11 things you need to know about Google Chrome variations

Google recently released a version of its Chrome Web browser code named the Canary Build

Google recently released a version of its Chrome Web browser code named the Canary Build. It uses an all-yellow variant of the regular Chrome icon, but there may be confusion as to what actually distinguishes it from the other, official releases of Google's browser.

Here is an explanation of what makes the Canary Build different from the Stable, Beta and Dev versions of Chrome, and how it is also connected to them.

1. Stable every six weeks

Google Chrome "Stable" is the official release, and this is the version that Chrome's development team recommends most users install and use. "Stable" is supposed to be that -- reliable and bug-free, as far as Chrome's developers have been able to determine through thorough testing. The developers stated in July that they are now aiming to release a new Stable of the Chrome Web browser about every six weeks.

2. Beta every few days

The "Beta" version of Chrome includes new features, updates, enhancements and fixes to the browser's code that have not yet appeared in the Stable release. They are being tested in the Beta, and once most bugs in the code are squashed, the latest Beta is then released as the next Stable.

Betas are recommended for early adopters who crave tinkering with the latest Web browser features, and don't mind the risk that their browser could crash.

To the credit of Chrome's developers, most of the recent Betas of Chrome have been remarkably stable and speedy in performance. The team has been releasing a new Beta every couple of days.

3. Dev "every night"

The "Dev" (for "Developer") version is updated the most frequently -- oftentimes, every day. It's also called the "Nightly," a reference to code that's uploaded "every night" to servers for distribution to others.

Because it has not been released to the public long enough to undergo rigorous testing by Chrome's developers and end users, a Dev release is more likely to contain bugs and crash. So you should only use a Dev build of Chrome if you like skirting on the edge of code stability while surfing the Web.

But maybe you also want to take part in helping with the development of Chrome. You can do this by allowing the Dev version to report your crashes to Google. (The Beta and Stable versions also let you help out in this way.)

After the code of a Dev release becomes stable enough throughout a series of releases, it then graduates to become the next Beta.

4. Where the Canary Build fits in

The "Canary Build" is usually the Dev release or a version of the Chrome browser code that may be even more recent than the Dev.

As Mark Larson, one of the developers of the Chrome team, posted in an official message board for discussing the development of Chrome: "The canary usually updates more frequently than the Dev channel (higher risk of bustage), and we're working on making it update as often as we have successful nightly builds."

5. Auto-updates

Once installed, the Canary Build will automatically update itself whenever the latest version of the Chrome browser code is released. The code downloads and installs in the background, and when you restart the browser, the newest version will load and run.

6. Canary Build won't default

However, you're not allowed to set the Canary Build to run as your computer's default Web browser. Apparently, the Chrome development team wants to emphasize that the Canary Build is not stable enough for you to count on for your regular browsing needs.

But in our tests, the Canary Build proved itself quite capable for casual and even heavy-duty Web browsing. Essential features and functions such as Flash video and animations, and JavaScript worked well.

Of course, such reliability is always subject to change whenever the next version of the code is released and Canary updates itself with it.

7. Plays nice with its more mature siblings

Although you cannot set it to be your default Web browser, the Canary Build can be installed alongside another version of Chrome, whether it is the Stable, Beta or Dev. Previously, it wasn't possible to easily install two different versions of Chrome on the same computer (although this could be managed by manually installing files and performing a few tweaks).

Whichever is the latest version of Chrome will overwrite the older version already on your computer. For example, since every Dev version is more recent than a Beta, the Dev will overwrite the Beta upon installation. And either will overwrite a Stable version installed on your computer.

Such is not the case when you install the Canary Build. It installs and uses its own directories and files that are separate from whichever other version of Chrome that may already be installed on your computer. The Canary Build will not overwrite your other installation of Chrome.

8. Extensions on the Canary Build

The good news is that the Canary Build allows you to use extensions. So you can install your favorite extensions and use them just as you would on any of the other versions of Chrome.

9. Syncing on the Canary Build

And syncing also works in the Canary Build, as it does in the other versions. This means, by signing on with your Google user account, you can sync your bookmarks, extensions and themes across whatever other computers you use that have Chrome installed on them.

Yes, you can even sync between the Canary Build and another version of Chrome if both are installed on a single computer of yours.

10. Sorry, this birdie for Windows only

Now the bad news: currently the Canary Build is only available for Windows (XP, Vista and 7).

Linux and OS X users still have to manually download and install the latest version of the Dev/Nightly release if they want to try it out.

11. A little birdie told me

Think of the Canary Build as a very convenient way for you to play with new features of Chrome that are in the experimental, bleeding-edge stage, but without having to go through the hassle of downloading and installing the latest Dev release every day. And without needing to do away with the more reliable version of Google's Web browser -- whether it is the Stable, Beta or Dev -- that's already on your computer.

Howard Wen reports on technology news, trends and products as a frequent contributor to Network World and Computerworld.

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