Google Chrome: The five best new features

Summary:Google launched the first beta version of its Chrome Web browser on Tuesday after two years of development. We immediately started kicking the tires and put together a photo gallery and a quick list of the five best new features you'll find in Google Chrome.

Google launched the first beta version of its Chrome Web browser on Tuesday after two years of development. Only the Microsoft Windows version has been released, but Google promised Mac and Linux versions would soon follow. We immediately started kicking the tires and put together a photo gallery and a quick list of the five best new features you'll find in Google Chrome.

See the full screen shot gallery First look: Google Chrome

When I heard that Google was officially going to launch its own Web browser my first thought was, "Great, that's just what we need, another Web browser." After seeing Google's press conference and getting a first look at Chrome, I'm starting to warm up to the idea. I will at least give Google credit for not doing a "me too" release. They have legitimately tried to innovate and bring some new features to the Web browser -- and they've open sourced the whole thing.

Whether or not these new features will entice Internet users to give up Internet Explorer or Firefox is still up in the air, but here are the five best new features that I see in Chrome:

1. Task manager

Chrome has its own Task Manager that shows you how much memory and CPU usage each tab and plug-in is using. You can open it by clicking Shift-Esc from within Chrome. You can get more details by clicking the "Stats for nerds" link on the Task Manager and it will open a page with a full breakdown of memory and CPU usage for each process within the browser.

I also like that Chrome makes each tab a separate process in Windows, so you can also go into the Windows Task Manager and shut down one of them if it's locked up. It also means that a bad process in one tab won't kill your whole browser session.

2. One box for search, address, and history

Instead of having separate input boxes for the search bar and the address bar, Google has united the two in Chrome. Google also added history to the equation. So you can type something like "techrepublic" in the box and it will suggest the techrepublic.com home page as well as other recently visited TechRepublic pages. This is similar to the new "Awesome bar" in Firefox 3 but Google's "One box" includes search as well. If you type "techrepublic" in the box and hit return then it will simply open it in Google.com (or your default search engine).

3. Upgraded tabs

The Chrome development team views tabs as one of the best new innovations to Web browsing in recent years and so they wanted to expand the functionality of tabs since users . In Chrome you can drag a tab into its own window, and drag it back to the main window. This is called "Dynamic Tabs." Also, by default, the "New Tab" page in Chrome features a page that shows thumbnails of your most visited Web sites, a list of your recent bookmarks, and a search box that allows you to search your history.

4. New support for Web applications

Naturally, Google believes in Web-based applications and is invested in a future that includes applications running from the cloud and running in a Web browser. Current Web applications include Google Docs, Salesforce.com, and Outlook Web Access. Chrome makes it easier to make those applications feel more like desktop apps.

From the start page of your Web application you simply click the Chrome controls icon and then click "Create applications shortcuts" and you can create Desktop, Start Menu, and/or Quick Launch icons. Then when you launch those apps they open in a streamlined window without the address bar and separate from the Chrome Web browser window. If the apps integrate with Google Gears then you can even open them when you're offline.

5. Incognito browsing

Chrome includes an Incognito mode in which users can go to sites but nothing from that session -- history, form fields, or cookies -- will be saved in Chrome. This can be useful on shared computers and when viewing sensitive data through the Web browser. The beta version of Internet Explorer 8 includes a similar feature.

Other notes

So far, I've also been impressed with the speed of Chrome. Google stated that performance was a big consideration when building the browser, which is why they chose Webkit (the same open source engine that powers Safari) as the engine for Chrome. Chrome's downloads bar and downloads tracking window makes it much easier to gauge and monitor downloads, too.

I also liked the fact that you can mouse over a link and see the URL in a translucent status bar in the lower left-hand corner (which fades out once you move the mouse away from a link). I tend to turn on the status bar in IE and Firefox because I like to view URLs before I click them, but this takes up real estate at the bottom of the screen when I'm not previewing URLs. Chrome solves that problem by making it appear and disappear automatically. Combined with the lack of a menu bar at the top of the screen this can give Chrome more vertical space for viewing Web pages on the screen.

Topics: Browser, Google

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

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