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Chrome growth slows to a crawl


Judging by the 1.0 release of Chrome in November and two minor updates that followed, uptake of Google’s browser appears to have lost steam. It’s as if Google lost its edge in the innovation arena. Despite a cosmetic removal of the “beta” label that was deemed purely a marketing move, browser-share-november-2008Chrome remains rough around the edges and still lacks sophisticated features like the extension mechanism to add third-party functionality or more robust plugin support. With this slowed pace of innovation comes also a slowdown in web usage share growth. Basically, Chrome hovered slightly above the 1% mark throughout the past three months. And what’s worse, no feature-rich update is planned until at least the end of February.

Late yesterday, Google posted Chrome version 1.0.154.46 for download. It’s a maintenance release solving issues with Yahoo and Hotmail webmail, in addition it has two security updates and several fixes for known issues. The Yahoo! Mail issue which prevented users from sending email in the web interface is now resolved. Hotmail should also now work in Chrome. Microsoft’s webmail previously refused to run, reporting that Chrome is not one of the supported browsers.


Google noted their team is working with the Hotmail team for “a proper fix.” In the meantime, the company deployed a simple workaround that changes the user agent string that Chrome sends when requesting Hotmail URLs that end with mail.live.com, effectively fooling Hotmail into returning data for one of the supported browsers. Power users employing the application shortcut’s “–user-agent” switch, which forces Hotmail to run in Chrome, can now safely remove the switch with this release.

Besides Javascript and Adobe Reader plugin security updates marked with “high” severity, this release also includes several fixes for known issues (described in more details in Chrome’s release notes).

Since Chrome’s auto-update feature automatically downloads and installs the most recent stable release (even if the browser is not running), most users should already have version 1.0.154.46 installed. You can also install it manually by clicking the wrench menu, choosing About Google Chrome, and from there click Install Now to install the latest update.
Lack of new features in Chrome slows growth to a halt

According to Net Applications’ web usage share data for January (obtained by monitoring browsers versions and operating systems used to visit 40,000 participating sites in the U.S.), Chrome has been hovering around the 1.1 percent web usage mark throughout the month with spikes above 1.2 percent during weekends (possibly when users spend time trying out the new browser, while still relying on their old standby for daily use). This is pretty much consistent with an average 1.04 percent web usage that Chrome showed throughout December and most parts of November. For comparison, all versions of Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer recorded 7.93%, 21.34% and 68.15% web usage share in December respectively, as shown in TG Daily’s in-dept December browser analysis.

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Chrome’s almost flat growth in past three months is in sharp contrast with the surge early in November when Chrome zoomed past 1% web usage share following several new features deployed to the then beta version. Prior to this feature-rich beta release, previous beta versions of Chrome kept the browser hovering between 0.7% and 0.8% for most of October and November of last year. Although Google tried a few not-so-fair tactics to push Chrome onto more computers, nothing has worked except for one thing: new features that users have been craving.

When Chrome came out of beta on December 11, some felt (including this author) that the search giant rushed the browser out of beta purely as a vehicle to drive its market share up despite the fact it wasn’t “ready for prime time”. Since the 1.0 release (version number 1.0.154.36), Google has updated the consumer version of Chrome just one time – to version number 1.0.154.43. The update, posted earlier this month, brought some minor fixes which included an update to Gears (version 0.5.8.0) to fix crashes with some offline applications, along with spell-checking for Hebrew.

With the current flat growth, even clearing the 1.5% mark will be a gargantuan task. If Chrome’s short history is any indication, no trickery or cunning tactics will have an impact on its market share – unless Google deploys more of the features users want. The browser is clearly too rough around the edges to compete fully with the big boys. For instance, Chrome still lacks extensions mechanism (similar to those which turned Firefox into a success story) and broader compatibility with plugins.

Many users criticize a prehistoric bookmark manager, basic privacy options, the lack of cloud syncing (to keep their settings in sync across different computers) and more. Google watchers also point their finger at a sketchy development roadmap and a confusing release philosophy.
Three separate versions of Chrome

Google maintains three different channels which track Chrome as it is being developed. Users who download Chrome are automatically placed into the stable channel – updated with features and fixes once they have been thoroughly tested in the Beta channel. This channel pushes only “rock solid” Chrome releases that don’t get the latest experimental features.

Meanwhile, the Beta channel lacks the spit and polish associated with a finished product, but it does provide access to features that will later trickle down into the Stable channel. The Dev channel is a testing ground for the latest ideas. These may or may not materialize in Beta or Stable channels, and support the dreams of developers. Dev channel versions are “use at your own risk” as the releases are quirky and, in Google’s own words, “can be unstable at times.”

If you wish to switch your Chrome installation from the preset Stable channel to Beta or Developer preview channel, download and run the Chrome Channel Changer tool to set your channel, click Update to save your choice and then Close. Then, you will need to re-install Chrome. To do this, click the wrench menu and choose About Google Chrome, then click Install Now to get the latest available update for the chosen channel.

Readers should note that switching back from Dev to Beta or from Beta to Stable channels will revert your Chrome installation to an earlier version. In addition, your profile (bookmarks, most visited pages, history, cookies, etc) from most recent Beta or Dev version might not be compatible with older releases in Stable channel (due to changed data formats). More information about these variances can be found on Google’s channel changer page.

Mark Larson, program manager for Chrome, said that Chrome’s Beta and Stable channels have been updated to the new 1.0.154.46 version – adding that the company will not post a different release for the Beta channel until “something beta-worthy comes out of the Dev channel in February.”

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