I had blogged the other day about the release of Firefox 3.0 amidst the announcement of Microsoft’s IE 8.  I also mentioned that Google was coming out with their own browser called Chrome.  Well, Google has it available for download.  The features are discussed here.  Many bloggers have noted this as another major salvo fired by Google against Microsoft in an effort to protect the supremacy of their browser engine.  In other words, in order to make sure that Google is the default search engine in users’ browsers, make sure they are using your browser.  Also, as more apps are available in online equivalents, the browser becomes more important.  Is this browser worth it?   I posted recently about Google and their online apps, and the first thing I noticed on the Google download and features page  for Chrome was the word “Beta.”  Why is it there?  If this is a major release, why is it being released to users as a beta version?  Hasn’t it already gone through testing?  I then ooked at other Google apps, such as GMail.  Why is it still in beta when it has been around for so long?  This then begs the question: is anything from Google really “ready for prime time”?  But the real question is, does the world need yet another browser?

PC users have Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Opera as the major contenders, while Apple Mac users have Safari.  Do we need another one?  Does Chrome bring anything new to the table?  I took a look at their features page, and I must say I am not all that sure that it does.  Take for example the YouTube video featured on the Google site touting the URL address bar and how it suggests sites based on search terms you type in.  The problem is, Firefox already offers this feature.  The same is true for “Instant Bookmarks,” “Dynamic Tabs,” and warning messages about malware and phishing.

In a video explaining the backstory for Chrome’s development, the programmers talked about making a browser that was faster, more stable (self contained browser tabs that will not crash if another one does; a Task Manager just for the browser), and better able to handle what people use a browser for these days, which is often more than just reading static text.  They also wanted an interface that was minimalist, so as not to detract from the content of the browser itself, the so-called “invisible browser.”

There are some cool features, such as an “Incognito Mode” that prevents the browser from storing info about the session in that tab on your computer.  However, it does not prevent sites from gathering information about that session, so its usage for privacy is limited.  Also, in keeping with their promotion of Google Apps, there is an “Applications Shortcut” feature that makes it easier to launch web apps.  It also sports a “New Tabs” feature that is kind of interesting.  When you create a new tab, instead of giving you a blank page, it displays a summary of your most recently visited pages, recent bookmarks, closed tabs, and the search engines you use.

In summary, Chrome may well be worth using once it comes out of beta (if it ever does), if it provides enough innovative and new features, along with better stability and security, to make it worth switching from your current browser.  If you already use Google Apps, this browser may be better for you to the extent it complements that package with the Applications Shortcut feature.  My best recommendation: download it and try it for yourself on a test machine.  Just keep in mind, Google makes no guarantees, since this is a beta version.

UPDATE (9-5-08): Information continues to come out about Chrome.  Read an interesting and informative post on first impressions here and some information on Chrome’s disturbing end-user licence here.