updated 05:55 pm EST, Tue December 8, 2009
Open-source browser takes on Firefox, Safari
Google has finally released a beta version of its Chrome browser for the Mac platform, following a year of availability for Windows users. The open source software is designed to compete with other popular browsers such as Safari and Firefox. The latest release offers many of the same features as the Windows version, although the early Mac beta still lacks several capabilities.
Chrome can easily import bookmarks, browsing history, and settings from other browsers such as Safari and Firefox. Users that frequently work with several browsers may find the lack of bookmark sync frustrating, while the current build also omits a bookmark manager. Both of the features may not be missed by many casual users, however. If the standard gray layout becomes boring, Google offers a variety of specialized themes with unique backgrounds and color schemes.
Users of the Windows version might also notice that the Mac variant lacks the Task Manager feature for viewing the memory usage for each page. Other unsupported features include multi-touch gestures, Gears, and a full-screen mode.
The Mac beta offers Google's "Incognito Window," which provides a separate area for browsing without the pages and cookies appearing in the main history or search history. Meanwhile, Chrome continues to log the history for any pages visited in the primary window.
Like its Windows counterpart, Chrome for Mac effectively "sandboxes" each tab. Isolating the processes allows the browser to maintain operation even if a single tab freezes or crashes. The architecture is also said to help protect against memory issues. This feature works well, especially for users that work with a large number of tabs. Chrome does not seem to become as sluggish as Firefox during heavy usage.
Another nice feature, common to the Windows and Mac versions, is the Omnibox address bar. Users can enter either web addresses or search terms into the bar, instead of first navigating to the search engine page if needed. The auto-fill function also allows users to partially write the address and press enter, without the extra step of hitting the down arrow.
Rather than filling the feature set with the first Mac beta, Google chose to focus on performance and reliability. Although the lack of several features may be a turn-off for some, benchmark tests suggest the company succeeded at bringing the browser up to par with its competitors.
Celtic Kane's JSBenchmark tests showed similar results, placing Chrome in the lead with an average score of 437. Chrome fell in right behind with a score of 407, while Firefox averaged 158.
[Results from single tests, averages listed above]
Running Futuremark's Peacekeeper benchmarks showed slightly different results, with Safari holding the leading score of 3887 and Chrome behind slightly with 3470. Firefox again fell behind, with a score of only 1840.
Although the Mac beta has yet to be polished with a full set of features, Google promises that future releases will "fill in the gaps." In the meantime, the current version may be a formidable choice for users looking for a fast browser with basic functionality.