People who like to run pre-release versions of browsers in order to access the latest features have a new choice: Google Chrome Canary.
Canary has all the bleeding-edge features found in the developer and beta releases of Google Chrome. But unlike the other channel releases, Chrome Canary allows you to run the pre-release browser without overwriting other installations of Chrome on the same system. So, you can now run a regular version of Chrome and a pre-release, auto-updating version of Chrome on the same computer at the same time.
You can download Chrome Canary today, but it is a Windows-only release for now. We expect Google to follow with canaries for other operating systems soon.
Early adopters — mostly curious geeks and developers working with the latest web standards — prefer to run beta versions of browsers. Beta testing allows them to gain intimate first-hand knowledge of the new capabilities that will be found in the next versions of each browser. But beta versions and regular versions of the same browsers both access the same file resources on your computer, a restriction that prevents you from running two different versions side-by-side. Try launching a Firefox 4 beta while Firefox 3.x is open. You’ll see an error: “Only one copy of Firefox can be open at a time.”
Chrome Canary side-steps this issue. As Google engineer Huan Ren explains on the Chromium-dev list, “the installer will install Google Chrome canary build to a separate directory with different default user profile, short cuts, and icons, i.e. everything should be separate from existing Google Chrome installation.”
With this release, there are now four versions of Chrome available. The others are “dev,” the least stable build intended for developers, “beta,” which is more stable than dev but not fully baked, and the regular Chrome release, the rigorously-tested version that’s the default option for the public.
On the same developer’s e-mail list, Google’s Mark Larson says Canary will be the most bleeding-edge of all Chrome builds. It will auto-update more frequently than any of the other versions available to developers.
“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. When something doesn’t work on the canary, I can just fall back to my Beta Google Chrome,” he writes.
Hence the name “Canary” — a reference to the canary in the coal mine. Google recently announced it would be speeding up the Chrome development cycle to push major milestone releases more often. This increased velocity means it will need to begin testing new features in the wild sooner and collecting feedback more quickly.
“The data we get back from canary users — especially crash statistics — helps us find and fix regressions faster,” Larson says.
Giving users the option to run a more advanced version of Chrome without having to fully commit to the dangerous lifestyle of an alpha tester should help increase the number of people willing to test the new browser.
Chrome Canary also has a different, all-yellow icon — instead of the multi-colored Chrome icon or the all-blue Chromium icon — so it’s easy to spot on your desktop. The beta, dev and stable channel builds of Chrome all use the same familiar rainbow icon. Also, the skin of the browser is blue, helping you tell it apart from other versions of Chrome, which use the same gray skin.
Canary photo: Haplochromis/Wikimedia/CC