Google Chrome breaks out of beta

The Web giant's recently launched browser is now officially ready for the public. Plus: How to make sure you get the new build.

Google's browser, Chrome, is officially leaving beta today.

Yesterday at the Le Web 08 conference in Paris, Google VP Marissa Mayer told TechCrunch's Mike Arrington that the move would be happening, but she did not say when. Google representatives have confirmed the Thursday change of status for Chrome.

How to get it
The first people to get the non-beta version will be new users who download the browser directly from Google. Also Thursday, a small proportion 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. (You can also download it from CNET here.)

If you want to know whether you have the update, check Chrome's About page. If you don't have the current version, you can force the update from the dialog box. Normally, Chrome checks for updates every fifth hour of use.

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.

Chrome's privacy options are now in one place.

What's included
Sundar Pichai, vice president of product development, told me 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.

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. Privacy options have all been consolidated into one dialog box. And there are improvements in the security features of the browser.

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 team are working on are extension support and Mac and Linux versions.

"All the developement is in the open," Pichai said. Curious 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.

What's in a Google beta?
For a Google product, Chrome is leaving beta very quickly -- 100 days after public launch. Pichai said that Chrome now meets Google's "internal standards for stability and performance" and that its heavy use inside Google before its public release has contributed to its rapid graduation to released product status.

But clearly there's more at play here than that. For comparison's sake, only recently did Google remove the beta tag from Picasa, and it was years old and in its third major version. Gmail is still in beta, despite being relied on by tens of millions of users.

Google has big plans and goals for Chrome. Truly widespread adoption of the product won't happen in businesses or on the pre-installed software suites of new computers until the product is not just known to be stable by users but vouched for as production-ready by Google -- and that means taking it out of beta, even if the word itself means less than it used to.

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