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. Our favourite features were the minimal size, memory use and interface, but many pledged allegiance to their Firefox extensions.

We totally understood the need for Firefox users not to feel left behind during Chrome's big debut, so we detailed how to get Chrome's best features in Firefox. Those thinking about using Chrome on the regular were reassured that Google wasn't trying to mine their browsing data (at least any more than normal), and found that, while it took its time starting up and wasn't quite a JavaScript champ, Chrome was seriously snappy with "warm" boots and CSS rendering.

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 customised 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 customise-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 per cent 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! It was a heck of a thing to get working, but it was the first step in satisfying intrepid JavaScript hackers who thrive on getting the internet to look and feel just right.

Nov. 3-Dec. 10: Bookmarks and baby steps

As Firefox's director put it, it's easy to "throw everything away and not worry" when building a new browser from scratch. Such is the case when Chrome introduces a bookmark manager and gets a decent amount of coverage for it...ahem. Meanwhile, builds of Chrome's open-source root platform, Chromium, can be seen working crudely on Linux desktops, and by Dec. 10, Chrome's V8 JavaScript engine has inched almost neck-and-neck with Firefox 3.5's re-engineered TraceMonkey engine.

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 On occasion of Safari 4 launching in beta for Windows and Mac, we pit it against all the others in our browser speed tests. Chrome's the winner in JavaScript and CSS parsing and, with the exception of some Internet Explorer 8 weirdness, page loading.

Mar. 17-22: New beta brings the speed (and extensions?)

Users of Chrome's beta channel see JavaScript improvements of 25-33 per cent, depending on whose test you're marking against. Under the hood, an actual extension engine can be found (yay!), but it doesn't really allow you to do anything, and it's wonky to install (sigh).

On another front, Google scores a nice little PR victory by being the last browser standing in the Pwn2Own hacker challenge, since its individually "sandboxed" browser processes make it hard to hack too deep into the system it's running on. While they've got the muscle pose on, Chrome's developers also show off some crazy web experiments, rendered entirely with JavaScript and running best, of course, on Chrome:

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" That's what Google tells Ars Technica, noting they'd be "very unhappy" if it didn't drop by then. Less than a week later, a rough, unofficial Chromium build drops.

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 readers starting to dig Chrome It's a "browser of choice" for 20 per cent 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 Linux gets plug-in support, while Windows gets better Windows 7 support, HTML 5 updates and Windows 7 jumplist features. Chrome on Windows and Mac gets 30 new easy-install themes.

Aug. 17: Google, Xmarks both want to synchronise 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 synchroniser 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 synchronising. 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.


    One of the last things you mention is how it was changed to support Windows 7 - just thought I'd note I read elsewhere it has been changed to help support Snow Leopard also.

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