File Under: Browsers, Software

Chrome for Mac and Linux Is Here. Be Excited

Google has made the first betas of its Chrome web browser available for Mac and Linux users, the company announced Tuesday.

Here are the links for Mac and Linux. You should download Chrome and begin using it now. These are still betas and not as stable as a final releases, but everyone who lives and works on the web should experience Chrome first hand.

The reason is simple: Chrome is very, very fast. Sickeningly fast, actually. Faster than every other browser not just in page rendering and JavaScript performance, but as a desktop client software app, as well.

For the past two months, I’ve been using Google Chrome as my primary browser on both of my Macintosh computers, an old Mac Mini and a new iMac. Even though it wasn’t officially available for Mac and Linux, Google posted developers’ builds for early adopters to try out. The company warned that they weren’t fully ready — the easiest way to find them was to run a search for “Google Chrome danger” — but in my tests, I found Chrome to have very few problems. More like quirks, actually.

Even as a test app, it has largely replaced Firefox as my go-to browser. It occupies the top slot in my Mac’s Dock, just below the Finder.

The pre-beta Mac version had problems with some text input fields, like the one in WordPress used for composing blog posts. It also had a few issues with the scrollbar causing the video playback window to go blank on some sites. The pre-beta Linux version had fewer problems, but it did exhibit some strange user interface behaviors.

Now, those problems have been ironed out. The Chrome development team has been very cautious about releasing Mac and Linux versions of the browser that are free of bugs and as stable as possible, which is the reason these betas have taken so long. Feeling the pressure, Google made a public promise to release the betas before the end of the year.

I should point out that you need an Intel Mac and OS X 10.5 or later to run the Mac version. The Linux version of Chrome runs in both Gnome and KDE, and it can be installed with most package managers.

Windows users have had official releases for over a year now, allowing Chrome to capture just over five percent of the browser share. Also on Tuesday, Google released an extensions platform for the non-Mac versions of Chrome. This lack of extensions is the one thing keeping a lot of people from switching to Chrome from Firefox, still the preferred browser of most forward-looking web citizens.

So, now that Chrome is widely available and has extensions (official extensions support for the Mac is coming soon, but the daring can enable them now by jumping through some hoops), should Mozilla, Apple and Opera be worried?

They’re all smart companies, so we’re sure they already are. Besides possessing the sex appeal of the “new shiny,” Chrome delivers where every other browser falls short — the promise of extreme speed.

I’ve been using it for everything. Amazon, news websites and blogs, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, uploading photos to Flickr and Picasa, browsing HD content on Vimeo. Of course, all of the Google apps perform like lightning. Gmail, Google Reader, Calendar, Docs and Wave are all so responsive, they almost don’t feel like web apps. With the exception of YouTube, all of Google’s web apps, and most other web apps, perform with almost zero latency.

This is a big advantage for Google. The speed is thanks to the company’s own V8 JavaScript engine, as well as its work on Webkit, the open source page-rendering engine used by Chrome, Safari and a few other small browsers. As with the other modern (non-IE) browsers, Chrome was designed to get as much performance as possible out of cutting-edge web apps, so you get solid support for HTML5, CSS 3 and all the Ajaxy stuff.

Chrome is totally bare bones, making it lean and ultra-responsive. Tabs slide open and closed, and they’re on the top of the window, reducing clutter. Subtle fades and shading effects are applied to the inactive areas of the browser, helping highlight whatever it is you’re looking at.

Chrome’s “Omnibox” is a revelation. It takes the idea of Firefox’s “Awesomebar,” a combination URL bar and a search box for history and bookmarks, and goes one step further. Chrome does away with all other input fields, so if you need any information at all, there’s one place to ask for it. The Omnibox responds to the characters you’re typing, suggesting sites from your history, your favorites and from Google’s suggested search system. Firefox’s interface does the same thing, but it does it with two input fields (Firefox draws revenue from its separate search box, which defaults to Google) and Firefox doesn’t respond as quickly with suggestion.

There are lots of other things Chrome does. It isolates web apps into their own tabs, so a crashing app doesn’t crash the whole browser. It has themes and private browsing, and a thumbnail view of your favorite sites appears when you open a new tab.

Extensions support will remain a sticking point for many users. For everyday browsing, I found I didn’t really miss my extensions that much. And if I did, Firefox was only a mouse gesture away.

Look at it this way. Browsers are free, and they all have their particular strengths, so you should really have at least two.

Firefox is great. It’s fast enough, safe and full of useful features, like a five-seater Volvo or a sporty VW sedan. But when you just want to rip around as fast as you can, you go for the two-seater Porsche.

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