The Cloud's Chrome Lining

With the formal beta launch of Chrome, Google is trying to redraw the browser-war battlelines. But with Microsoft's Internet Explorer dominating 72 percent of the market share, why take them on—especially considering IE's home-team advantage of being built into every Windows machine? Because Google wants your browser to do more than surf the Web. It already offers a free suite of software applications (e-mail, a word processor, spreadsheets, etc.) online—or in the "cloud," untethered from your hard drive. Chrome serves them all up in one neat package, like an online operating system. A breakdown:

TABS : Ever lose an e-mail you were typing because another open Web page froze up? Frustrating. Chrome's individual tabs (unlike Mozilla's Firefox) run on their own dedicated chunk of memory, meaning that if one page crashes, it doesn't take the whole browser with it.

THE 'OMNIBOX': In keeping with Google's ascetic esthetic, Chrome's design is clean and simple. The tabs have been moved to the top of the screen, the menu and status bars removed entirely. The address bar has been rechristened the "Omnibox," doubling as a search field—a menu of suggested pages appears as you begin to type your search term or URL. Chrome's only toolbar is dedicated to bookmarks.

START-UP PAGE: There is no default home page on Chrome. As a starting point you get an array of thumbnails of the sites you've visited most often and most recently—unless, that is, you visited those sites via "incognito mode," which has already been dubbed "porn mode" by bloggers.

DRAWBACKS: For now, Chrome is only available for free download on Windows XP/Vista. There's no way to e-mail a page or organize your bookmarks. A bigger concern is a vulnerability in WebKit, the engine used to design Chrome, which could expose users to malicious "carpet-bombing" attacks. Expect a fix before too long; in the meantime, surf safely.