Four years with Google Chrome, and I'm never going back

Today is Labor Day in the United States. It's a federal holiday dedicated to the American workforce, celebrating, as the U.S. department of labor puts it, the "contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."

Every year, the Labor Day holiday falls very closely to the anniversary of Google's launch of the beta version of the Google Chrome Web browser. Released on September 1, 2008, Google Chrome is now four years old, and I am taking the opportunity on this holiday to celebrate the workhorse that is Chrome.

Chrome is my pickup truck

The first graphical Web browser I ever used was Netscape Navigator. This was in 1994, and it was on X11-based SGI workstations at the UMBC computer lab where my older brother was studying Computer Science. After eighteen years and two so-called browser wars, I can say with a certain amount of confidence that I no longer derive any personal identity from the browser I use.

For many, browsers are like cars. They serve not only as a tool for transportation, but they also serve as an identity for the driver. The appearance of the vehicle, the style in which he uses the vehicle, and the aftermarket customizations are all points of pride for drivers and browsers alike. Yet at this point in my life, the browser I use is purely utility, and if it can't do what I need, I am not even going to try to fix it. I'm just going to use something else. It's a pickup truck.

That is why I'm still using Chrome today. Four years ago, when I started testing the beta of Chrome, my daily browser was Opera and I was more or less satisfied with it. Of course, it couldn't do everything, and I had to keep both Internet Explorer and Firefox installed for those occasions where I encountered something Opera couldn't handle.

The beta of Chrome also encountered things it couldn't handle, and it lacked a lot of the shortcuts that I'd gotten used to in Opera. Yet the simplicity of the UI, omnibox, settings management, and built-in security of Chrome were all appealing. In Chrome's public beta period between September and December 2008, I found that I still had to open other browsers to get my work done, but Opera wasn't one of them. Chrome simply slid in as the default window through which I'd view the Web. It wasn't until recently that I've found I can get by without ever opening another browser. I've stuck with Chrome, and my behaviors have been molded to it.

Four more years

In addition to being near Labor day, this particular Chrome Anniversary falls in an election year, so It's a good time to see what Google has done for Chrome in the first four years.

In the first year, Google provided a grand total of 51 developer updates, 21 beta updates and 15 stable updates to Chrome, and pushed some 3,505 bug fixes. In July 2009, Google announced the concept of Chrome OS. Then, upon Chrome's first anniversary, Google introduced an overhauled UI with skinnability, a refreshed "new tab" page, and new HTML5 capabilities.

In the second year, Google finalized and released Mac and Linux versions of Chrome, debuted side-by-side view, autofill, password manager, bookmark and preference sync, and nearly 6,000 browser extensions. Upon Chrome's second anniversary, Google released a version with an even further stripped-down UI.

Moving into the third year, we got to actually see Chrome as a full operating system, first with the CR-48 pilot program, and then with Samsung's Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. During Chrome's third year, Google added a new settings interface, a new Javascript engine, "Print to PDF" functionality, the Chrome Web App store and in-app payments, hardware-accelerated browsing, and much more.

We've just completed our fourth year, or the year when Chrome came to Android, and version 21 of Chrome for PC was rolled out to users automatically, while version 22 hit the Beta channel last week. That version adds enhancements for Windows 8, support for Apple's high-definition Retina displays for Mac, and a new JavaScript API for browser-based 3D gaming.

Google hasn't yet made its annual announcement for the birthday of Chrome, so we could still be surprised with something new this week. Still, even if nothing grandiose comes from Mountain View this week, they've got my vote for the next four years.

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