Features that Google brought to its developer preview version of Chrome--themes, a revamped new-tab page, a tweaked Omnibox for searching and entering Web addresses, and support for HTML 5 video--have now arrived on the browser's better tested beta version intended for broader use.

Individually, these features in Chrome (download) are niceties. Collectively, they show Google is steadily moving ahead with its browser project, which was ambitious even before Chrome OS arrived on the scene. Fighting for a piece of the browser market is tough, but offering an operating system solely for Web-based applications is a lot tougher.

After some on-again, off-again wavering, I've gone back to Chrome as my default browser. I like its interface and a handful of features, but the main advantage is its priority on speed. Google's Chrome ambition is to improve the Web as a foundation for applications and more generally to get people to do more online, and speed is of the essence.

That's why the shiny new features such as Chrome themes actually are less interesting to me than some of the fine print in Google's announcement of the new beta:

Beyond the improvements in JavaScript execution in this latest beta, there are a host of other improvements that should help Google Chrome make the most of your network connection. For example, when you open a new Web page while other Web pages are still loading, Google Chrome is now smarter about prioritizing the requests for the new page--for instance, fetching text, images, and video for your new page--ahead of the requests from the older pages. Loading pages on this beta release should also be faster than ever with DNS caching, more efficient DOM bindings, and using V8 for proxy auto-config.

OK, so that gets deep in the weeds at the end there, but suffice it to say that Google is tackling browser speed in a number of areas, not just its V8 engine for executing Web programs written in JavaScript.

Google gets dinged with some justification for moving sluggishly with Chrome. The Mac OS X and Linux versions are only now beginning to come into their own, for example. But there's a subtext to that criticism that bears mentioning.

Specifically, it looks to me as if some perceptions are shifting from "Why should I bother with Chrome?" to "Google isn't moving fast enough with Chrome." That shows expectations are shifting in Google's favor. It positions the company better to win over converts through the gradual delivery of extensions and other high-demand features.

Of course, a lot of my feedback is from change-embracing early adopters who care, sometimes passionately, about browsers. Getting Chrome to appeal to mainstream folks will be another, harder challenge for Google.