Does Google’s Chrome Need More Polish?

GMail has been in beta for five years. Chrome went “gold” after four months. Is it ready?

It’s not too often Google shocks people these days, but declaring its Chrome browser a finished, 1.0 product after only four months was sure one of those moments. Google, the land of the perpetual beta (five years and counting for GMail, three years for Docs), declared the bits golden code after 100 days of public consumption.

This hasn’t sat well in several places, including TG Daily, Computerworld, and here at InternetNews.com.

As late as last month, according to a release from the testing firm uTest, Chrome was plagued with a fair number of bugs, more so than even the Firefox 3.1 and Internet Explorer 8 betas. In a “Bug Battle” between the three beta browsers, testers found 297 in Chrome, 207 in Firefox 3.1 and 168 in IE 8.

uTest Vice President of Marketing Matt Johnston emphasized that this test took place between November 5 and 12, well before the final release of Chrome which likely included a number of fixes to bugs the testing firm had identified. “Our community of testers was not testing against the final code,” he told InternetNews.com.

He said the view around the office is mixed. “We have people in our office who use it and swear by it, and at the same time we’ve had people use it and say ‘I’m going to wait for the next version comes out’,” said Johnston.

Johnston’s own view is that Chrome is solid, but it was following a well-worn path. “I would say it’s important to note that IE is on version eight and Firefox is on version three, and if we go back in time to when those apps were at the 1.0, 1.1 stage, Chrome is far and away ahead of where those things were when they launched, for obvious reasons. They have taillights and experience of where those guys were to follow,” he said.

Imad Mouline, chief technology officer for Gomez, a Web traffic monitoring and analysis site, was also surprised at the short beta cycle, but he echoed Johnston’s view that Chrome is fairly mature for its young age.

“From a performance perspective, and I can only speak to the performance perspective, it’s doing as well or better than a lot of the browsers out there,” he told InternetNews.com. “I cannot speak to the compatibility or the number of bugs. Once people decide to use it, to visit real sites, it’s performing pretty well.”

Gomez measures the performance of a browser at a site, such as load times, rendering time and rendering accuracy. Mouline said he noticed some very strange swings between the last beta version and the 1.0 code, pushed live last week.

“It’s not necessarily consistent. With some pages for some sites, the beta is still quite a bit faster than the final code, while with other sites, it’s the other way around,” he said. The final code could be as much as 50 percent faster than the beta code, or vice versa, the beta code was 50 percent faster.”

“So there’s clearly quite a bit of room for people building these sites to make their JavaScript faster, but also in the browser itself to make sure it’s not going backwards,” said Mouline.

Next Page: Why bother?

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Why bother?

For its part, a Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) spokesperson only had a brief comment on the decision to go gold after four months.


“Each product development team determines its own criteria for coming out of beta. With Google Chrome, we set standards for stability and performance and remove the beta label on a particular release when we meet those standards. We will continue to introduce new features in beta and release them more broadly when they meet these standards,” the company said to InternetNews.com in a statement.

It’s not easy to pin down why Google released Chrome as a final product since it changed its story. When Chrome first came out, Google said Chrome was a lab experiment of sorts for Google to try out “more radical things” and not use the Firefox browser as a test bed for its ideas.

But when it released the final Chrome code, Chrome wasn’t a lab experiment any more. Google changed its story, saying it wanted to make the Web “a better experience for users.”

While it’s a nice browser, Scott Fulton, managing editor of BetaNews, admits he’s not sure why we need it. “Whenever I do use Chrome, I can’t seem to get a handle on what its value proposition is supposed to be. In other words, Google has yet to come up with a way for users to fill in the blank in the sentence, ‘I use Chrome instead of IE or Firefox or Opera because blank’,” he said in an e-mailed comment.

Part of a secret operating system?

Google may or may not have a secret operating system project in the works, one that mimics the interface of the Android operating system for mobile phones, but for PCs. If it does, it would fit with Google’s revised mission statement for Chrome, “to build a browser to give users a better experience of the Web.”

If such a plan is in the works, then it would make sense for Google to push ahead quickly with the front end of its “operating system” and get people using it. Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner, said he has not heard of an OS from the company, but wouldn’t be surprised.

“The thing about Google is they have a very broad reach, and hopefully that reach won’t exceed their grasp,” he said. “They are dabbling in certain things like virtual health. They’re buying telecom infrastructure. I wouldn’t be surprised if they launched their own satellite. Certainly an OS is not that far a field to buying fiber optic lines.”

Perhaps Google’s browser is a new UI to the cloud.

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