Google Chrome was first released back in 2008, and it would later become the most popular web browser in the world. Does the first version of the world’s most popular desktop web browser still hold up, though?
The first non-beta version of Chrome was released on December 11, 2008, supporting both Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista — there was no official Mac, Linux, or mobile version yet. There weren’t many features yet, but it was fast and reliable enough to warrant giving it a shot. A review from ComputerWorld at the time called it, “stripped-down, fast and functional, with very few bells and whistles,” while Ars Technica described it as “surprisingly polished and has an assortment of highly promising capabilities.” Chrome’s name points to its simple, streamlined origins.
So, how does the first version of Chrome hold up almost 15 years later? I installed it to find out.
A Trip Back in Time
The first step to running Chrome 1.0 is finding Chrome 1.0, which is easier said than done. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like you can get it directly from Google anymore, or even from archived versions of Google’s own site. The original download page is still accessible on the Internet Archive, but the executable is a web installer that is no longer functional.
Google has a hidden repository with every build of Chromium — the open-source version of Chrome with some features removed and different branding — and the Windows subdirectory goes all the way back to build 1625 from September 1, 2008. However, that’s not quite the same thing as Google Chrome, and the early builds were crashing on my setup.
I ended up using a mirror of Chrome 1.0.154 from the third-party software repository, OldVersion. It’s generally not a good idea to download software from anywhere other than the original source, but the original source here seems to be lost to time. This is also a slightly newer build than the version published in December 2008.
Warning: Please don’t try this at home. The original version of Google Chrome is missing 14+ years of security fixes. Browsing the web with it puts your computer and personal data at risk. Your computer could be compromised and infected just from visiting the wrong website in an out-of-date browser like Chrome 1.0.
Surprisingly, I didn’t even need to fire up an old PC or Windows XP virtual machine to try out the web browser. I tried installing it on a Parallels virtual machine running Windows 11 on my M1 MacBook Air, and it worked without any modification or extra compatibility settings. Even nestled inside three layers of virtualization (x86 translation, Windows on ARM, and Parallels), it starts up and browses the web without a problem.
Chrome 1.0 doesn’t look perfect on high-DPI screens — understandable, given that technology was rare on desktop PCs in 2008 — and the signature blue window background and borders are replaced with white under Windows 11. Running it under compatibility mode for Windows XP SP2 restores the intended design, but also causes every tab to crash immediately.
A Familiar Feel
At first glance, Chrome 1.0 isn’t too different than modern Chrome. You have tabs at the top, a unified search and address bar below that, a few buttons for page navigation, and an optional bookmarks bar. There are a few differences once you take a closer look, though.
The most noticeable difference might be the toolbar buttons: instead of the single three-dot button found today (representing an overflow menu), this version has a page button and a wrench button. The page button contains options for creating a desktop shortcut, using the clipboard, saving or printing the current page, or opening developer features. The wrench button has more browser-centric options, like creating new tabs and windows, opening downloads or the history, and checking the current version. Google later merged all those options into the same menu.
The bookmark button is on the left of the address bar, instead of on the right side of the address bar itself. There’s also a dedicated “go” button, which doesn’t exist anymore and was intended for people not used to pressing Enter on the keyboard. Tabs have hard edges, which went away in 2018 in favor of the current rounded square design.
There are a few other significant differences, though. The settings and bookmarks manager aren’t rendered in the browser, like in newer Chrome releases, and have far fewer options. All the core functionality is present, though, and I was able to import my bookmarks from modern Chrome by exporting and then re-importing them.
Finally, instead of the feature-packed developer tools found in modern versions, this early build of Chrome only has a web inspector. It’s plainly obvious here that Chrome 1.0 shared some code with Apple’s Safari web browser — the inspector has an interface that matches late-2000s Mac OS X, not Windows.
So, there are some noticeable differences between the look of Chrome 1.0 and modern Chrome versions, but not enough to confuse people only familiar with newer releases. Can you actually use it to browse the web, though?
The Broken Web
The web has evolved significantly since 2008, so even though Chrome 1.0 was cutting-edge at the time, it doesn’t quite hold up today. There’s no support yet for HTML5 video or audio, so media playback won’t work at all in this post-Flash future, and many HTML and CSS layout features are missing. Chrome 1.0 earns a score of 21 out of 555 in HTML5test, and most browser benchmarks don’t start at all.
Most modern sites, including How-To Geek, are almost completely broken. You may see some text and images, but without the required CSS and HTML functionality, the layouts don’t work as designed. Google web searches work because Google still tries to support older web browsers, but most of the sites you’ll find in the results are broken.
There are a few sites and web apps that still work, though. Google Search is functional in older browsers like Chrome 1.0, reverting to a simplified version of the mobile layout, and the old Reddit site (old.reddit.com) still mostly works. CNN’s main site is completely unusable, but CNN Lite works. Other sites with low-bandwidth versions might work, too.
The Start of Something Big
Google Chrome 1.0 was the start of a browser that would go on to change the web and how we all use it, but the original version is little more than a novelty at this point. It’s not usable on the modern web, and even if it could handle today’s sites, it would be a bad idea. Google patches many critical security vulnerabilities in Chrome each month, and this version is over a decade behind on those much-needed fixes.
Still, it’s fun to see Chrome’s humble beginnings as a Windows-only web browser with no extensions or HTML5 media support. The first version of Chrome is a piece of history and one that doesn’t require any special hardware or operating systems to try out — for now, anyway.
(You shouldn’t run it yourself, though, as it’s missing so many critical security patches and would put your computer at risk. Browser updates are critical for online security.)
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