Chrome 11 Beta...

The GUI's look remains relatively unchanged.

The new text to speech API is quite impressive.
Browser packs some slick tricks, but best is yet to come

This week the last of the "next generation" browsers finally shuffled in -- Firefox 4.  The industry's top players -- Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 4, Chrome 10Opera 11, and Safari 5 -- each brought something unique to the table this round.  But ultimately Chrome 10 proved to be the quickest of the crop in many tests, and among the most proficient at HTML 5.  It was also among the first of this crop to land in finished form -- an impressive feat.

Not content to rest on its laurels the folks at Mountain View have been busy cooking up a new beta [blog] of their next browser, Chrome 11.  That beta landed in the test channel yesterday and late this afternoon we took it out for a spin.

I. Speech to Text

Among the browser's most impressive features was the inclusion of a new HTML5 API that allows websites to implement speech-to-text dialogue boxes.  We were skeptical at first, but nonetheless made our way over to Google's minimalist demo page

To start we tried a simple example, saying "Hello world, from Google".  Sure enough it transcribed:

hello world from google

Next we tried a more challenging passage, the opening sentence of the Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

After contemplating for a second Google spit out:

4 score and 7 years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated this proposition all men are created equal

We'd consider that a pretty ringing success for the API.  We did try to read it a longer portion of the speech, but were met with an error, suggesting we check our microphone settings.  We're pretty sure there's some sort of a programmatic limit in the test applet on how much text can be input.  It is an impressive example, nonetheless.

Also, note that the HTML5 standards committee has not approved this spec.  Google has submitted the technology as a proposal to the 
HTML Speech Incubator Group, the group in charge of creating a web standard for speech-to-text.

(The sentences indicated as transcribed were directly copied and pasted from the resulting text in the test page's text box.)

II. Standards/Web-Technology

One of the more novel additions to Chrome 11 is the inclusion of 3D cascading style sheets.  CSS sheets rule most of the web, determining how web pages are arranged and how the text on them appears.  With the exception of a few all-Flash sites, nearly any website worth its salt has devote much time and effort to CSS design.

3D CSS allows for text and simple cells to be drawn in 3D dimension, for example warped onto the surface of a cylinder.  It also allows for unique 3D-esque animation effects, such as a spinning/card flip effect upon mouse over.

As you might guess, these effects demand a lot of processing power, which is why Google has thrown GPU acceleration at the task.

While we don't see this as ground moving, it's certainly entertaining and could make for an entertaining twist on the old page-view counter.

Google has set up another demo page on the new feature.

As mentioned, the speech-to-text feature is part of Google's growing library of supported HTML 5 features.  After the speech-to-text test, we took it through the paces of The HTML5 Test.  

As usual all tests were run on a 2009 era MacBook Pro with a 2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, NVIDIA graphics card, and 4 GB of RAM.  The tests were run in Windows 7 Professional (Boot Camp) 64-bit edition  

We combined the results of our Monday piece on the release of Firefox 4, to add comparative values.

For humors sake, as Apple Steve Jobs is always hyping HTML5, we tested Safari 5, too, for good measure (in Windows 7).  As you'll see, perhaps he's more talk than action -- all Webkit browsers (Safari is also built on Webkit) are obviously not created equal.

We obtained the following results (higher is better):

1. Chrome 11 beta - 293 points (+13 bonus points)
2. Chrome 10 -------- 288 points (+13 bonus points)
3. Firefox 4.0 -------- 240 (+8 bonus points)
4. Safari 5 ------------ 228 (+7 bonus points)

For fun we next ran Acid3, a general compatibility test, that tests things like CSS and SVG, we received:

T1. Chrome 11 beta - 100/100
T1. Chrome 10 -------- 100/100
T1. Safari 5 ------------ 100/100
4. Firefox 4.0 ---------- 97/100

III. Speed

It's a bit unfair to test an early browser test build's speed as much tuning goes into optimizing the speed side of things late in the test cycle.  Still, we decided to take a quick peek at what kind of results the new beta might yield.

To begin, we tested script performance using the Sunspider Javascript test.  Note, as we wrote Monday, Firefox did not properly animate the text, so it's unknown whether this impacted performance.  Nonetheless, here is the results (lower is better):

1.  Chrome 11 beta - 283.0ms +/- 2.1%
2.  Firefox 4.0 -------- 299.1ms +/- 3.6%
3.  Chrome 10 ------- 509.7ms +/- 10.2%
4.  Safari 5 ----------- 592.2ms +/- 5.2%

Next we ran Mozilla's Kraken Javascript benchmark.  Note, in the fast we've noticed Firefox perform unusually well here versus third party benchmarks, so we tend to take its results with a grain of salt.  We observed:

1. Firefox 4.0 --------- 8209.6ms +/- 1.6%
2. Chrome 10 -------- 10164.5ms +/- 1.8%
3. Chrome 11 beta - 13030.9ms +/- 2.7%
4. Safari 5 ------------ 18231.6ms +/- 1.9%

We wish we could use Celtic Kane's JSBenchmark, as Chrome did particularly well in it in our testing on Monday.  However, to our dismay apparently the developer had some database issues, so the benchmark is offline.  Our best wishes go out to him for a speedy recovery -- we love his test!

As a final general performance metric, we ran Futuremark's Peacekeeper benchmark, which tests a variety of standards.  We received:

1. Chrome 10 -------- 8020 points
2. Chrome 11 beta - 6439 points
3. Firefox 4.0 -------- 3511 points
4. Safari 5 ------------ 2767 points

Ultimately the Chrome 11 beta, in its current state, appears to have slid back slightly in terms of speed.  It's still faster than Firefox or Safari, overall, though.  This is quite healthy, as we mentioned, as browser development is kind of like exercise -- you have to tear down the browser's "muscle" (engine code), before building new stronger, faster "muscle" (engine code) in its place.

IV. Conclusion

Chrome 10 is one of our favorite browsers right now, simply because it is so fast.  Overall, there's no compelling reason not to switch from Chrome 10 to Chrome 11 beta.  We haven't experienced any crashes, and qualitatively the page load speed feels about the same.  The GUI actually feels a bit more responsive (again, qualitatively) than Chrome 10. 

Aside from support for new standards and web-technologies (including speech-to-text), there's little noticeably changed in the test build.  The GUI remains almost identical in look, though the icon did change.

Firefox and Opera, however, remain strong challengers.  Firefox has great extensions, and Opera is fast and has some great UI features like tab stacking.  Internet Explorer 9 also has its merits (namely manageability in a business setting), though it falls flat for lack of extensions and still falls short of speed/standards support.  

At the bottom of the barrel is Safari 5, which has a pretty clunky UI and little unique to write home about.  Quantitatively in benchmarks Safari 5 brings up the rear in virtually all our tests (besides Acid 3).

We really can't tell you which browser you'll enjoy the most, but we'd suggest taking Chrome 11 beta out for a spin of your own -- it can't hurt.

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein

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