Chrome 4.0 Beta for Windows released

Google has released Chrome 4.0 to the beta channel of their popular web browser. Unfortunately, like before, the release is only for Windows. Both the Mac and Linux versions are highly anticipated, but have still not reached enough maturity to be exposed for real to the end users.

So what's truly new in this release, especially since it's only a short while since 3.0. The biggest improvement is the addition of bookmarks sync. This allows you to use your Google account (everyone has one, right?) to synchronize your bookmarks across Chrome's over the internet. In fact it seems to use Google Docs to store it. Previously such a feature would only be available in Opera through Opera Link (which is still multi-platform, including Opera Mini on mobiles).

For the time being Extensions support has been disabled until the final API arrives, hopefully this will be joined with a multi-platform release to make it all the more exciting.

If you're running Windows, be sure to give Google some feedback on your adventurous endeavor!

Hello IE, meet Google Chrome Frame

Google compared to Microsoft seems to be the young fella, the one that dares to do things. With a seemingly large group of magical developers they present Google Chrome Frame, their brave new attempt to drag grandpa Internet Explorer into the future.

Google Chrome Frame, as the name suggests, is based on the core of the Chrome web browser (and operating system). And simply put, Chrome Frame brings those technologies to the IE world, enabling ultra-fast JS through V8 as well as support for new HTML5 technologies (eg. <canvas> tag).

So how does it work? Well Google Frame is an early stage, open-source, plug-in for Internet Explorer, that injects all the Chrome core technologies into IE. Why would you want to do that? Well, if you can drag IE into the future, you also drag the largest portion of web citizens along (who haven't switched yet to a proper web browser).

To support Chrome Frame, adding a simple tag will trigger its functionality when visiting an enabled web site. Optionally you can redirect the user to install the Chrome Frame plug-in. Of course it's still in an early phase and has some known issues (no printing support in Chrome Frame, nor UI feedback on downloads), but I'm sure it will be completed in time.

This new Google technology sounds interesting to me. Of course we all want everyone to switch to Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Safari. But sometimes you need to do it all with baby steps, one at a time.

Google Chrome 3 released

Slightly a year after Chrome's first birthday, the folks at Google released the third version on the stable channel, meaning the normal mortals can now enjoy an array of new features from the search giant.

Google's entrance in the browser market hasn't gone unnoticed. As a second strong backer of the WebKit project originally created by Apple, the project behind Chrome and Safari's rendering engine has been the star of late. Featuring the latest HTML5 additions as well as being the only open-source alternative (and possible best technology) out there for embedded and desktop markets. But what is most important is that Google unleashed Chrome as a JavaScript devouring beast, and ever since many JavaScript benchmarks were created to indicate performance supremacy, not only with Chrome's V8, but also Safari's Nitro and Firefox' TraceMonkey.

With the third release Google made Chrome more mature. Although from the start you should be aware that while extensions are still not supported, they are working hard on it, in fact it's enabled by default in the development channel for Chrome 4. So what's new in this release? Well, JavaScript performance is still important and therefor V8 is simply even faster than ever, both in V8's benchmark suite as well as SunSpider. A new tab page was introduced that allows more customization. The Omnibox now displays icons in front of results, making it easier to identify if a found item is a Google search, history and bookmarks. The <video> tag has been introduced in Chrome as well, following Firefox 3.5 it allows support for embedded video on web pages without the need for plug-ins (do note that Chrome supports Theora encoding like Firefox, and the not-so-free H.264). And last but not least, Chrome now support basic themes, which should be a good competitor to Firefox' persona's (but not the full fledged themes).

All in all Chrome 3 is surely a solid and polished release of which many Chrome fans will be fond of. With even more speed with rendering pages and executing web sites, and excellent UI responsiveness (partially due to the multi-process architecture), continued stability and security track record it is a strong competitor in the market. Surely Chrome can handle Safari on Windows, and Opera (which has a smaller presence on the market). Competition with Firefox will remain difficult without extensions and stable cross platform releases.

