Google shifts Chrome browser out of test mode

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) -- Google Inc. is shifting its Web browser out of test mode just 100 days after its debut, an unusually quick transition for a company known for keeping the "beta" tag on some products for years.

Thursday's removal of the test label from Google's browser, called Chrome, underscores its importance to the Internet search leader.

Google is trying to lure Web surfers away from the leading browsers, Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer and the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox.

In the process, Google hopes Chrome makes it easier to gather insights about users' preferences and extends the popularity of its online applications, which are supposed to run more smoothly and quickly in Chrome.

Since its Sept. 2 introduction, Chrome has attracted more than 10 million active users around the world, according to a Google blog posting that announced the browser's upgrade.

Chrome still has a long way to catch up to Internet Explorer, which has about 70 percent of the market, depending on the differing estimates from various market researchers. Firefox held about 20 percent, while Apple Inc.'s Safari was third with less than 10 percent. Chrome has less than 1 percent.

Google said it decided to take Chrome out of beta because of improvements to the browser's stability and security. Among other things, Chrome now does a better job of playing video and audio than it was first introduced, loads pages even more quickly and offers more controls over bookmarks and privacy, according to Google.

The updates will automatically be made for people already using Chrome.

Other more popular Google products haven't shed the beta tag as quickly. The Mountain View-based company's news section stayed in beta for more than three years after its 2002 debut and its free e-mail service, Gmail, remains in beta more than 4 1/2 years after it hit the market.

A Google spokesman, Jason Freidenfelds, declined to specify why Gmail hasn't graduated from the testing phase. "We have very high internal metrics that our consumer products have to meet before coming out of beta," he said in an e-mail.

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