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Faster JavaScript gets Google Chrome 10 spotlight

Google updates its browser, and faster Web-based program execution is the centerpiece with the Crankshaft version of the V8 JavaScript engine.

Google released Chrome 10 today, endowing its browser with faster JavaScript, password synchronization, a revamped preferences system--but no new Chrome logo. Chrome is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Google announced Chrome 10's stable release on its blog but refrained from mentioning its product number. That's in line with the company's effort to focus on features rather than version numbers, which it calls mere milestones. Google tries to get new versions into users' hands as rapidly as possible and currently passes a new milestone about once every six weeks.

JavaScript is the programming language used to write Web-based programs, and it's steadily gaining in importance. That's because programmers are now using it to write full-featured Web applications such as Gmail and Google Docs, not just Web pages, and faster JavaScript enables more features and a faster interface.

Chrome 10 comes with the "Crankshaft" version of the V8 browser engine that Google pegs as 66 percent faster than the unnamed version in Chrome 9 as measured with Google's V8 Benchmark suite. That's a major speed boost, but be aware there are many other attributes of browser performance, and one of the biggest--hardware acceleration--will hit prime time with the imminent release of Mozilla's Firefox 4 and Microsoft's IE9.

Chrome 10 gets some hardware acceleration, though, when it comes to playing videos, said Chrome team member Jason Kersey in a blog post.

Browsers usually get new features, but, unusually, Chrome had one removed: H.264 video is gone. Google said Chrome 10 would support Google's own VP8 video encoding, which it offers royalty-free in an attempt to unencumber Web video from patent licensing barriers that come with the widely used H.264. For those who are attached to the codec, Microsoft offers an H.264 Chrome plug-in for Windows 7 users.

Chrome already had Adobe's Flash Player built in, but Chrome 10 also puts Flash in a protective sandbox to confine security problems to a walled-off area of memory. Also in the security department are 23 security fixes discovered through Google's Chrome bounty program and ranging in severity from low to high.

One seemingly minor but actually pretty useful change in Chrome 10 is a revamped configuration system. Instead of a pop-up dialog box that must be dealt with then closed, the new settings show in a browser tab.

The first advantage of the approach is that there's more room to show what's going on. The second is that you can leave the settings open while using other tabs--for example while reading Web sites that are offering advice on what to do. A third is that you can save specific Web addresses for a configuration setting, which Google believes could make remote tech support easier because you can simply e-mail somebody a URL rather than tell them how to drill down through a number of settings. Finally, a feature that comes along for the ride is that the configuration page comes with a search box to locate particular features directly.

Update 10:40 a.m. PT: Added information about Chrome 10 supporting VP8 video encoding and putting Flash in a protective sandbox. Updated 1:53 p.m. PT: Added information about Chrome 10's hardware acceleration for video and security fixes and about Microsoft's H.264 plug-in.