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Google Chrome out of beta: time for a party or a post-mortem?

Back in September, Google Chrome was launched with quite a lot of fanfare, it was a big tech story and received a lot of attention. At the time there was speculation that it could not only threaten Internet Explorer, but even speculation that it could threaten Microsoft Windows itself. Today, with much less attention it was announced that Google Chrome was no longer a beta (test) product and the “goals for stability and performance have been met” but the developers also add “our work is far from done”. The announcement was reported by Reuters in their MediaFile blog pages though, where they posed the question “will you switch from your current browser to Chrome?”. Oddly enough I've been running a poll on this site which asked you the question “Are you planning to use Google Chrome as your default browser?”. The results are in, the poll is closed and the answer is pretty conclusive.

The poll got eighty-eight votes in total and ran from the time of the announcement of Google Chrome to today, the day that it came out of beta. As always with statistics, it can only be really taken as indicative, and it just be mentioned here that the share of browsers and operating systems used by visitors is very different for this site than many other sites, so that may have an effect too. The vast majority, 82% (72 votes) of you answered “No” to the question, with the remaining 18% (16 votes saying that you were planning to switch to the new browser. The poll isn't the only indication though that readers of this site don't seem to be taking to Google Chrome; after it was released I noticed that the number of visitors using Chrome was climbing, but by October that trend was reversing.

So what went wrong? Well here I can only speculate, but I think there are obvious problem areas. The first is probably the continuing lack of a version for Linux or the Mac. Google have said that they are developing a version for these platforms, but the Linux page for Chrome still shows nothing more than a box to express your interest by entering you email address. Over 40% of the visitors to this site use Linux, so that is probably something that doesn't go down well. It's a decision I've never fully understood, many people now have moved on from Windows and Google's decision to prioritise MS Windows and offer everybody else only the assurance that a “team of engineers is working hard to bring it to you as soon as possible” doesn't make you feel that Google see Linux users as equals, particularly as this is not the first time that Google products have been unavailable for us. An added problem this decision could have brought as well is that a lot of people who are used to the open source world, people who could add useful feedback or features for future versions of Chrome, don't use MS Windows so Google may have missed out on their experience and expertise.

It is possible too that the problems with Google Chrome may run deeper. If you want to move from another browser then you might have problems because Chrome lacks features you may be used to such as an RSS reader or an ability to add in functionality through plug-ins. These functions are apparently on their way, but other browsers such as Mozilla Firefox are a long way ahead in terms of functionality. When Chrome was released one of the main features was said to be “a more powerful JavaScript engine, V8, to power the next generation of web applications that aren't even possible in today's browsers”, but Mozilla are already working on a new Javascript engine for Firefox 3.1 called Tracemonkey, which may also lead to more power for the browser. These factors could understandably lead to the conclusion that Chrome is just another browser and there is no real point migrating to it.

So what is the future for Chrome? This is very difficult to predict. Google may be able to promote it through their massive Internet presence, but they are so synonymous with search it might be a bit of a barrier for many people to view them in any other capacity. Maybe Chrome might prove its usefulness is coping with modern web applications, but it will still be quicker for Linux and Mac users to wait for their old browsers than wait for a version of Chrome. Maybe being out of beta will encourage Chrome to improve and bring in new features, it might encourage growth by giving people more confidence to use it. At the moment though Chrome doesn't seem special, let's hope that changes.

Comments

In my oppinion Chrome will never get a 1 position as a browser? Why?

1. I don't need so powerful JavaScript engine to power the applications that are not existing yet.
2. My Mozilla has everything what I need, I've got it customized, passwords rememberd, so I don't want and even don't have time to switch to Chrome
3. Google search engine is a very good and innovative product, but Chrome? I don't see anything special in this product - just another browser. I think Google should be more careful and develop really interesting and unique products.
4. And as you said, they gave a kick to Linux and Mac users, and this was stupid...

Charlie

Chrome caters to a specific group of users, and not everybody in cyberspace. Its functionality will only be fully-realized by open source developers. Still, I hope Google can come up with user-friendly interfaces and features.

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