Google Chrome 9 was released with little fanfare on Thursday, bringing with it a few significant additions. It arrives as a stable channel release; the beta channel version is now only slightly ahead of stable channel release while the developer channel has advanced to version 10.
The changes aren't as substantial as those that arrived with Chrome 8 -- over 800 bug fixes, a built-in PDF viewer and support for the Chrome Web Store -- but they're nonetheless worthwhile.
Chrome 9 implements support for WebGL, a hardware acceleration technology designed to work with the new HTML5 Canvas element. Hardware acceleration is critical to making browser-based games and other graphics-intensive applications competitive with the performance of desktop applications.
"With WebGL in Chrome, you can experience rich 3D experiences right inside the browser with no need for additional software," explain Google engineers Erik Kay and Aaron Boodman in a blog post.
Chrome 9 also enables Google Instant, the company's real-time, search-as-you-type service, in the browser's omnibox -- the combined address bar and search bar.
There's also the minor addition of a link to the Chrome Web Store on the New Tab page.
Google's Chrome browser continues to show impressive growth. According to Net Applications, it passed 10% global market share in January, largely at the expense of Microsoft Internet Explorer, particularly older versions of IE. IE 8 and 9 are both gaining market share, just not as fast as IE 6 and 7 are losing it.
Google however has a distinct advantage with regard to browser market share. Chrome updates itself automatically, making it unnecessary to install new versions. IE 9 offers auto-updating, but it won't convert IE 6, 7, or 8 installations into IE 9. This means that every time a user considers updating an older version of IE, he or she also has the option to switch to a different brand of browser.
With Chrome, there's no upgrade decision process that presents the opportunity to consider alternatives.
Microsoft next week plans to announce some news about Internet Explorer 9, presumably the replacement of the "Beta" label with the designation "Release Candidate."