confirms Google's assertion following Chrome's launch that V8 had plenty of room for further optimization.

The new beta also introduces support for themes. These can change the appearance of Chrome's chrome, including the tabs, the titlebar, the URL bar, the bookmarks toolbar, and the window frame. A Chrome design document draft has been published that describes how to create themes. Each theme consists of a JSON file that specifies the theme's graphical resources, colors, and positioning.

Google provides a gallery with some sample themes that can be used to test the system. Some of these, such as the Baseball theme, are rather exotic. To my eye, none of the sample themes really outshine the default look and feel, but the potential for customization will likely appeal to many users.

The browser's new tab page got a visual overhaul and now allows users to hide individual history items. The omnibox's built-in autocompletion got a subtle enhancement with the addition of icons that indicate the type of the individual autocompletion results. It's a nice improvement over previous versions and it helps improve the browser's usability.

The new Chrome beta delivers some HTML5 features, such as support for Web worker threads and rendering the
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