Everyone in the geekworld has been talking about Google’s new Chrome browser lately, and for good reason. I feel bad for Opera,  who has been around for ages and has created a pretty damned good browser, but still gets no respect. Opera is at version 9.5, and people still say, “Opera what?” when they hear the name. On the other hand, Chrome is only in beta, and it’s the talk of the town. A lot of this has to do with Google’s unquestionable star power, and also hip marketing strategy: there’s an online comic book explaining what’s under Chrome’s hood.

Being the unapologetic Internet lover that I am, I had to give it a spin. Honestly, I’m pretty impressed. It has a few new innovative features. For instance, the “home page” learns from your browsing habits and puts up thumbnails of your most visited sites, so you can just click on them. The design is very clean and user-friendly. It’s missing a lot of stuff, like a bookmark manager, but this is just a beta, and I’m certain that those features will be added later.

Chrome seems pretty fast. It loaded up all the pages that I tested without any complaint, and rendered them correctly too. Chrome’s claim to fame is its power to handle Javascript, which is powering everything from blogs to social networks. Chrome is a star in this department. Obviously, Gmail works brilliantly in Chrome, loading and running noticeably faster than in Firefox. Other Javascript-heavy sites like Facebook also perform beautifully in Chrome. I can see myself using Chrome exclusively to access these kinds of sites.

I did a little Javascript speed test to get some numbers. Internet Explorer 7 clocked an average of around 1000ms on this test. Firefox 3 ran it at a respectable 300ms. Chrome was consistently below 200ms. Pretty impressive indeed. Firefox 3.1, which comes out soon, promises major improvements to Javascript performance, so it will be interesting to see what happens in this battle.

Perhaps the most interesting innovation of Chrome is its use of multithreading. Chrome creates a new process for each new browser tab, and even each plugin that runs. The payoff for this will happen some time in the future, as websites get more complex and more likely to crash your browser. If a site crashes one tab, you can just close it without affecting other tabs. In current browsers like IE or Firefox, a crashing tab might take down your entire browser. So far, that hasn’t been a problem for me, but I think future sites might be more demanding. Multi-threaded tabs is probably one of those ideas that makes browser developers wish they’d thought of it first.

I’m excited too to hear that Google has plans to make Chrome the basis of future mobile browsers. Currently, browsing the web on phones sucks. Let’s face it. An open source browser that can be applied to any phone platform is good news for everyone who wants to access the web on the road. Again, it sucks to be Opera.