First Look: Google Chrome for the Mac -- fast, slim, and very beta

Google's browser is still missing many features, but it's interesting to test.

The just-released beta of Google Chrome for the Mac follows the same design principles that Google uses for its own site design -- the browser is stripped-down and fast, with few features to get in the way of the Web pages you browse. It is nearly identical to the PC version, but because it is in an earlier phase of development, it lacks some significant features.

The browser's name provides a hint as to what takes center stage here -- an application's user interface is sometimes referred to as its chrome, and as with the PC version, Google has reduced as much of the browser's "chrome" as possible. That leaves you with a browser that's all display. Those who prefer bare-bones browsing will be pleased; those who like a fuller feature set may stay away.

Keep in mind that this first beta of Chrome for the Mac is still a very early work in progress. In fact, it feels more like an alpha release than a beta release -- even its bookmark manager doesn't work. You should not download it expecting to get work done.

Interface and features

The first thing you'll notice about the Chrome interface is that its tabs, unlike those in Safari and Firefox, sit above the address bar instead of underneath it. Google calls the address bar the Omnibox, and it's true to its name -- it does double-duty as a search bar.

Type in your search term and Chrome performs a search. It uses Google by default, but you can change the default to other search engines, including Bing and Yahoo. As with Safari and Firefox, when you type in an URL instead of a search term, it displays your bookmarks and Web pages from sites you've already visited as you type. It also makes its own suggestions based on the popularity of Web sites.

The Omnibox adds another nice touch: When you're on a site, the domain is highlighted so that you can easily see what domain you are currently visiting, even if your current page has a lengthy URL.

When you open a new tab in Chrome, a page appears with thumbnails of your nine most-visited Web pages, along with a recent bookmark list, and a search box for searching through the history of sites you've visited. It's not nearly as nifty-looking as a similar feature in Safari.

Chrome for the Mac
This first beta of Chrome for the Mac is still a very early work in progress.

On the other hand, in Chrome, each tab is essentially its own browser, so if that tab crashes, the entire browser doesn't (or at least shouldn't) crash. You can also easily tear off tabs into their own browser windows, and recombine separate browser windows into a single window with multiple tabs.

As with other Mac applications, options and features are available on a separate menu, although if you want, you can display two icons -- a page icon and a tools icon -- at the upper right of the browser screen, which give you access to many Chrome features via menus. For example, you can set your overall Chrome options, clear your browsing history, import bookmarks, and so on.

Chrome, like Safari and Firefox, can generate a separate window for keeping your browsing session private; here it's called Incognito mode. There's also a pop-up blocker.

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