Google debuts Chrome for Mac, Linux

Google has started taking Chrome beyond Windows with new versions for Mac OS X and Linux, but don't try to use them, the company warns.
Written by Stephen Shankland, Contributor
Google released Chrome for Mac OS X and Linux on Thursday, but only in rough developer preview versions that the company warns are works in progress.

"In order to get more feedback from developers, we have early developer channel versions of Google Chrome for Mac OS X and Linux, but whatever you do, please don't download them," Google product managers Mike Smith and Karen Grunberg said in a blog post, evidently trying to use a little reverse psychology. "Unless of course you are a developer or take great pleasure in incomplete, unpredictable and potentially crashing software."

Until now, Google's open-source browser has been a Windows-only product, and some Mac and Linux users have been clamouring for their own version. Google coders have been working to rebuild some Chrome components, such as its graphical interface and its sandbox that isolates different processes from each other, to move beyond just Windows.

Google offers three versions of Chrome: stable, beta and developer preview. The Mac OS X and Linux versions fall into this last category, the most buggy and least tested and complete.

The Flash plug-in will not work, for example, so watching videos is out of the question. Printing or bookmark management are not yet implemented; and privacy controls are not complete. Google said there are more than 400 bugs that need to be resolved.

Although they are released only for the experimental crowd, the new versions are a big step forward for the browser. First, the versions will plug into Google's auto-update service that automatically downloads new versions. Second, the products bear the Google Chrome brand, not just the Chromium label of the only incarnations available until now. And third, a much larger audience will be helping Google debug the code through automated crash reports of the new versions.

Not everyone can try the Mac and Linux versions, however. Google spokesman Eitan Bencuya said the Linux version is supported only in the Debian and Ubuntu incarnations of Linux, and the Mac OS X version only works on Intel-based Macs.

Google is not saying when the new versions will make it to beta status, much less stable. "It's unclear. This is a first step," Bencuya said.

After years of near-dormancy when Microsoft's Internet Explorer ruled the roost, the browser world again is on fire, fuelled by competition and a new generation of more interactive web applications. Mozilla is on the cusp of releasing Firefox 3.5, as is Apple with Safari 4 for both Windows and Mac OS X. Opera 10 is in beta, and even Microsoft is slowly starting to speed up with the weeks-old Internet Explorer 8.

According to Net Applications statistics, Internet Explorer remains at the top, with 65.5 percent market share in May 2009. Firefox has 22.5 percent, Safari 8.4, and Chrome has edged up to 1.8 percent since its launch in September.

All this variety means web developers have to test their sites to make sure they work with more versions. Because Chrome uses the WebKit engine for interpreting and displaying web-page coding, the same engine Safari uses, Google argues that Chrome should be similar. But Chrome uses a different engine for JavaScript called V8, and web-based JavaScript instructions are at the heart of much of the present proliferation of elaborate web pages and applications.

The browser challengers argue that having multiple browsers on the market means web programmers will aim more for supporting standards such as HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript. And indeed, Microsoft made a standards mode the default for IE8. However, varying interpretations of standard and varying degrees of support complicate the matter, and a large number of people have not upgraded from IE6, much less IE7.

This article was originally posted on CNET News.

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