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Google Chrome 13 ReviewDigit Rating: Excellent4.5/5NAFeatures:NAPerformance:NAValue:NADesign:
- Excellent security through sandboxing and malware warnings.
- Instant site prediction and loading. Easy installation.
- Excellent tab implementation. Extensions for customization.
- Bookmark and preference syncing.
- Tab process isolation.
- Strong support for HTML 5.
- Built-in Flash player and PDF reader.
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- No built-in "do not track" feature.
- Still some occasional minor site incompatibilities.
Chrome Instant means your Web page is ready to read before you finish typing the address. This, its speed, minimalist design, and advanced support for HTML5 have been attracting more and more users to the browser. New for version 13: Instant Pages loads pages before you click on a link and Print Preview finally arrives.
Google continues to innovate with its Chrome browser in some ways, while playing catch-up with other longer-term players in other ways. To wit: This unluckily numbered version adds the ground-breaking Instant Pages feature, while also bringing on-board a feature other browsers have offered for years: print preview. But for the most part, the competition, including Firefox (Free, 4.5 stars), Internet Explorer (Free, 4 stars), Safari (Free, 4 stars), and Opera 11, has struggled to equal Chrome's sparse user interface and speedy operation. Firefox's makers have even emulated Google's fast update schedule. Chrome, our Editors' Choice, continues to lead the pack with its page-display speed, support for new Web functionality, and its minimalist application window that lets the Web page shine unimpeded.
Previous releases have brought major new features, such as bookmark syncing, a bookmark manager, a built-in PDF reader, and extensions, though others have just added speed, stability, and new standards support. Version 9 took a page from Google search, with the remarkable Chrome Instant, as well as from IE9, by including graphics hardware acceleration. Its fine design, compatibility, and especially the speed have impressed the Web community enough to make Chrome the fastest growing browser in terms of market share, recently passing 13 percent. Let's take a look at what makes this browser so special.
Even the setup process shows Chrome's commitment to speed: Just click the Install button on the Chrome Web page, and you'll have the browser up and running in less than a minute, with no wizard to go through and no system restart. The browser's now available for Mac OS X and Linux, as well as Windows. In each platform the browser's up and running before you realize it, and it updates itself automatically in the background.
Chrome Instant Pages
Not to be confused with Chrome Instant (see below) or Google Instant (which works on all browser to load Google search results as you type), Chrome Instant Pages requires both Chrome and a site that supports the feature. Of the latter, there is now just one important one: Google Search. The idea is that when you perform a search in Google, the browser will pre-load the page for the result link you're most likely to click on.
In several tests on a slower Wi-Fi connection, however, I only noticed an occasional improvement for simple pages. It seemed only to work for the first result link. Heavy multimedia sites still took their time to load. On a very fast wired connection, some page result were extremely fast, but in that case, you don't really benefit from pre-loading. I saw a definitely faster load for grainger.com than in Opera on the same connection. The idea makes a lot of sense though, particularly for multipage articles, where it's most likely that the next link you'll hit is the one labeled "Next."
Built-in Flash and PDF Support
Chrome is the only browser to come with Adobe Flash built in, rather than requiring a separate (and annoying) installation. And not having to perform the frequent required updates of the Flash plugin separately is another boon—it updates automatically with the browser. With version 10, many of the security issues with Flash (famously bemoaned by Apple's Steve Jobs) went away, thanks to running the plugin in an isolated sandbox so that it doesn't have access to critical system areas. But note that this sandboxing only applies to the Windows 7 and Vista versions of Chrome at this point.
Chrome boasts a PDF reader as well, so you don't have to worry about installing any Adobe plugins for viewing specialized Web content. When you load a PDF, an intuitive toolbar shows when your mouse cursor is in the southeast vicinity of the browser window. From this, you can have the document fill the width of the window, show a full page, or zoom in and out. By default, you can select text for cutting and pasting, but I couldn't copy and paste images. You can print the PDF as you would any Web page.
In Chrome 13, the PDF viewer takes on yet a new role: As a print preview feature. Unlike IE's print preview, Chrome's shows up in a tab rather than its own window. But you have to go through it to print: In IE, I can just click the printer icon to send a page to the printer if I don't want to fuss with settings. I could choose between color and B&W, portrait and landscape, and choose the target printer, or print to PDF.
An Advanced button got me into the printer's own settings dialog, but this dismissed the print preview, making me have to choose Print from the menu again. But Chrome didn't let me choose a zoom percentage for the printout as Firefox and IE did, nor did it let me turn page headers on and off or choose margin sizes in a Page Setup dialog as those two did. So Chrome's print preview is a decent start, but it's still a bit behind the competition.
Minimalism has been a hallmark of Chrome since its first beta release. Tabs are above everything, and the only row below them holds the combined search/address bar, or "Omnibox." Here you can type any part of an address or page title, and the most likely site candidates will be presented in a dropdown. Optionally you can display bookmark links in a row below this. And the control buttons on the top-right of the browser window have been reduced to the absolute minimum—just one. Google has removed the Page icon and placed some of its functions under the Wrench choice. Some Page options have been combined into buttons on one line in the menu, such as Cut, Copy, and Paste. I like what Google's done with the Zoom choice on the menu, adding plus and minus buttons that save you from having to fly out another submenu.
Another theme in the Chrome interface is that everything looks like a Web page, displaying in the main browser window, rather than in separate dialog boxes. This includes the interfaces for History, Extensions, and Bookmarks. With version 10 the Settings page got this same treatment.
This is one of the niftiest things added to Chrome in a while. Start typing a Web address in the Omnibox, and before you're even done, a page from your history or a search result page is displayed below in the main browser window. I just type "PC," and PCMag.com is already loaded. The idea was first implemented in Google search's Instant feature, but I think it's even more useful in the browser than in search, where I usually ignore it and finish typing my query anyway: Most sites we visit, we've visited before, so having them ready to go before you even finish typing is a big speeder-upper.
Chrome can also boast a less visible and less touted way of speeding up browser: it supports SPDY, an HTTP replacement that compresses header data and allows persistent connections between server and browsers. It turns out that some Google sites are already using SPDY when you browse with Chrome. As with Instant Pages, the technology is available to other Web publishers to implement, but again, Google itself is the most important player to support it.
Chrome also still sports excellent tab implementation. Tabs are prominent at the top of the browser window, and you can drag them out to the desktop to create independent windows (and drag them back in later) or split them side by side à la Windows 7 Aero Snap.
Google has put considerable thought into Chromes's new tab page, which shows links to your most-visited pages, Web apps, and recently closed tabs. All but the last can be expanded to large thumbnails, which you can move around and pin in place, or remove if you don't want them to appear.
In Chrome 9, Google added the Apps section to the new tab page, showing any Web apps you've installed, along with a link to the Chrome Web Store, but as with any section of the page, you can click an X to its right to turn it off. If you've synced Chrome on different computers (see below), the Apps section with be the same on all. For more on the store, check out the Chrome App Store section of my Hands On with Chrome OS. Any apps you've added on a Chrome OS machine will also appear in the browser on any other computer you log into Chrome on, and vice versa. But you're not likely to have a Chrome OS machine at this point.
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