Review: Chrome, the Sweet 16 Web Browser?

Chrome's a little slower, but still faster than the rest and it's still the browser to beat.

Say hello to Chrome 16: Google's lastest browser.

Say hello to Chrome 16: Google's latest browser.

Mozilla, bless its heart, keeps trying to make Firefox relevant again with its speedy update schedule, but it just hasn't been working out. Google, on the other hand, with its new Chrome sweet 16 release keeps getting better than ever.

No, there's nothing new in capital letters in this release. It's still fast, but not as fast as it once was, and it includes a couple of nice, useful improvements. Under the hood, as always, there are several important security improvements.

If you haven't tried Chrome yet, here are the basics. The Chrome Web browser has a minimalist interface. Instead of a tool-bar, the basic interface has a combination address and search bar, the Omnibox, at the top with tabs above that. The handful of visible control buttons consist of Back, Forward, a combined Stop/Reload button, and a preferences wrench icon. That's it.

If you add extensions, they'll appear as icons on the right of the Omnibox. If you like having lots of tool-bars and endless interface tweaking power, Chrome is not for you. If you want a clean, fast Web browser Chrome is for you.

That's not to say you can't add a lot of extra stuff to Chrome. The whole point of a Chromebook, for example, is that you can do pretty much anything you need to do on a computer with just a Web browser and a bunch of cloud-based applications and extensions. To find these with Chrome, head over to the Chrome Web Store.

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Chrome 16 does come with two new features that you might like. The first is you can now print any Web page to any Google Cloud Print printer you're allowed to use. Cloud Print is a Google service you can use that enables you to turn any printer into an Internet-connected printer. You control who can print to your Cloud Print-connected printers.

With Chrome, you can now print across the Internet.

With Chrome, you can now print across the Internet.

The second, and this one at this point I don't see as being that useful, is you can sync multiple users to one copy of Chrome. So, for example, you can have multiple people via their Gmail accounts, running their own Chrome settings. So, for example, when I log into my Google account on my laptop's copy of Chrome, I get my applications, bookmarks, and settings. When my buddy logs in, she'll get her settings.

So far, so good, but, there's no security between logins. She can see all my settings and I can see hers. You may be OK with that, but I'm not and I can't see it in a work environment where people share PCs. Once they have some rudimentary security between sessions I'll find this feature much more useful. You may find it useful now.

To use this multi-user function, go to the wrench icon, Personal Stuff, and you'll see a new option: Users. Once there, slect the add a new user and your friend or co-worker be up and running in a minute.

Chrome 16 won't let you run out-of-date applets unless you tell it to.

Chrome 16 won't let you run out of date applets unless you give it express permission to run them.

Thinking of security, besides the usual array of security fixes that any browser gets with a new release, Chrome now won't let you run any out of date plug-ins unless you explicitly agree to let it run. So, for example, if you try to run an old copy of Flash, you must, on every page, agree to let it run. Considering how many security problems can be laid to the door of browser plug-ins these days, I think this is a good move. I'd like to see other Web browser developers adopt this policy.

Moving along to the basics, Chrome is still great at observing Web standards. Like almost all modern browsers, it gets a perfect score on the Acid 3 compatibility test, which checks how well a browser complies with various Web standards such as CSS, JavaScript, and Extensible Markup Language (XML),

On the HTML5 Test, which checks to see how compliant the Web browser is with the HTML5 Web page standard, Chrome 15 scored 344 out of a possible 450. The next best is Firefox 8 with a score of 314.

When it comes to performance, I ran Chrome against latest releases of Firefox, 8.01, and Internet Explorer, 9.08, on a Gateway DX4710 Windows 7 SP1 test box. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. It's hooked to the Internet via a Netgear Gigabit Ethernet switch, which, in turn, is hooked up to a 60Mbps (Megabit per second) cable Internet connection.

For my first test, Chrome went up against the others on Mozilla's Kraken 1.1 benchmark. In Kraken, which like most Web browser benchmarks measures JavaScript performance, lower scores are better. Here, Chrome left Firefox and IE in the dust with a score of 3990.9ms. Firefox came in next with a score of 6792.9ms followed by IE with an awful 16,630.7ms.

Google has its own JavaScript V8 Benchmark Suite, where higher scores are better, Chrome, to no surprise, won again. This time it scored 7,661. Firefox came in next at 3,775, with IE behind it with 2,193.

On the grand-daddy of JavaScript tests, SunSpider 0.9.1, where lower results are better, Chrome didn't do that well. IE won with a score of 252.6ms, Firefox came in second with 303.5ms, and Chrome came in last with 319.7.

On the Peacekeeper Web browser test suite, which looks at JavaScript performance and beyond to HTML5 compatibility, video codec support and other Web browser features as well, Chrome won again. On this benchmark, where higher is better and Chrome once more won out with a score of 2,673. Firefox and IE were both far behind with scores of 1,699 and 1,626 respectively.

What it all means in the final number-crunching is that Chrome 16 is actually slightly slower than Chrome 15. Still, generally speaking it's still faster than the other major Web browsers, experts agree that it's the most secure Web browsers, and its features make it the best of the current Web browsers. Put it all-together and Chrome at its sweet 16th release is still the Web browser to beat.

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