Google rolled out a stable release of Chrome 17 to browser users around the world Wednesday. Among other things, the upgrade begins to pre-render Web site pages based on what the user is typing in the browser's address bar, which Google has renamed the "omnibox."

"When you start typing in the omnibox and the URL auto-completes to a site you're very likely to visit, Chrome will pre-render the page, so it will appear faster -- sometimes, even instantly -- as soon as you hit Enter," wrote Chrome Software Engineer Noé Lutz in a company blog Wednesday.

Chrome 17 also features a number of security enhancements, including greater protection from malicious downloads, some of which even masquerade as free anti-virus products.

Google hopes the speed and security improvements to Chrome 17 -- together with this week's launch of Chrome as a browser for mobile devices running Android 4 -- will help the browser resume its former growth trajectory in the global browser market.

According to Net Applications, Google's browser market growth stalled in January when Chrome lost 0.17 percent share on the desktop -- even as Microsoft's Internet Explorer gained 1.1 percent and Mozilla's Firefox dropped 1 percent.

Security Enhancements

Chrome 17 analyzes the properties of each Web site that users visit to determine the likelihood of it containing phishing pages. Moreover, this analysis is conducted in the background on the user's own PC and without any information about the Web sites that users visit being shared 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," noted Chrome software engineer Niels Provos and product manager Ian Fette.

The safe browsing functionality built into Chrome 17 downloads a continuously-updated list of known phishing and malware Web sites, generated by an automated analysis of Google's entire Web index. "If Chrome detects that you've visited a page on the list, it warns you with a large red page that helps you get back to safety," Provos and Fette wrote in a blog.

Chrome 17 also includes expanded functionality for analyzing the content of downloadable ".exe" and ".msi executable files. "If a file you download is known to be bad, or is hosted on a Web site that hosts a relatively high percentage of malicious downloads, Chrome will warn you that the file appears to be malicious and that you should discard it," wrote Chrome software engineer Dominic Hamon in a blog.

Google Eyes Mobile Browsing

Google's Chrome for Android Beta release earlier this week comes at a time when smartphones and media tablets are claiming greater shares of the global browser market. Dublin-based StatCounter reports that global Internet usage on mobile devices -- not including tablets -- almost doubled to 8.5 percent in January, 2012 in comparison with 4.3 percent one year earlier.

"While global Internet usage through mobiles is still under 10 percent, the pace of growth is remarkable," said StatCounter CEO Aodhan Cullen.

The latest StatCounter data shows that Google's Android platform accounted for 21.4 percent of global mobile browser activity in January. By comparison, Opera held a 23.3 percent share of the mobile browser market and Apple's iPhone held a 19.5 percent share, according to the Dublin-based web metrics firm.

Deployments of Google's Chrome for Android Beta are limited to the latest devices running Android 4, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, which means it will take a while for Google to realize significant share gains. Over time, however, Google hopes to continue growing its overall share of the the browser market by offering computing device users a full-fledged version of Chrome for all available form factors.