Remember the Opera Software of old and new

Since the early days Opera Software has been renowned for their web browser, their support for (open) web standards, and their strictness in following it. But besides supporting the web they are known as innovators, at a level where other companies, including the oh so beloved Apple, look at for the next step in their own web browsers.

But recently it seems that a lot of (casual) people regard Opera Software entirely differently. While ignoring history and Opera's innovations, people seem to see Opera as a sore loser, who has failed where Firefox succeeded, and is on the verge of extinction. People especially see the recent case by the European Commission, to bring equilibrium in the browser market, as Opera Software's doing. But nothing is that simple...

Let's start with the European Commission case (which currently only applies to EU citizens). Originally Opera Software asked the EC to take a look into the case where Microsoft bundles Internet Explorer with Windows, and causes unfair competition. This applies only to Windows, because Microsoft controls a monopoly (which is specified in the EU rules) and therefor also has a strong grip on the web (which they first failed to pick up in the early days).

Long ago when Netscape was still a good company, everything changed, Microsoft began bundling IE with Windows (especially using OEM releases) and slowly but surely gained enough momentum (in combination with Netscape's failing in bringing the rewrite on time) to capture the market. After that innovation stalled, IE broke the web with flawed standards support. While Netscape survived in the shape of Mozilla, it was a time when Opera was one of the few survivors that kept working on web standards and innovation. Well, we know how it goes after that, Mozilla Suite didn't get a lot of people, but with hard good work Firefox came to be, and at the right time with the insecureness awareness of Windows and IE they created enough momentum to become popular. Of course there must have been some jealousy at Opera Software on how Firefox was embraced and gained popularity. But there has never been hate up in the north, and truth to be told, Opera did gain a lot of users as well, as people got aware, awakened if you'd like. Even Opera learned from Firefox, as it became free when enough revenue was gained from other sources, such as Google and Yahoo! searches. Currently Opera Software is financially strong, and has a strong hand in the mobile (Windows, Symbian, Java) market, as well as devices (Wii, DS, Zii). Like any healthy company Opera Software wants more, more market share, more money, etc. But unlike other companies, they still value their own vision, of keeping the web open, on any device, for any one out there.

But back to the EC case against Microsoft. After it was decided that Microsoft needed to create a Windows XP N Edition, without the Windows Media Player, the legal munchos at Opera Software saw fit to ask, I said ask not force, the EC to look into the browser market. As it nearly seems an identical case the EC was quick to pick up, as this time there are several companies still at stake here. Note that from this point on Opera Software hasn't done anything, the EC was asked to investigate and have found out that Microsoft indeed has been misusing their position for their web browser. Any decision by the EC is done without Opera, Mozilla, Apple, Google or Microsoft. All the companies are free to give their comments, advice and support for the case. So has Opera Software done for the last months, they've suggested a ballot screen and apparently EC (and several allies) finds in interesting as well. You'll have to understand that things like this are more or less organic developments, as you've probably read Microsoft has turned around and worked on documents for the ballot screen with their proposal of rules for inclusion and display. It's up to the EC to approve or disapprove, and the folks at Opera/Mozilla have spoken aloud on the web what they thought of it. So as you can see, Opera cannot force the EC, as they work independently, any justice or injustice directed at Microsoft comes from the EC directly.

However it doesn't help that several people at Opera Software have said things that were either, ripped from context, or simple reversed questions. A lot of what has been said were advice or (wild) ideas, and yes they sounded bad, like whining as some have said. No, I don't agree that Opera should be in Windows Update, I would go for a global unified update system that all apps, whether browser or not can plug into, such as the update feature in Linux (though apt, yum, etc.) or App Store (iPhone/iPod touch). Whether then to dismiss or argue any of the comments from some Opera folks you should ask yourself, am I too emotional, could they simply be wrong this time? EC case or not, use Opera, or any other browser because you like it, it's features, the looks. Remember that everybody is human, and no doubt some people say stuff with emotion or get wrongly quoted (for sensational purposes). Take some distance, and be "nuchter" about it (yeah look that word up... hint, it's dutch).

