San Francisco -- Search titan Google Inc. pulled the “beta” test label off its Chrome browser, quickly granting a stamp of approval, releasing the browser as a polished product in a direct challenge to Microsoft’s ubiquitous Internet Explorer, the company announced today.
The California search engine behemoth -- known for keeping new software offerings in beta, or test, modes for what seems like ages -- says Chrome proved its merits, and in a relatively brief 100 days.
Google’s age old free web-based Gmail service still marked as “beta” even though it was launched nearly five years ago.
“Google representatives have confirmed the Thursday change of status for Chrome.”
The first people to lay their hands on the non-beta version will be new users who download the browser directly from Google. Also Thursday, a small number of existing Chrome users will automatically get the update. On Friday, all the remaining Chrome users (10 million, according to Google) will get the download.
In a blog post, vice president of product management Sundar Pichai and Linus Upson, the engineering director at Google, said that Chrome’s beta tag had been removed “as our goals for stability and performance have been met but our work is far from done.”
Pichai, added that this release of Chrome will have “tons and tons of bug fixes,” especially around audio and video playback, which should now be “more stable.” Chrome will also be faster. Pichai said Google’s browser is 1.4 to 1.5 times faster (depending on which benchmarks you use) than it was at launch.
Chrome has been through 15 iterations ever since its initial launch with fixes and modifications engineered based on feedback from some of the more than 10 million people worldwide that have started using the browser.
“We are excited to announce that with today’s 50th release we are taking off the [beta] label,” both Upson and Pichai wrote in an online posting.
“We have removed the beta label as our goals for stability and performance have been met but our work is far from done.”
The progress opens the way for PC makers to pre-install it on the computers they sell, giving the browser a better chance of challenging the dominance of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
Several PC makers are considered to be keen about offering Chrome as their default browser, but they were unable to do so until it had come out of “beta” testing and customers could therefore be assured that it is glitch-free.
Improvements which users called for, and reportedly got, include better video viewing, faster data loading, and strict privacy and security controls. There are new features, as well. The bookmark manager is being revised to do a better job for people who have lots of bookmarks and for those who want to import or export bookmark lists.
Features that the team is still working on include autofill for forms; native support for RSS feeds, “and so on.” But the top three features that Pichai says he and his teams are working on are extension support and Mac and Linux versions.
“All the development is in the open,” Pichai said. Inquisitive users can monitor Chrome’s progress at Chromium.org, or download the Google Chrome Channel Chooser, which will tell their installation of Chrome to download either the betas between major updates of Chrome, or even the nightly (and often buggy) builds of the browser as it is developed. Pichai recommends that last option for those dying of curiosity about Chrome’s upcoming extension support.
Google’s Chrome release came a few weeks earlier than had been expected. The company had previously said testing would be complete in early January.
Anders Sandholm, product manager at Google, said: “The response to Google Chrome has been outstanding, and we are continuing to explore ways to make it accessible to even more users. This could potentially include distribution agreements with OEMs [original equipment manufacturers – the PC makers].”
Google did not confirm whether it is already in talks with computer manufacturers about a deal to pre-install the browser.
Google and Microsoft have long been in an increasing conflict over web supremacy, with the Redmond, Washington-based software goliath striving to unseat Google as king of Internet search and advertising.
Analysts have noted that Microsoft ultimately defeated Netscape Navigator in the browser war of the late 1990s primarily because Internet Explorer was packaged with the Windows operating system that dominated the PC market, and thus became the default choice for most web users.
Google, in the meantime, is giving a hard blow at the heart of Microsoft’s empire by offering software free online as services supported by advertising.
The update will be automatically rolled out in the next few days, Google said.
The update system has been used for 14 updates of the beta product so far. This 15th update will be the first non-beta release.