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Google returns Chrome to beta, touts speed boost

Google Inc. reversed last December's decision to ditch the beta label from its Chrome browser, saying it is restoring the moniker to some builds to get faster feedback to developers.

“Since we took the 'beta' tag off Google Chrome in December, we've been updating two release channels: developer and stable,” said Brian Rakowski, a Chrome product manager, in a new blog Google kicked off Tuesday. “With our latest release, we're re-introducing the beta channel for some early feedback.”

Google stripped the beta label from Chrome in mid-December, a little more than three months after it debuted its browser, saying then that the application was ready for prime time. Some users, however, disagreed.

In January, Google announced it was revamping how it distributed Chrome and said it would offer three separate “channels” to users: a finished, stable build, a beta build and a developer preview build. In actuality, it only supplied two of those builds: stable and developer preview.

Yesterday's move re-instituted the beta label, and Google began feeding builds to the beta channel.

“Getting on the beta channel means your version of Google Chrome will regularly get updated with new speed enhancements, features, and bug fixes before most users see them,” said Rakowski. “But don't be surprised to find some rough edges.”

The first beta, Chrome 2.0.169.1, includes several new features, said Rakowski, and it boasts a significant speed increase over the current stable version of the browser, 1.0.154.48. According to Google's tests, the beta is 35% faster than the stable build when measured by the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark suite, and 25% faster on the company's own V8 tests.

When Computerworld last benchmarked browsers three weeks ago, Chrome 2.0.164.0 — a version slightly older than the new beta — proved about 7% faster than the next-fastest browser, the beta of Apple Inc.'s Safari 4 for Windows.

In additional tests run Wednesday by Computerworld, however, Chrome's beta proved 41% faster than the stable Chrome 1.0.154.48 build, and 20% faster than Safari 4 beta.

The beta can be downloaded from Google's Web site. Current Chrome users running either the stable or developer preview builds can switch to the beta channel by downloading and running the Chrome Channel Changer.

Chrome remains available only for Windows XP and Vista. Versions for Mac and Linux are in development, but Google has not spelled out a release timetable for either.

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