Chrome 8.0.552.215 browser test drive

Last Thursday, Google released a substantially updated build of its Chrome browser with a gaggle of bugfixes, 13 new security patches, and a new PDF viewer running in a "sandbox" (technology that isolates processes, making it more difficult for malware to infect the browser or the computer) as an alternative to the sometimes problematical Adobe Reader plug-in.

The PDF viewer displays PDF documents as HTML-based pages. Support for the still-not-launched Chrome Web Store (scheduled to launch December 14) is also included.

In a blog entry, Google software engineers Justin Schuh and Carlos Pizano note that since last spring, Google has been working closely with Adobe to allow Flash Player to take advantage of new sandboxing technology in Chrome, extending the work already done with sandboxing for HTML rendering and JavaScript execution.

In particular, users of Windows XP will see a major security benefit, as Chrome is currently the only browser on the XP platform that runs Flash Player in a sandbox.

This first iteration of Chrome’s Flash Player sandbox for all Windows platforms uses a modified version of Chrome’s existing sandbox technology that protects certain sensitive resources from being accessed by malicious code, while allowing applications to use less sensitive ones, representing a first step in further reducing the potential attack surface of the browser and protecting users against common malware.

Google will be using this initial effort to provide fully sandboxed implementations of the Flash Player on all platforms.

Chrome is one of the core applications in my regular suite of production applications, and I didn't anticipate much change in the user interface experience with this new build, so I was surprised to discover that some of my frequently-used user interface controls seemed to have gone missing — specifically the back, stop page loading, and reload page buttons. Consulting the online Help document revealed that the Stop and Reload commands have been banished to the View Menu, while the Back command now resides in the History menu (keyboard shortcuts are supported for all). I suppose this is in aid of a cleaner UI appearance, but three much-used (by me) buttons are hardly a major imposition, and moving to a non-standard standard fro these functions slows one down muscle memory wise when switching back and forth among several browser windows.

On the other hand, Chrome still greatly pleases with its clean UI appearance, even though many Mac users contend that it's ugly. I beg to differ, but such evaluations are subjective. I also like the way new tabs open directly beside the referring tab (a mode also supported by Firefox 4) and Chrome's very fast startup and rapid, hassle-free, no-user-attention-needed restoration of the last session when you start it up. It doesn't have a page close warning sheet, which I miss a bit, being absent-minded at times, but that omission is mitigated by a very cool Restore All Tabs in the "Recently Closed" section of the History Menu that lets you restore session groups of tabs on a mistakenly-closed window with a mouse click.

Another Chrome attribute I like a lot is the easy version upgrade installs, which unlike Safari, don't require running an installer and a system reboot on the Mac. Just decompress the downloaded file and drag it to the Applications Folder. Or even easier, you can just set up automatic updates for all users by clicking a button in the "About Google Chrome" sheet.

Chrome is also speedy. I really notice little difference in page load speed these days among Safari, Opera, the Firefox 4 beta, and Chrome, but Google's browser more than holds its own in that club. It's also a rock of stability, and seems to be a good citizen that plays well with other applications.

Chrome continues to be the only big-name browser making substantial market share gains, while Microsoft's Internet Explorer continues to lose ground and Firefox, Safari, Opera, et al. remain near static in terms of percentage.