Google Chrome turns 5: what does the future hold?

Niamh Lynch

Niamh Lynch

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On September 2, 2008, Google launched Chrome. Five years on, Chrome is the most used browser in the world. Let’s take a look at its story.

A debut that left us speechless (2008)

When Google launched Chrome, the outlook was pretty bleak for web browsers: Internet Explorer 7, released two years earlier, was the most used browser, with a market share of 67%. Firefox 3, fired up by the long-anticipated demise of Netscape, was trying to gain a foothold, but it still took a traditional approach and didn’t really offer users anything new or special.

Browser Market Shares in July 2008 (source)

Suddenly, Chrome burst onto the scene with its beta version and shocked everyone with its radically different approach: a single bar for everything (the “omnibox” which everyone has copied), a private (incognito) browsing mode and an incredibly light, elegant design. It still lacked many features, such as extensions and themes, but we knew they’d come soon.

Google Chrome was launched with a comic strip which explained the new features

Above all though, Chrome’s performance impressed from the start. Its JavaScript V8 engine, V8, marked it from the start as the fastest. The Chrome task manager led us to believe that this could be the seed of a new operating system. We weren’t wrong: in 2009, Google announced Chrome OS.

The road to maturity (2009-2011)

In its early years, Chrome stalled a bit. Microsoft responded immediately with Internet Explorer 8, Firefox got its act together for version 4. A year after launch, Chrome had a market share of 3.7%. Chrome 3 had just released, with support for themes and 300 experimental extensions.

It was the launch of version 5, on May 25, 2010, which marked Chrome’s coming of age as a browser: we finally saw stable versions for Mac and Linux, and the application already had several thousand extensions and a web engine that passed every test with flying colors. The synchronization of options and bookmarking were the icing on the Chrome cake.

From there, revolution came: the Chrome development team decided to step it up and launch a new, stable version every six weeks. This change has also affected other major browsers; so as not to miss the browser train, they’ve been releasing new versions at increasingly short intervals.

Graph showing Chrome updates

Then times were shortened (source)

Chrome takes the lead (2011-2013)

In late 2010, coinciding with the eighth version of Chrome, Google opened up shop – the Chrome Web Store, with over 11,000 extensions and web applications. It was the beginning of a series of changes (hardware acceleration, WebGL, new logo) culminating on June 15, 2011 with the release of Chrome OS.

Screenshot of Chromium OS (source)

Chrome was now both a browser and an operating system. But it didn’t yet feature on mobile phones. In its last, inspired push in the market, Google released the stable version of Chrome for Android on June 26, 2012, along with Chrome 20 for desktops. Two weeks later, on July 9, Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean” dropped with Chrome as its browser, instead of the standard Android browser.

At that time, just as it was about to celebrate its fourth birthday, Chrome became the number one browser. The numbers were impressive: 750 million apps installed from the Web Store, a higher market share than Internet Explorer (32%) and unbeatable performance when loading webapps.

Since then there’s been little movement. Versions released during 2013 have added little in terms of functions. The changes that Google is making are all under the hood: Better performance, hacker-proof security and a new web engine, Blink, developed with the web broswer Opera, with which it now also shares extensions.

What will we see in the next five years?

Five years, thirty versions, a 43% market share. It hasn’t even been a war: Chrome overtook the other browsers and has left them behind with barely a glance back at them.

Chrome, an essential player in the rise of web applications and cloud computing, has changed the tech landscape in a way that just hasn’t been seen before.

Will we get to see version 60 in 2018 ? I don’t think so. Chances are that by then Chrome will simply be called “Google“, a browser system that will follow us everywhere, on all our devices. What do you think?

Niamh Lynch

Niamh Lynch

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