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Yesterday, Google announced a new “stable” release of its open source browser for Windows, adding some 1,500 “Extensions” (which add functions to the browser toolbar) and “Bookmark Sync”, which synchronizes bookmarks across multiple computers.
It’s the “stable” part that really interests me, as a neat reminder of Google’s larger philosophy of iterative innovation. Chrome has three levels of participation once a product is deemed ready to be released beyond the company’s own engineering base: Dev; Beta and Stable. “Dev” is open to the developer community at large, allowing feedback and commentary from a sophisticated user group. The Beta channel has what Chrome’s Director of Product Management, Brian Rakowski, describes as “reasonable stability” while the Stable channel, the one that just got upgraded, is intended for “the majority of people who just want it to work.” According to Rakowski, this maps out at roughly 1%: 10%: 89% ratio of users.
This has implications beyond simply what a user might be able to experience. As Rakowski puts it, it has also affected the way that Google engineers have themselves written for the browser. The old software model of large, irregular updates came with hard deadlines. This, meant that engineers rushed to get their pet feature included on the line-up, even if it wasn’t really ready. “Everyone wants in, so everyone rushes and throws in their buggy feature, which then takes forever to rewrite to stabilize,” Rakowski explained.
With Chrome, new features can be introduced pretty quickly, particularly to the dev channel, removing the pressure to deliver something-anything from the engineers. Extensions, for instance, was launched in the Dev channel in September 2009, ready for prime time some four months later. It’s a fluid style of innovating that manages a user’s expectations and experience in an appropriate yet lowkey manner.
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