July 24th, 2009
Release Early. Release Often.
That is a philosophy that can work well in some software development circles, but in others it can fail miserably. Most people, especially those who are less technically minded, expect their software to ‘Just Work’, and will complain, give up, or stop using a program if it doesn’t. And that’s where the problem lies with this strategy – If you release a rough version of a program, many people may be turned off of it forever. Look at Windows Vista – when it was released it was slow wand had all sorts of issues. So many people, myself included, vowed to never install it. By many accounts, Vista has been greatly improved by its service packs (as is common for Windows Operating Systems), but Vista is still avoided where possible.
However, there are many among us who would rather have the new features sooner rather than later, and are willing to live with a few rough edges for that privilege. So with all of this in mind, Google has done something clever with Chrome – there are three different update ‘Channels’ available, Stable, Beta and Dev. Google describes the channels as follows:
- Stable channel. Everyone is on the Stable channel when they first install Google Chrome. The Stable channel is updated with features and fixes once they have been thoroughly tested in the Beta channel. If you want a rock solid browser but don’t need the latest features, the Stable channel is for you.
- Beta channel. People who like to use and help refine the latest features subscribe to the Beta channel. Every month or so, we promote stable and complete features from the Dev channel to the Beta channel. The Beta channel is more stable than Dev, but may lack the polish one expects from a finished product.
- Dev channel. This developer preview channel is where ideas get tested (and sometimes fail). The Dev channel can be very unstable at times, and new features usually require some manual configuration to be enabled. Still, simply using Dev channel releases is an easy (practically zero-effort) way for anyone to help improve Google Chrome.
I have been subscribed to the Beta Channel updates for a few months now, and love that it has been updated so often. And today it has been updated to version 3.0. The dev channel has been in 3.0 versions for several months now, with extensions being one of the big new features being worked on. Extensions promise to allow many more optioinal features to Chrome, giving a richer browsing experience. Many people, myself included, miss the large range of extensions available for Mozilla Firefox. In fact, one of the few reasons I still open Firefox is to use DownThemAll, an extension which allows you to download many links on a page with very few clicks.
The 3.0 Beta version does not yet have extensions enabled – if you want to try them out, you’ll need to subscribe to the dev channel. But, with 3.0 reaching beta status, it give me hope that it will not be too many more months before 3.0 is considered stable, and extensions can come to Beta.
If you’re wondering how to change your update channel, follow the following links for the installers
If you change your mind and want to go back, or have any difficulties with the above links, try using the Channel Changer program. Note that if you switch to a chanel which updates less often and is at an earlier version (ie, Beta back to Stable, or Dev back to Beta or Stable), you will remain at your currently installed version until the version number in your new channel passes your current version number. To go back to a previous version, you will need to uninstall Chrome, and reinstall the version you would like to use. Remember to back up your bookmarks and other browser data.