More than a surface shine

The fastest Web browser on the market, Google Chrome is a valiant and speedy attempt to redefine how we surf the Web.

In slightly more than a year, Google Chrome has surprised users and critics alike by leapfrogging to more than 4 percent of the browser market share. That attention and heavy usage is not undeserved. Chrome 4 is blazingly fast, more stable than previous versions, and introduces support for extensions, bookmark syncing, and some HTML5 innovations.

Based on Webkit, the same open-source engine that powers Apple Safari, Google's Android mobile platform, and several other Web-browsing tools, but with a different JavaScript engine, Chrome's interface is a drastic departure from other browsers. Instead of the traditional toolbar, Chrome puts its tabs on top. Moreover, the tabs are detachable: "tabs" and "windows" are interchangeable here. Detached tabs can be dragged and dropped into the browser, and tabs can be rearranged at any time. By isolating each tab's processes, when one site crashes, the other tabs do not.

The search box and the address bar have been fused into a hybrid "Omnibox," which includes suggestions for URLs culled from your browser's history and search suggestions from your search engine. It remembers site-specific search engine results. There's also Application Shortcuts, a feature that lets you create desktop icons for Web-only applications, such as Gmail. The stealth mode, Incognito, lets you surf without the history-recording cookies.

Despite all that's good and new in the browser from Google, it is still a work in development and users are not universally enthralled with Chrome's sheen. Complaints ranging from secure log-in issues to occasional site rendering hang-ups to support for PDFs and some media players. Problems aside, Chrome is more than a surface polish and is well worth using.

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