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Google Chrome 6: Hands On

In its two years of life, Chrome has made quite a dent in the field of Web browsers. Not only has it captured nearly 7 percent of the browser market, but it’s influenced competitors with its minimalist design and breathtaking speed. Though it doesn’t introduce any earth-shattering new features, version six extends Chrome’s JavaScript speed lead, and it pares down an already trim design. I took the new browser version out for a spin, and in general, the tweaks in version six represent a net gain.

Interface Changes
Already notable for its groundbreaking, stripped-down interface, Chrome 6 takes it one step further. The new version reduces the control buttons on the top-right of the browser window to the minimum—just one. Google has removed the Page icon and placed some of its functions under the Wrench choice (which has amusingly been pointed in the opposite direction, facing left instead of right as in previous versions). Some Page options have been combined into buttons on one line in the new menu, such as Cut, Copy, and Paste. I like what they’ve done with the Zoom choice, adding plus and minus buttons that save you from having to fly out another submenu.

A lot of other choices have been tucked into the new Tools submenu, which won’t delight folks who don’t like lots of flyout submenus in the style of Windows XP’s old start menu. I was surprised to see the “Create application shortcuts” choice buried here, since it was the very top choice in Chrome 5’s Page menu—emphasizing Google’s Web site-as-application world view.
Another interface change shows up in the “Omnibar”—the combined address and search box. For starters, it’s grown. And the Favorites star has been moved from its own button on the left to inside the right side of the search box. A new icon to the left of the Omnibar changes between indicating search, with a magnifying glass, to a globe for when you’ve typed in a URL instead of just any old words.

Also completely gone is the Home icon—a browser staple since the days of Netscape. And perhaps less noticeably, the “Go” arrow is gone, too. I find this occasionally useful, and am sorry to see it go: Sometimes it’s more convenient to do a mouse click than to hit Enter on the keyboard. Along with all these button changes, the default color scheme has been subtly toned down, with light blue and white succumbing to shades of gray.

Speed Tests
Once again, Chrome is the JavaScript speed king, judging by WebKit’s SunSpider JavaScript benchmark. Running the test on my 3.16-GHz Core 2 Duo with 4GB RAM under Windows 7 Ultimate yielded a time of 329ms, compared with 386 for version 5—a 15 percent improvement. Here’s how the rest of the competition line up:

Browser Result in ms
(smaller is better)
Google Chrome 6 329
Google Chrome 5 386
Opera 10.6 387
Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview 4 422
Safari 4 444
Firefox 4 beta 4 522
Firefox 3.6 863
Internet Explorer 8 3989

But JavaScript is just one component of browser performance. The Internet Explorer team up at Microsoft has made much hay about “hardware accelerated graphics” in the browser, and though Google doesn’t make claims about implementing a similar technique in version six, it does allude to this coming down the pike on the Google Chrome Blog: “We’re hard at work on making Chrome even faster, and working on ways to improve graphics performance in the browser through hardware acceleration. ”

Standards Tests
Google recently made Internet waves with its Arcade Fire interactive Web video to show off its support for new HTML5 features. Google got some flak from TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld for the page only working in Chrome, despite the fact that other browsers support HTML5. But clearly, “support for HTML5” is far from being a binary yes or no state of affairs. A couple of Web tests bear this out.

It’s not news that Chrome still passes the Web Standards Project’s Acid3 test, with 100 out of a possible 100. More granular, however, is the HTML5Test, which shows how many HTML5 elements and features a browser supports out of 300. It also notes “bonus” points for features that aren’t required parts of HTML5, but are good to have, such as extra video codecs. On this test, Chrome ups its game from a score of 197 with 7 bonus points in Chrome 5 to 217 and 10 bonus points in version six. This takes it past Safari 4 for the lead. Here’s how it compares with other browsers:

Score(out of 300)
Bonus Points
Google Chrome 6 217 10
Apple Safari 4 207 7
Google Chrome 5 197 7
Opera 10.6 159 7
Firefox 3.6 139 4
Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview 96 3
Internet Explorer 8 27 0

In my anecdotal testing of the browser, I didn’t come across any mis-rendered or nonfunctional pages, even for pesky financial and corporate Web app sites like Fidelity and Omniture. Extensions like the Chromed Bird Twitter client worked fine, and if you’re concerned with privacy as some are, there’s even a Google Alarm extension to let you know when Google’s collecting your information.

Shinier New Chrome?
In all, this birthday version of Chrome doesn’t add striking new features: It’s more of a tweak. But it does show progress and improvements in design and performance. If you’re using Chrome 5, your browser will be updated automatically in the coming days. If you can’t wait, just open the About “Google Chrome” menu item from the wrench icon and click the “Update Now” button.

Originally published by PC Mag. Read the original story here