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Google's Chrome Should Still Be In Beta

Commentary: Count me among the surprised to see Google's Chrome browser officially out of beta yesterday. Sure, I had heard the rumors ahead of the news, and they didn't make sense to me.

So here's why I think Google's Chrome needs to stay in beta. It has not gone through the same process of development that every other major browser in the history of the Internet has undergone. Plus, we need to examine whether Chrome was ever really a beta prior to its official release.

But I digress. Let me get to the surface level of why I was among the surprised to see it out of beta this week. For one, earlier this week Google released an update to Chrome dev-channel version

The release has an important fix in it for Microsoft's Hotmail, but more importantly it clearly identifies the fact that Chrome does not work properly with all sites and services. Even more interestingly Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) recommends that, as a workaround, users trick sites into thinking that Chrome is actually Safari. As a reminder, Google has two versions of Chrome, the dev-channel version, which is the bleeding edge of development and then there is the stable version, which is supposed to take the lessons of the dev version into account.

The official non-beta release, by Google's own admission, does not include the Hotmail fix. Google, as I blogged yesterday, has not updated the dev-channel version (which should be the leading edge of development) to a 1.x version.

Google's Chrome stable is now at version So why would Google declare Chrome to be out of beta without migrating the dev-channel forward or basing the new stable on the dev-channel version? This seems very odd.

Furthermore, when was Chrome ever really in beta? Sure, Google has its own nebulous definition of beta. After all, the widely used Gmail is still called a beta. But Chrome never followed the traditional beta development pattern that other browser vendors have been following.

Think of how Mozilla develops Firefox today. First, there are alpha milestone releases. Then, once they get closer to a feature freeze, they create a beta milestone by calling it beta 1 (for example). In between those actions comes user testing and validation. Before a final release there is what is known as Release Candidate versions. Microsoft follows a similar process and currently is at beta 2 for its Internet Explorer 8 browser.

Was there ever a Google Chrome beta 1? No.

I'd be willing to bet that many Google Chrome users have only updated one version of Chrome. That would probably be the first time they installed it. Why? Take the PC example. When installed on a Windows PC, Google Chrome installs a process called GoogleUpdate.exe into a user's system. GoogleUpdate automatically updates the user's Chrome installation, which is why even though Chrome went through 15 updates since its first release, users didn't have to click yes to an update 15 times. That's a very different approach than either Firefox of IE.

Those who want Firefox or IE updates on browser versions typically have to download (or at least click yes to the update box) before being updated. Google Chrome does not work that way.

The Google Chrome update process means a significantly more rapid update of Chrome users overall and when combined with using the dev-channel as a base, in my view negates the needs for a beta in the traditional development model.

In my opinion, the dev-channel version of Chrome is the perpetual beta version of Chrome, while the stable version has, by definition, always been stable. Thus, by extension, it has not been a beta.

Chrome Browser

Then again let me present exhibit A from Chrome's "About Google Chrome" section, in this screen shot.

While Gmail itself still shows the beta moniker as part of its logo, the pre-1.x version Chrome did not have the same label. So, if an application was never really a beta could it then in fact come out of beta?

And while you're thinking about that question, how about this one: What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor for InternetNews.com.