If you believe Google, though, the best stuff is all under the hood. For example, Google chose, as the underlying Web-page processing software, the same existing “rendering engine” inside Apple’sSafari browser.
As a result, Chrome is quick — faster than Internet Explorer, although not quite as fast as Firefox or Safari. Since Chrome came out only Tuesday, I haven’t had time to test it on all 40 billion Web pages on the Internet (I gave up around dinnertime). Very few Web sites gave Chrome problems, though. NBCOlympics.com, for example, failed to recognize Chrome and therefore refused to play its videos, but that will change; nobody ignores Google these days. (Will Chrome beat Microsoft's Internet Explorer? See the video above for a discussion.)
Also under the hood are what Google considers some of Chrome’s most important features — the security enhancements. Google says that each tab runs in its own “sandbox,” so that if there’s nasty spyware-type software running on one Web site, it has no access to the rest of your computer, or even the other tabs. Google asserts that this is much stronger protection than Internet Explorer 8 gives you, especially in Windows XP. (Internet Explorer 8 supplies its best protection only in Windows Vista.)
Also in the security category: something called Incognito mode, in which no cookies, passwords or cache files are saved, and the browser’s History list records no trace of your activity. (See also: Safari, Internet Explorer 8.) Google cheerfully suggests that you can use Incognito mode “to plan surprises like gifts or birthdays,” but they’re not fooling anyone; the bloggers call it “porn mode.”
For more of the techie details about Chrome security, Google has created what may be the most innovative feature of all: an utterly charming comic book — yes, comic book — that explains the browser and its features.
Already, speculation is running rampant online. Will Chrome catch on? What about Google’s business relationships with its competitors?
And above all: what is Google up to?
Is it trying to build a platform for running the software of the future, thereby de-emphasizing Windows and other operating systems?
Will Google ensure that its own services run better in Chrome than in other browsers? Is this part of Google’s great conspiracy?
That’s a no and a no. Chrome is open-source, meaning that its code is available to everyone for inspection or improvement — even to its rivals. That’s a huge, promising twist that ought to shut up the conspiracy theorists.
For now, it’s best to think of Chrome as exactly what it purports to be: a promising, modern, streamlined, nonbloated, very secure alternative to today’s browsers. You should do exactly what Microsoft, Apple and the Firefox folks will all be doing: try it out and keep your eye on it.
Because every now and then, Google’s fresh approach ends up dominating its once much bigger competitors (See also: AltaVista, Lycos, Ask ...)
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: email@example.com.