Google today celebrated Chrome's second birthday by launching the sixth version of its browser for Windows, Mac and Linux. Chrome 6, which Google released into its "stable" channel, the upgrade mechanism for the production quality version, also included patches for 16 vulnerabilities and another crack at fixing a Windows kernel bug that affected the browser.
"The last couple of years we've been focused on speed," said Brian Rakowski, Chrome's director of product management. "A lot of things have changed in the last two years [in browsers], but the one thing we've learned is that speed matters. It's something Google's always believed in and it resonates with people."
One analyst isn't so sure. "Speed is absolutely important," said Sheri McLeish of Forrester Research. "But it's really just a horse race, with whoever comes out with the latest release generally the fastest."
Hardware acceleration is one performance enhancer that Google is just beginning to show to developers. Rakowski promised end users would see it soon. Browser hardware acceleration shifts some tasks from a PC's main processor to its graphics processor to boost performance, especially of graphics-intensive chores like rendering video or complex three-dimensional objects.
So far, Google has included it only with developer builds of the open source Chromium project, but the company will begin feeding the feature to Chrome, first to the browser's dev channel, then to the beta and stable builds. Chrome for Windows and Mac will both see hardware acceleration, although through different technologies. Rakowski was unsure whether the Linux edition would see the feature as well.
Chrome 6 also sports a minor UI makeover, with some elements shifted, the bookmark icon has been moved to the right of the address bar, and others compressed. Chrome now sports a single menu, down from two earlier, that hides all but the most basic browsing command, such as page forward, page backward and page reload.
"Chrome did up the ante," agreed McLeish, "and kept others on their toes. They simplified the user experience, changing the browser interface to be consistent with the Google brand."
Chrome 6 also boasts enhanced sync that lets users synchronise extensions and autofill entries between copies of the browser on different machines. Previously, the tool synced bookmarks, passwords, preferences and themes only.
Google plans to pick up the upgrade pace by releasing new versions of Chrome every six weeks or so. "We'll be updating much more frequently to a more regular and quick cadence," Rakowski said.
Chrome 6 included fixes for 16 security vulnerabilities, eight of them rated "high," four as "medium," and four "low." None were ranked "critical," Google's highest threat indicator in its four-step scoring system. Google paid out $4,337 in bounties for six of the 16 bugs. The browser also included a second fix for a Windows kernel problem that was declared solved in mid-August.
Chrome 6 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux from Google's website. Users already running the browser will be updated automatically.