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Google Chrome's Out of Beta. Now What?

Google chrome
Just three months after the release of Chrome, Google is following through on its vow to remove the "beta" label from its upstart browser -- making it a rare final product from a company notorious for its seemingly endless beta cycles.

Since its inception, Chrome has served as a test bed for new browser technologies, such as security models, Web standards support and transfer protocols -- experiments that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has said it hadn't wanted to attempt in connection with other, established open source efforts, like Mozilla Firefox. The company has issued 14 updates to its browser, almost at a rate of one per week since its release.

Now, with release 15, Google has dropped the beta label from Chrome, signaling that it considers the browser a "general availability," or final, product.

However, this doesn't mean that Chrome won't continue seeing improvements.

"We are by no means done," Linus Upson, engineering director at Google, told InternetNews.com. "We still have to add auto fill [for Web forms], better RSS handling is on deck and we're also doing bigger things like getting it running on Mac and Linux and adding an extension system."

Google has steadily made improvements in Chrome's features since its debut, addressing audio and video handling, hardware conflicts, render speed and JavaScript performance. The company also added a bookmark manager for power users who maintain up to thousands of links.

Chrome eventually will get features from the Google Toolbar that's available for Internet Explorer and Firefox, the company said. But the effort won't entail a direct port of the toolbar, which offers utilities like a pop-up blocker, translation and Web-based bookmarks -- instead, Chrome will just incorporate some of its features.

Upson also said there would not be any integration or tying of Chrome to Google Apps.

However, Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, thinks Google has more up its sleeve. "There's no question there's a lot of browsers out there, but at the same time, from Google's standpoint, when they go into anything, it has a strategic end in sight," he told InternetNews.com.

"Today, with a browser like this, they are clearly putting a stake in the ground. Over time is when you have to watch what they do with it," he added. "If it's a strategic issue today, they will want to integrate it with Apps in the future."

Wider aspirations

Yet Google remains steadfast in its claim that Chrome is designed, first and foremost, as a way to test and encourage the spread of new Web technologies.

"Our motivation for doing Chrome is simple: All of Google's business goes through the browser and we wanted to make the Web a better experience for users," Upson said. "So we wanted to build a browser to give users a better experience of the Web and base it on open source ... as we were building Chrome, we would improve other browsers as well."

[cob:Special_Report]For instance, Google said it has hardened its browser against many of the attacks that have befallen its rivals. And since Chrome is open source, Upson said its approach to security could help others -- including competing browsers.

"We had the luxury of watching what was happening with exploits and attacks with the other browsers while designing Chrome, so I think our security design is serviced very well during the beta period," Upson said. "By open sourcing everything, we hope all of our security features get adopted in other browsers. We don't think security is something that should be kept."

Google had initially said that Chrome had been meant as a lab experiment.

Chrome currently has about one percent of the market, but Upson said he thinks Google can expand on that.

"The biggest barrier we all face is most people don't even realize they have a choice in browsers," he said. "They think the 'blue E' is the Internet and that's that -- and don't think there are other browsers that can provide them a better experience."

"We can reach people in a way Mozilla can't," he added.

Bajarin sees even larger plans in Google's future. According to him, the company's initial strategy is to get people using Chrome before introducing more cloud-based features.

"Over time, as people get used to it, they can add more to it," he said, although he added that he expects Google will be methodical in its approach.

"They have learned from what's happened in the past and are being much more cautious in their approach," he said.