Google releases Chrome 17 -- get it now!

Chrome 17 entered the "stable" channel today, 33 days after going beta. Not coincidentally, the stable build follows Chrome for Android by one day. You'll want the one to get the full sync benefits of the other.

Google promises security improvements with the new release and something else: Faster page loading, as you type and in some cases barely before you start typing the address. Chrome essentially pre-renders websites, extending the search page pre-rendering already available. The feature is disturbing in practice -- a little too prescient, like mind reading, when it works.

On the security side, Google has long used a number of features, such as tab sandboxing, to diminish malware risks. Chrome 17 improves security by enhancing the Safe Browsing mechanism. Google's Niels Provos and Ian Fette explain last week:

To provide better protection, Safe Browsing has two additional mechanisms that can detect phishing attacks and harmful downloads the system has never encountered before.

Phishing attacks are often only active for a few short hours, so it’s especially important to detect new attacks as they happen. Chrome now analyzes properties of each page you visit to determine the likelihood of it being a phishing page. This is done locally on your computer, and doesn’t share the websites you visit with Google. Only if the page looks sufficiently suspicious will Chrome send the URL of that page back to Google for further analysis, and show a warning as appropriate.

Malicious downloads are especially tricky to detect since they’re often posted on rapidly changing URLs and are even “re-packed” to fool anti-virus programs. Chrome helps counter this behavior by checking executable downloads against a list of known good files and publishers. If a file isn’t from a known source, Chrome sends the URL and IP of the host and other meta data, such as the file’s hash and binary size, to Google. The file is automatically classified using machine learning analysis and the reputation and trustworthiness of files previously seen from the same publisher and website. Google then sends the results back to Chrome, which warns you if you’re at risk.

Google is taking an even more proactive approach to browser security than it already does. While I would never dissuade anyone from using anti-malware software, I do wonder if the changes -- added to existing capabilities -- diminish the value of security apps offering safe search capabilities.

Many other changes are cosmetic, as Google continues to clear clutter from Chrome and give it a more modern, streamlined look. A full list of changes is available from the Google Chrome Releases blog.

Something else: If you've got Ice Cream Sandwich running on Google Galaxy Nexus, Motorola XOOM, Samsung Nexus S or other smartphone or tablet and Chrome for Android, do get the new stable desktop build. For me, Chrome for Android wouldn't sync right with Chrome desktop until after I upgraded. Now it's smooth as silk syncing.

Chrome 17 is available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. Follow the links to BetaNews FileForum to download.

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