Despite some beta issues, Google's streamlined and speedy Google Chrome web browser offers strong integrated search and an intriguing alternative to Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Google takes aim squarely at Microsoft with the release of its new web browser, Google Chrome. And Microsoft should be very afraid: Chrome lives up to its hype by rethinking the web browser in clever and convenient ways that make using the web a more organic experience than you'd get with either Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8.0 or Mozilla's Firefox 3.0.

Initially available for download for Windows Vista and XP, Google plans to expand its Google Chrome offerings to the Mac and Linux platforms as well. The company doesn't offer any timeline for these versions, though.

Google Chrome automatically detects the web browser you're using and prompts you through the process of installation (right down to telling you how to access downloaded files within Firefox, for example). When you first run the application, Google Chrome imports your bookmarks, passwords, and settings from Firefox or Internet Explorer. It even can grab username and password data, and it automatically populates those fields for you when you use Chrome for the first time to visit a particular site.

After running through a quick import checklist, Google Chrome opens on your desktop - and right away you begin to experience the web in a new way. Chrome's layout is very simple: you'll see a row of tabs running along the top, a web address bar, and a bookmarks bar that runs beneath the address bar. A separate recent bookmarks box appears at the right of the screen, as does a history search field.

Like its Google stablemates, Google Chrome has a remarkably minimalist interface. There is no full-scale menu bar and no title bar - and few distractions. All controls are buried beneath two icons to the right of the Omnibar (as Google refers to its address bar): a page icon for managing tabs and using Google Gears to create application-like shortcuts from your desktop to a website; and a wrench for history, downloads, and other browser options.

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