Google Releases Chrome 4 for Mainstream Users

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One of the key items that Google's Chrome browser had lacked since its first release in September 2008 was an extensions system for add-ons. It's an omission that has now been corrected with the release of Chrome 4 today for Windows.

Linux and Macintosh versions of Chrome 4 stable are not yet available.

Chrome 4 has been in development at Google since August 2009 and includes a number of new features and improvements over the previous Chrome 3 stable release -- though some of the features have already been showcased in other, more bleeding-edge Chrome releases, since Google has three main release branches for Chrome: dev, beta and stable.

The new Chrome stable release comes amid heated times for the browser market, less than a week after Mozilla updated its users to Firefox 3.6, and as Chrome is racing past Apple Safari in browser popularity.

Leading the new features in Chrome is the inclusion of Chrome Extensions. According to Google, there are over 1,500 features that Chrome users can now take advantage of with the new enhancement. Users can browse through a complete list of Chrome Extensions at the Extension Gallery. Among the most popular Chrome Extensions is one called IE Tab, which enables Chrome users to view pages in an Internet Explorer tab inside of Chrome. (Ironically, Google provides a similar kind of feature to IE users with its Chrome Frame technology.)

Several new enhancements to Chrome also replicate functionality available only via plug-ins in other browsers. For instance, Mozilla Firefox users rely on multiple add-ons, including Mozilla Weave, to synchronize their browsing activities across installations. With Chrome 4, Google is baking that same type of capability directly into the browser.

"In addition to Extensions, another feature that's moving from our beta to the stable channel on the Windows version of Google Chrome is bookmark sync," Nick Baum, Google product manager, said in a blog post. "For those of you who use several computers -- for example, a laptop at work and a desktop at home -- you can now keep your Google Chrome bookmarks synchronized and up-to-date across computers, without needing to manually recreate your bookmarks every time you switch computers."

Google is also improving the performance of Chrome with the new release. According to Baum, Chrome 4 is 42 percent faster than Chrome 3 and 400 percent faster than Chrome 1. A key part of the performance improvements come by way of Google enhancement to the v8 JavaScript engine at the browser's core.

Also under the hood of Chrome 4 are several new HTML 5 features.

"We now support the Web SQL Database API, which allows you to store data in a structured manner on the user's computer," Ian Fette, Google product manager, said in a blog post. "If you're looking for a simpler client-side storage mechanism for relatively small amounts of data, check out the localStorage portion of the Web Storage API."

Support for the new Notification API is also part of Chrome 4. With the Notification API, status updates and notification can be provided to users on the status bar panel of the browser.

"This panel allows you to provide more styling than window.alert()," Fette said. "It should also be much less irritating to your users -- with this API, notifications are still visible but do not get a user's attention by stealing cursor, tab or window focus."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the internet.com network.

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