Looking at Opera 10 there are of course things missing and we all, yeah me too I confess, say bad stuff about it. It's not because the entire thing is bad or evil, but because we know, we feel that something could become so much more. Imagine Opera 11, with the super fast JavaScript engine (equal to Chrome), ICC profile version 4 support, Vegas for 3D acceleration, private browsing mode, etc. We know it's unrealistic to have it all in one go, however we also all know that it should be there to finish of the competition. But the truth is, it's not possible, not without a healthy balance between work force and financial results. Opera 10 comes already with so much more. First of all the folks listened to us by bringing spell check (with dictionary download), major improvements to the mail client (really there isn't much else out there that's free and good), auto-update, a brand new look, and much, much more.

Opera Software is still the same as we know it, innovation and fighting for an open web (heck why do you think they don't sue people with random patents). Remember this first and foremost, distance yourself from the EC case, and remain "nuchter" while seeking out the "why" someone says something, and remember that everybody makes mistakes.

Peacekeeper for the browser wars

Known for their benchmarks tools, Futuremark has released their first application to measure browser speed (on any platform). Futuremark hopes to provide the one true tool, while we've been toying with browser specific benchmarks, such as SunSpider.

The Peacekeeper benchmarking suite is now freely available as an online application. And, by use of a query parameter can be run in multiple browsers, without losing individual results. The tests done by Peacekeeper measure your browser's performance by testing its JavaScript functionality. The chosen functionality should be representative for popular sites, such as YouTube, GMail, Facebook, etc.

Running the benchmark on my own machine:

  • 4425 .:. Safari 4.0.2
  • 2595 .:. Chrome 3.0.197
  • 1998 .:. Firefox 3.5.2
  • 1414 .:. Opera 10 Build 6604

iMac with Mac OS X 10.5.8, 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (6 MB, 1.07 GHz FSB), 4 GB 800 MHz DDR2 SDRAM

As you can see, Nitro (Safari 4) wins as expected (it's after all Apple's turf), and V8 (Chrome) still needs some work, but clearly beats the rest already. For Firefox and Opera there is still some work to be done, while Firefox 3.6 will bring some extra speed, it won't be too big to close in on Chrome and Safari. Opera is working diligently on their new engine, but won't be part of Opera 10, so we'll have to wait until we'll see some real numbers.

So what kind of scores did you get? And do benchmarks make you switch browsers?

Update: The new Safari 4.0.3 now clocks at 4507 points on my iMac. Woohoo!

Update 2: The new Opera 10 Beta 3 (6613) clocks at 1550 points. Nice!

3D without browser plug-ins: WebGL

The Kronos Group has announced the formation of the WebGL webgroup, which should bring 3D graphics to the web. Using JavaScript bindings with OpenGL, it should bring 3D support without the need for any browser plug-ins.

The Kronos Group is known for their work on OpenGL 3, as well as the mobile OpenGL ES standards and the recent OpenCL standard. Previously the Kronos Group announced with Mozilla a joined effort to bring a 3D standard to the web, and now they've announced their final plans. Following Mozilla's prototype they plan to make a JavaScript binding between the browser and OpenGL ES 2.0. Third parties can work on APIs on top of this, to offer richer experiences (as OpenGL is the most abstract form).

Since the announcements other browser companies joined in, including Opera Software and Google. You might think why Google, as they already work on O3D. But O3D is a plug-in (which may be bundled with Chrome), and requires a separate installation, hampering easy adoption. However O3D also offers better 3D performance, which will unlikely be matched by WebGL. Henceforth Google will support WebGL, while work continues on O3D, which may offer more and better opportunities for faster and much richer 3D content (Runescape and Quake Live in O3D?).

No word yet on support from Apple (who participates in the Kronos Group) or Microsoft (another member), hopefully we'll see some announcement soon and prevent this upcoming standard from being yet another failed 3D standard.

Multi-process Firefox coming to you

Although Chrome is now even a year old (counting the public exposure), it has certainly affected the browser landscape. Not only was, and is, Chrome unique and noticable, but also simply a true technological leap.

