Google ships beta of Chrome for Mac

More than a year after browser's debut, Mac version hits preview status

As anticipated, Google today launched the beta of the Mac version of its Chrome browser.

Last month, Google said it would deliver a Mac beta of Chrome in early December.

The browser, which has been in development for more than a year, was joined today by a beta of a Linux edition , as well as betas of browser extensions for Windows and Linux. The Mac edition does not yet support extensions, as Google dubs the add-ons it and third-party developers have created for the open-source browser.

Chrome for the Mac takes the same approach as the one used by the Windows edition, which debuted in September 2008, and until now, was the only version available as a non-developer build. "We returned to the core principles of the Chromium project and focused on delivering rock-solid depth in a few critical areas for the browser, rather than a breadth of features that are rough around the edges," said software engineers John Grabowski and Mike Pinkerton in a post to Google's Mac-specific blog .

Grabowski and Pinkerton also spelled out what didn't make it into the beta, including extensions, bookmark synchronization, and either a bookmark or cookie manager. The omissions had been detailed earlier by Google in a list of bugs and features that had been pushed to a post-beta build. Pinkerton, in fact, had tweeted about the Mac edition's lack of support for extensions two weeks ago.

In lieu of those features, said Grabowski and Pinkerton, "We focused on features such as sandboxing our renderer process to help provide a safer Web experience for our users."

Chrome accounts for approximately 4% of all browsers used worldwide, according to the most recent data from Web metrics company Net Applications. In comparison, Microsoft 's Internet Explorer has a 64% share, while Mozilla's Firefox -- like Chrome, an open-source browser -- owns a 25% share.

"In the short term, I can't see that it will be significant," said Sheri McLeish, a Forrester Research analyst who covers browsers, talking about the beta release of Mac and Linux editions. "But Chrome is critical to Google's long-term strategy, and a sign that they're continuing to invest in technology that's widely accessible, like a browser."

Previously, Google had set aggressive market share goals for Chrome of a 5% share by September 2010 and a 10% goal for 2011. "That's achievable," said McLeish, "But Google needs to get even more visibility for Chrome. The barrier they face is the inability of people to change habits -- Chrome's market share now is insignificant compared to Internet Explorer, or even Firefox -- so they need to take even more drastic steps."

McLeish compared Google's current place in browsers to Apple 's position when it launched its game-changing iPhone. "So far, Google hasn't been able to seize on the kind of fervor Apple's gained with the iPhone," she said. "But that's not to say that they can't, as long as they continue to invest outside their core search business."

Rival Mozilla welcomed Chrome for the Mac. "As always, it's great to see more choices available for people who want to make informed decisions about the software they use to browse the Web," said Mike Beltzner, the director of Firefox.

The beta of Chrome for the Mac can be downloaded from Google's Web site. It requires Mac OS X 10.5, aka Leopard, or later, and runs only on Intel-based Macs.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)

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