Analysis: Chrome growth slows to a crawl, new features needed

Posted by Christian Zibreg

Chicago (IL) - 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, Chrome 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.

CHROME: FLAT GROWTH IN DECEMBER 2008
Throughout December 2008, Chrome essentially remained slightly above 1% web usage mark, as throughout January 2009. Seemingly flat growth has been contributed to the lack of major Chrome updates with a much-needed new feature set.

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.

Continued on next page: Futile marketing tactics with 1.0 version, Three separate versions of Chrome...





1.0 release just a marketing gimmick

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."

CHROME: ZOOMED PAST 1% IN LATE NOVEMBER 2008
Chrome zoomed past 1% web usage share in early November 2008, the result of several new features deployed in a major update. The browser stabilized slightly above 1% and continued growth has slowed to a halt. Subsequent maintenance releases following the November feature-rich release did little to change Chrome's luck.