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First Look: Google's Chrome browser for Mac

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.

Tests were completed using a 17-inch MacBook Pro equipped with a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo CPU and running Mac OS X 10.5.7 Leopard. Chrome was put up against Firefox 3.5.5 and Safari 4.0.4. Chrome completed the list of SunSpider JavaScript benchmark tests in 485ms, slightly ahead of Safari's 506ms score. Both browsers were much faster than Firefox, which took 1145ms to complete the SunSpider tests.

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.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Fast iBook

    Joined: Dec 1969


    No thanks!

    No thanks!

    - A

  1. chas_m



    Competition = good

    Generally this is good news for the Mac platform, as it erases one more reason not to switch from Windows.

    As Chrome borrows generally from Webkit, early reports that its faster are likely to fall away compared to other Webkit-based browsers; a browser is always nice and fast when it has no cache to sort through.

    A few interesting features, to be sure, but dear lard in heaven those "skins" look awful!!

    When the privacy issues are fully addressed, this will definitely be worth checking out. Till then, I'm sticking with Safari 4, which is pretty awesome.

  1. HappyPhil

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I Like It

    I have been using Chrome on my Mackbook for about 3 weeks now, and although it's not the finished product, some things work nicely.

    I generally use FF for most everything, and it works well with Google apps, (Like Docs, and Blogger), but the latest upgrade disabled google video/talk chat. I found a link to a Mac version of Chrome on a forum and have been using it a lot more than FF ever since.

    I dislike Safari, and only use it when I have to.

    With Chrome, I like that I don't have all the bookmark bar, and other clutter on my screen. Most all my stuff works fine and I have yet to encounter popups or unwanted ad's. As with all the Google products I use, I really like it.

  1. PRoth

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Must be awesome!

    Took first AND second place in Celtic Kane's test.

  1. IxOsX

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Chrome Beta no RSS

    No RSS Feed support? Until then will not be a great alternative. A part that I believe could be in the future a good browser. But for know I prefer Safari or Firefox.

  1. rje

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I don't get it. One year from the release of the PC version. Someone want to explain that to me? Are there no Mac developers available to Google? Now we get a beta, a scaled back version that is no better than the so-called betas that we were getting for the past couple of months, or Chromium, for that matter. Why is there no Bookmark Manager? Why is it impossible to import bookmark folders? You can't even customize the toolbar. Why was this released? What sets it apart from earlier iterations? How come Mozilla always released Mac versions along with PC versions from day one? Maybe Google needs to pull in a couple of Mozilla's Mac developers.

    Chrome is over-anticipated, and disappointing in every way. Will they make Mac users wait another year for updates? I think Mac users should ignore Chrome for Google's obvious lack of interest in the platform. They just tossed out this scaled back thing to us, and they act as though it's God's gift to the Mac. Give me a break.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Re: No

    Why is there no Bookmark Manager? Why is it impossible to import bookmark folders? You can't even customize the toolbar. Why was this released?

    It is a beta. It was released so people can test it and provide feedback.

    Since most people think a browser is all about, I don't know, the actual browsing part, they probably were focused more on that and less on UI items like bookmark management or something.

    What sets it apart from earlier iterations? How come Mozilla always released Mac versions along with PC versions from day one? Maybe Google needs to pull in a couple of Mozilla's Mac developers.

    Because Mozilla makes a browser built off of it's own UI framework. Thus why Camino was born, to make it a Cocoa app and 'more mac like' (and, in turn, break the whole reason to use Firefox, the use of add-ons).

    And Google, BTW, is all about trying to gain a large amount of control and market share. There's no way Chrome for Mac is going to help in that regard, so they don't put much effort in doing it.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    One Plus

    I will say one plus for Chrome is that the internals (WebKit) are built into the software and is not using the frameworks in OS X.

    The biggest issue I have with Safari is that installing a brand new version (like 4.0) ends up causing issues in programs that have nothing to do with the browser (like Mail, Help, and a bunch of other stuff using WebKit). Updating a browser should never update OS components (that's something Windows does all the time).

    And I would take it one further and argue that the WebKit framework in OS X should be more restricted in what it can and can't do than full blown browser support. Reminds me of the days of Netscape 4 Outloook Express when the Mail apps used the same engine as the browser and allowed such stupidity as javascripts and embedded objects.

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