Google Chrome 8: What's new, and what's next

Google's just released a new version of its Chrome Web browser -- and the update paves the way for some big things ahead.

The blogosphere may be buzzing about Google's Chrome OS and Chrome Web Store this week, but Google itself is focusing on its original Chrome product: The Chrome Web browser.

Google announced the launch of Chrome 8.0.552.215 at its official Chrome blog Thursday afternoon. The update brings a number of changes and -- perhaps more important -- paves the way for some big things ahead.

Google Chrome 8: New Features

So what's new in Google Chrome 8? Quite a bit, actually -- though many of the changes are under the hood. Google Chrome 8 introduces more than 800 bug fixes and stability improvements. Those tweaks and other security patches make up the bulk of the progress.

One new feature that's immediately noticeable is the addition of a built-in PDF viewer, something that had been floating around in developer builds for several months. According to Chromium Engineering Director Marc Pawliger, the built-in PDF viewer lets the browser "render [PDF files] as seamlessly as HTML Web pages," without the need for a standalone Adobe Reader installation. All PDFs are also contained in what's called a sandbox, which basically means they're isolated and won't affect the security or performance of any other parts of the system.

Google Chrome 8: Big Future

The most significant changes in Chrome 8 may be ones that most of us can't see. Developers say Chrome 8 is the first version of the browser to boast full support for Google's upcoming Chrome Web Store, which is widely expected to launch any day now. The Chrome Web Store will offer an array of Web-based applications -- both free and paid -- that'll be designed specifically to work with the Chrome browser and the still-under-development Chrome OS.

Speaking of Chrome OS, it too may be moments away from making its grand debut. In an interview with The New York Times last week, a Google engineering VP said Chrome OS-powered netbooks would be hitting the market before the year's end. Chrome OS, as you may recall from Google's preview of the software last summer, will offer a bare-bones, browser-like interface that'll rely almost entirely on cloud-based applications. And, despite its similar categorization, it'll be wildly different from Google's other operating system, Android -- both in terms of how it works and what types of devices it'll target.

(For a detailed comparison, check out "Chrome OS vs. Android: What's the difference?")

As far as the basic Chrome browser, Google's next project is applying its sandbox technology to Adobe's Flash Player. Like with the PDF scenario, it'll allow Flash-based content to stay isolated in its own area, making the overall browsing experience safer and more stable.

Google Chrome and the Browser Market

Google's clearly keeping busy with Chrome these days, and all of the efforts may be paying off: According to recently released data, November marked Chrome's biggest month to date when it comes to browser market share. The data, compiled by metrics firm Net Applications, shows Chrome growing a full 5.6 percent in global market share for the month of November, bringing its total up to 9.3 percent. That's the second-highest single month gain Net Applications has ever measured for any browser.

Chrome 8 is now available at Google's Chrome download page. If you're already using Chrome, the program should automatically find and install the upgrade soon. If you don't want to wait, just click the tool icon at the top right corner of the program and select "About Google Chrome." That'll force your browser to check for updates and begin the upgrade process.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.

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