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Did you know that Google has a version of the Chrome browser called “Google Canary”? You’ve probably heard about the “canary in a coal mine”. Miners used to bring caged canaries with them into the mines to test the quality of the underground air. If the canary dropped dead, the miners knew that the air had dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and they should leave immediately.

Well Google Canary is true to its name. It is a bleeding edge, experimental version of Chrome where they test out new features. Canary is updated daily with new builds. These builds, however are shipped without manual testing meaning they can work perfectly or they can crash and burn. The goal for Canary is for it to remain usable at all times, so major issues are corrected quite quickly.  You can download Canary at Google’s Canary website.

canary-logo google canary

Chrome has four releases: Canary, a Dev release, a Beta release and the stable regular release. Canary can be exciting because it is like seeing the Chrome of the future. This is where Google tries out shiny new features. Features are often added, then removed, and even sometimes reinstated. Watching its development can be like looking into the minds of the developers. Once the Canary channel finds and fixes the bugs, the Canary version moves to dev, then to beta, then to regular release.

Unfortunately when you use Canary you can be faced with bugs and crashes. However, here’s the really good news. You can test Google Canary right next to your stable version of Chrome.

Unlike the beta and dev channels, Google Chrome Canary installs separately. It resides right alongside your stable version of Chrome. No files are modified or changed.  So you can play with Canary and still have your stable version of Chrome ready for important work that you might have to perform. You can also help make Chrome a better browser by reporting any bugs, glitches or errors in Canary.

The Canary, Dev, Beta and Stable versions of Chrome move quite quickly. Since its introduction in September 2008, Google Chrome has gone through 54 versions. Version 55 will be released on December 6, 2016 per the Chromium Development Calendar and Release Info. This version will take advantage of an update to JavaScript that reduces the memory footprint of major websites. Should be quite interesting. Details can be found at the V8 JavaScript Engine webpage.

Since Canary and the stable version of Chrome look very similar, it is difficult to tell at a glance which version you are in. However, the icon for Canary is bright canary yellow, giving you a big hint as to the version. Also thanks to Google for not allowing you to easily make Canary your default browser.

All of Chrome’s features including Flash and PDF reader are available in Canary. You can keep Canary totally separate from your stable version of Chrome or you can sync you settings. As with the stable version, all of my settings synced including the fact that I changed my default search engine from Google to Bing.

canary-syc google canary

If you want to see the experimental features of Canary just type about:flags in the omni-bar. Below is a listing from that page. Although I have just grabbed a screenshot of the first page, there are pages and pages of features that you can enable, if you like. There’s plenty to keep you busy if you like to delve into the inner workings of things.

experimental-features google canary

When Google Canary started in 2010, it was for Windows only. Then Google opened it up to Windows and Mac. They recently announced a long-awaited mobile version for Android. It is available in the Google Play App Store. Like the desktop version of Canary, the Android version is Experimental and has the following caution: “This release has not been tested. It may be unstable or fail to run at times. Recommended for developers and advanced users only.” However, I find that it works quite well and has garnered a 4.7-star rating at the Play Store in just two weeks.

Google Canary is not for the faint of heart! You have to like living a little dangerously to install Google Canary, but it you do, it can be fun. It auto-updates every day. If you have left your computer on, just close Canary and restart it to see the update. It’s safe since it doesn’t affect your stable Chrome install and it is always interesting.

Sandy Berger, respected computer authority, journalist, media guest, speaker, and author, has more than three decades of experience as a computer and technology expert. Her eight books include: How to Have a Meaningful Relationship with Your Computer, Your Official Grown-up's Guide to AOL and the Internet, Cyber Savers –Tips & Tricks for Today’s Drowning Computer Users, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Better Living through Technology, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to the Internet, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Gadgets & Gizmos, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Health & Wellness, and Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Travel. Sandy’s newspaper column, magazine articles, feature stories, product reviews, and computer tips can be found at her website, Compu-KISS.