By Mark Long / CIO Today. Updated June 05, 2009.
Google has released Chrome browser test builds for Mac OS X and Linux, but is warning users to beware.
"Unless, of course, you are a developer or take great pleasure in incomplete, unpredictable and potentially crashing software," said product managers Mike Smith and Karen Grunberg. "Among other things, you won't yet be able to view YouTube videos, change your privacy settings, set your default search provider, or even print."
Google has been promising to deliver browser releases for Mac OS X and Linux machines since the company unleashed Chrome last September. However, when it comes to revealing any definitive release dates, Google continues to be reticent.
"We are working hard on adding functionality to the Mac and Linux builds of Google Chrome and promoting them to the beta and stable channels soon, but we have nothing to announce at this time," a Google spokesperson said Friday in an e-mail. "Since Google Chrome is open source and all the development is done in the open, you can track our progress on these versions in our developer site."
One reason why Google is taking its time is because the "sandboxing" technique Chrome uses to make its Windows browser more secure does not play nice with Linux, noted Chrome software engineer Jeremy Moskovich.
"On Linux there are a number of different sandboxing mechanisms available," with the various Linux distributions shipping with different -- or even no -- sandboxing APIs, Moskovich noted. This means "finding a mechanism that is guaranteed to work on end users' machines is a challenge."
Fortunately, the APIs for sandboxing on Mac OS X are easy to use and straightforward, Moskovich observed. Still, Google is being careful not to rush its development of Chrome for machines running Mac OS X. "It's important to us that the Mac port feels and performs like a native Mac application, and that it provides the kind of high-quality experience Mac users expect."
Building Geek Credibility
Net Applications reports that the percentage of browsers with Linux operating systems surpassed one percent for the first time in May. "Linux has reached this important milestone on the client as Linux-based systems have become more functional, easier to use, and preinstalled on computers from vendors like Dell," the Web-metrics firm said.
However, the bigger opportunity for Google Chrome is to chip away at the market share held by Apple's Safari browser for the Mac, which reached 8.43 percent in May, versus Chrome's 1.8 percent. The good news for Google in May is that Chrome's market share grew more than 25 percent in comparison with the previous month, according to Net Applications.
Google expects its final Mac and Linux Chrome releases to deliver similar functionality across platforms, "while ensuring that each version feels like a native application that blends in well for each respective operating system," a spokesperson said. Still, even if Mac and Linux users get to start using Chrome this year, Gartner Vice President Ray Valdes doesn't think it will have much impact on the browser market, at least right away.
"For Google, putting Chrome on Linux and the Mac is necessary but not sufficient," Valdes said. "It won't have substantial impact in usage over the short term or even the medium term."
The benefit for Google is increased "geek" credibility with developers rather than tangible market-share gains, Valdes noted. "However, over time, every percentage point will count, especially if the underlying platforms continue to grow at the expense of Windows," Valdes said.