Google has released Chrome 17 into beta, and it’s fast. Really fast. How fast? It starts loading the web page before you even finish typing.

Speedy, More Secure Chrome

In full disclosure, I am a fan of Chrome. I long ago embraced Google’s snappy, minimalistic browser after I grew tired of Firefox’s constant memory lust and Internet Explorer’s, well, Internet Explorer. I am not the only person won over by Chrome’s charms. Google Chrome recently passed Firefox to claim the silver medal in the browser market.

The year has just started, but the Chrome team has been busy. Last week, the team committed almost 2,000 code changes in preparation for the Chrome 17 beta. Now that it has been released into the wild, the latest Chrome release is already generating discussion.

According to Google, the release focuses on speed and security, which happen to be two of the most important browser characteristics for many users. A speed enhancement comes via Chrome 17’s support for page pre-rendering; the feature predicts the page you intend to load based on your browsing history and other algorithmic magic. The browser starts loading the page before you hit enter, providing what “feels” like a faster load. The feature has actually been available for months in an experimental mode, which could be enabled by navigating to chrome://flags/ in Chrome; the feature is much more stable in the beta release.

Taking a page from the Internet Explorer 9 release notes, Chrome 17 also includes improved malware protection. Earlier versions of Chrome focused on restricting access to malicious sites; the latest release actually analyzes executables and provides a warning if the file is a known security threat or is hosted on a site with a high percentage of malicious downloads. The beta only recognizes a limited amount of malware, but additional coverage is planned in the coming months. Although the feature is handy, users should not consider Chrome’s security features a replacement for antivirus software.

There are no major visual changes in Chrome 17, but tabs have been further streamlined.
Chrome 17 includes a number of minor changes such as adjustable margins in Print Preview, updates to the extension API and a prompt to confirm the cancellation of incomplete downloads when the user closes the last window of an incognito profile and several break fixes.

Getting Chrome 17

If you cannot wait for the final release, Chrome 17 is available for download at your own risk from Google. Installing the beta version is an all-or-nothing endeavor; it will replace your existing stable release of Chrome. The beta release can be uninstalled to return to a stable version.