Seems like only yesterday Google Chrome was a bouncing baby browser with a twinkle in her eye. Now she's going off to college with a platinum card in her purse.

Last week Google bestowed Chrome 1.0 unto the world only 100 days after releasing the beta. For many companies that would be normal behaviour; for Google, which likes to hang onto the beta tag until its products are wearing Depends, it's radical.

Especially since, less than 24 hours after emerging from beta, reports of continued bugginess and erratic behaviour are already surfacing.

This can mean only one thing, and it's not that Chrome was so fit and finished Google felt nothing more needed to be done. It was to get Chrome out of beta in time for loading on to OEM systems for sale in early 2009.

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It's no secret Google wants Chrome to find a home on users' desktops and laptops and netbooks, and the only way to wrest real market share from Internet Explorer is to have it pre-installed (sorry Mozilla Firefox; I love ya, but you'll never be more than a 25 percenter).

This will be the first real test in more than a decade to find out if Microsoft has changed its evil ways. Has it transformed from a take-no-prisoners must-own-every-market monopolizer to a Web 2.0-ish let-give-a-big-group-hug collaborator? Will it vow to "crush" Chrome the way it pulverized Netscape? Will it twist the arms of hardware manufacturers to just say no to Google?

That will largely depend on the answer to a bigger question: Who's really driving the Redmond bus, Steve "The Mad" Ballmer or Ray Ozzie?

Regardless, I think Microsoft's influence on PC makers is much weaker than it was in, say, 1997. Margins are much lower, while the price of Windows has only risen. Linux is finally a viable alternative (Asus Eee PC, anyone?), and hardware makers are really ticked off at MSFT after the whole Windows Vista debacle. So any arm twisting that comes may be futile. But I wouldn't put it past Ballmer to try, anyway.

As for Chrome? It could be the thing that makes Google the cloud OS platform of choice in five years, not Windows Azure. Or it could be an embarrassing setback for a company that by and large does things well, even if things like user privacy sometimes get trampled in the process.