First of all Chrome introduced V8, their own new JavaScript engine that uses a new way of compiling JavaScript files giving it an enormous performance boost. Not long after the folks from Apple working on WebKit announced SquirrelFish Extreme, which gave it another leap on their SquirrelFish effort. SquirrelFish Extreme, later renamed Nitro actually surpassed V8 in several benchmarks. Not long after this war started Mozilla joined in the fray as well, announcing TraceMonkey which showed significant improvements over the old JavaScript JIT-compiler, following (but not really beating) V8 and Nitro on an honorable level. This is just one example how a browser launch affected the environment. As we speak Opera Software is also working on their new JavaScript, which should get it back in the running of fastest browsers (as they're currently not on the JavaScript side).

Another big invented here thing from Google is the multi-process browser, Chrome (with some configuration options) starts a new process for each domain opened in a tab. Although this will cost you a bit more memory (as each processes needs some additional memory usage for non-sharable parts), it does offers really compelling features, such as increased stability and security. Security is interesting as each process is separated, they cannot access each others memory (easily), giving it much more of a sandbox feeling. The other compelling feature is stability. Now with the web turning into sites and web apps (such as Google Mail and Wave), it becomes much more interesting and important that the browser doesn't crash. With Google's option to create shortcuts of web sites, web apps will almost be seamless with your desktop. And you don't want your Google Mail or Wave to crash while you were visiting a dodgy site which triggered a bug in your browser, do you?

The folks at Mozilla didn't think so either. The problem is that Firefox is of course an existing browser, while Chrome was made from the ground up with these concepts. So in order to take on this big task they've divided it into phases. Currently Phase-I should be complete, which demonstrates content in separate processes. There's still a lot of work to be done, and it's not completely certain yet in which release it will be ready, but it's a big progress and it's really good to see Mozilla taking competition and the concept seriously.

With Microsoft using a similar approach in Internet Explorer 8, I hope that the others will follow soon as well, being Safari and Opera.

Chrome 3 Beta is out

Google has released a new beta of Chrome, bring a large collection of requested features to this increasingly popular web browser.

Although Google isn't too fond of labeling a release with a version number, due to various reasons, Chrome 3's first beta has been unleashed on the web, putting it another step closer to world domination. Is Google Chrome heading the right way, well that's for you to decide. At the very least they seam to be fulfilling their promises for much requested (and needed) features (to fight the competition).

The first thing you'll notice is the new new tab page in Chrome. No longer does it just base itself on your browser habits, it's fully customizable by you. You can drag and drop thumbnails of your most visited pages, and pin them, so they'll never leave. If anything, Google's new new tab page is a solid competitor (and compliment) to Opera's Speed Dial.

The Omnibox has also received its share of improvements, of which new icons appear to identify results as suggested sites, searches, bookmarks, and sites from your history. Another new thing is the support for (basic) themes, with a gallery up and running you can now easily change the default look of your Chrome browser. Other unseen improvements include support for HTML5, such as the video tag and web worker threads and much more.

You can download Chrome from the beta site (or if you use the channel chooser, you can explicitly switch from stable to beta). Have fun and good luck in testing this (solid) release!

Chrome to get cloud synchronization

We know that Google is serious about their business. We also know that in the beginning there was doubt if they should work on Chrome. Time has passed and we know Google took the chance of making Chrome. Time has told us that once Google gets into gear, they're heading at full speed ahead.

With Chrome 1 out last year, and Chrome 2 out early this year, the developers haven't been sitting idle waiting for the competition. Chrome 3 is currently in development and already includes basic theme support and much more importantly: extensions (unlike Opera, hello?).

But today's article isn't about themes, extensions, standards or color profile support. It's about the recent announcement on the mailing list that Google is working on cloud synchronization. At first this will mean that you'll be able to synchronize bookmarks between different machines running Chrome, but in the future we'll see more user data being pushed into the cloud. Think of it as Google's competitor to Mozilla's Weave or Opera Link.

The first release containing bookmarks synchronization will appear within a week or two for Windows only, as it isn't ready yet for Linux and Mac. Hopefully all the features of Chrome 3 will mature fast, including cross platform code, so we can all enjoy this fierce competitor to Firefox, which may have already overtaken Opera.



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