Happy Birthday: A Look Back at One Year of Google Chrome
One year ago, Google Chrome came out of nowhere to re-ignite the browser debate. Today, it's reached (development) version 4.0, and it's anchoring a much-anticipated operating system. Here's a look back at where Chrome's been in 12 short months.
Sept. 1-4: The Surprisingly Secret Birth
Not too many marquee tech products, hardware or software, are developed in secret anymore. Still, when Chrome was officially announced on September 1, 2008, with a beta available the next day, it caught most of the tech world completely unawares. Had the Google Blogoscoped blog's Phillip Lenssen not accidentally received and posted the Chrome team's explanatory comic, the Chrome developers and Wired's would-be exclusive would have been the first words on the newest browser around.
Soon after the morning it dropped, we took a first look around Chrome, and found ourselves impressed with its obsessive focus on freeing page space, search capabilities, and, above all, its real-like-you-can-feel-it speed. Readers voted that their favorite feature was the minimal size, memory use, and interface, but, just like Gina, many were pledging allegiance to their Firefox extensions.
Sept. 5-18: Let's get tweaking
Once serious geeks get a brand-new browser in their hands, you'd better believe they'll make it work exactly the way they want it to. The How-To Geek figured out how to get more OmniBox suggestions with one of the first of many, many command line switches. It didn't take long for Gina to get on blocking ads in Google Chrome, and she eventually delivered a comprehensive power user's guide to Google Chrome. We also looked at Greasemetal, an early user script tool for Chrome, and we changed Chrome's user agent string to sneak past sites that pretended not to like it.
Sept. 15: Unofficial arrival on Mac OS X and Linux
CodeWeavers, makers of the software that makes Microsoft Office actually work on Linux, offers up customized CrossOver Chromium builds for Mac and Linux systems. It's pretty rough, but it proves how much enthusiasm there is behind this new browser entry.
Sept. 19: The beginning of "Extensions are coming; where are extensions?"
It was music to our customize-happy ears when InformationWeek tugged a promise out of Chrome's developers that Chrome will have add-ons (original enthusiasm Adam's), and it turned out more than 28 percent of browser users were ready to switch when extensions arrived. Ever since, every comment thread ever about Google Chrome has included at least one Firefox user noting that they absolutely, positively will not switch without extension support (some very, very slight exaggeration there).
Sept. 22: Chrome as Operating System? Preposterous!
We pointed to a Doc Searls thought piece on how Chrome, Gears, and the Android system "delivers on Netscape's promise of the browser as operating system, with online-and-off webapps replacing desktop workhorses."
Oct. 19: Rudimentary Greasemonkey, ahoy!
Nov. 3-Dec. 10: Bookmarks and baby steps
Dec. 11-Jan. 8: Chrome leaves beta, Google pushes the heck out of it
It was more of a marketing move than a huge new release, but Chrome dropping the beta tag did shake things up in the browser field. One day later, Google replaced Firefox with Chrome in the Google Pack software bundle, and two weeks later was telling Internet Explorer users logging into Gmail that Chrome, or Firefox, was twice as fast. Soon after that, Chrome pushed out a 2.0 "pre-beta", leaving software developers shaking their heads at just what Google considered a "new version."
Feb. 13: First screenshot of official Chrome on Mac
All it does at this point is open, load with Mac-style visual components, and crash. But, hey, it exists!
Feb. 26: Chrome wins some qualifying races
Mar. 17-22: New beta brings the speed (and extensions?)
Mar. 23: User scripts make Chrome "Better"
One more Chrome beta release in March enables user scripts with a command switch, and Greasemonkey enthusiast How-To Geek compiles a whole bunch of Chrome-compatible Gmail scripts into a Better Gmail for Chrome, allowing fans of Better Gmail 2 for Firefox to feel better about a potential switch.
Mar. 30-Apr. 7: That Mac beta? Coming "this fall"
Apr. 24: Welcome to the club
Chrome pushes out an instant security update to all channels to fix a "high-priority security hole," meaning it's now officially a second-rate target of ingenious/mischievous 14-year-olds.
May 7-27: Sample extensions, speed, and a portable version
The earliest of early Chrome extensions are all found in the status bar and work mainly as indicators or fancy bookmarklets. Firefox has picked up on the multi-process idea, and Chrome pushes its sped-up 2.0 version to stable release. Less than a week later, a German blogger compiles and releases a portable version for those wanting to try without installing, or bring their Chrome along with them.
June 5: Mac and Linux alphas Google doesn't want you to download
It's tongue-in-cheek, but also kind of serious—Google releases alpha builds for Mac and Linux, but notes that almost nothing works in them but the page rendering. That page rendering, and the app's startup, is pretty darned fast, though, stoking the embers among those willing to try new things.
June 4: Lifehacker voters starting to dig Chrome
It's a "browser of choice" for 20 percent of them. Our voting results are skewed from the norm of general usage, of course, but keep in mind—these are the people who fix their friends' and relatives' computers and eventually force them off IE 6.
July 8: Chrome OS announced
This time, people knew it was happening, but that doesn't mean anyone knows what a Chrome Operating System will actually look or feel like. We made our requests, got our false hopes up for pretty sketchy (fake) screenshots, but all we know is that Chrome's content-forward face is more than just a design obsession—it's how Google plans to make the web your working space.
July 31-Aug. 10: Little, helpful tweaks
Aug. 17: Google, Xmarks both want to synchronize your bookmarks
Here's the first, actually useful Chrome extension to arrive, and it's a doozy: a Chrome version of Xmarks, the seriously cool instant bookmark synchronizer that now works, in some form, on four major browsers. A few minutes after Adam cracks his knuckles and calls it a night, Google announces that its development version has built-in bookmark synchronizing. Google's offerings of multiple services with a single login is a powerful lure, of course, but for those not entirely ready to go Google, Xmarks is, for now, the obvious pick.
Last 48 hours
And the news keeps on coming, one year later. Google's development chatter indicates a desktop notification scheme, Chrome for Windows adds a bookmark button, and the appearance of a single folder causes bloggers to wonder if Chrome OS will have a single, monolithic sign-in.
All that in just one year, and from a browser that's only officially available on one OS. Happy birthday, Chrome. Here's hoping you bring some great innovations into the web browser world.
What's surprised you most about Chrome's development so far? Where did you expect the browser to be now, and where do you see it going in the year ahead? Pass the cake and leave your take in the comments.