Google Seeks to Restore Chrome’s Lost Luster

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud with 32 Comments

Google Seeks to Restore Chrome's Lost Luster

Last week, Google began rolling out the 54th version of its Chrome web browser to Windows and other platforms, and the update will hit Android and Chrome OS in the coming days too. But fans of this browser will want to look forward to the next release, Chrome 55, which should finally fix long-standing memory usage and battery life problems.

Make no mistake, Google Chrome is a big deal.

The browser turned 8 last month, and it is now the most popular web browser in the world. It has 54 percent usage share on PCs; Internet Explorer has 25 percent usage share but is dropping fast, and number three Firefox accounts for less than 10 percent of the market. And on mobile, it has an identical 54 percent usage share, with Safari accounting for 25.7 percent. When it comes to web browsing, there is Google Chrome. And then there are these other things.

Chrome deserves this kind of usage, given its rich feature set and cross-platform compatibility. But today’s Chrome is also a far cry from the thin, light, and speedy browser that Google first introduced in 2008. Back then, Google was driven by a fear of Microsoft and its ability to undermine Google’s efforts with Windows. That seems quaint today, yes.

That first Chrome release was minimalistic in every way imaginable, and it was the first major browser to merge search functionality with the address bar. But from an end user perspective, the overreaching aim of Chrome was performance: Google wanted to make sure that its cloud-hosted services were presented in the best possible light. Indeed, it actually marketed Chrome as a “modern operating system for web applications,” which should have been a tip-off to its long-term plans, but wasn’t.

The first public beta of Google Chrome. September 2008.

The first public beta of Google Chrome. September 2008.

Over the years, Google has evolved Chrome in interesting ways, has switched web rendering engines, has gone back and forth over how web apps can integrate with the host OS, and has gradually piled on new features and functionality. Concurrent with this, Chrome has become a memory hog as performance has suffered.

It’s gotten so bad that even Microsoft has piled on the pain by demonstrating how superior the battery life of its Edge browser is to that of Chrome. After a feeble attempt by Google at muddying the waters, Microsoft then explained why Edge still beat the competition handily.

Well, Google will have none of that. And it is now racing to finally sew up whatever memory and performance issues the browser still has, and will further improve battery life in the process.

For people like me who use the most popular web browser (Chrome) on the most popular desktop OS (Windows) and mobile OSes (Android, iOS), this is important. And it can’t happen quickly enough.

Chrome 54, out now, appears to focus mainly on a few developer features and bug and security fixes on the desktop side. Apparently, this will be a bigger update on mobile, where Chrome 54 for Android in particular will support offline web page, music, picture, and video viewing capabilities and other new features.

But Chrome 55, due before the end of 2016, will be a big deal on the desktop. It will bring big improvements to memory usage, performance and battery life, especially for those with PCs with less than 8 GB of RAM. And Google plans further improvements in future Chrome releases, with a goal of making the browser efficient even on systems with just 1 GB of RAM.

Like many of you, I switch back and forth between browsers fairly regularly, if only to see what’s new. So I typically do so when a new release of Firefox or even Opera arrives. There’s nothing wrong with these browsers per se, and even Edge, which basically brings up the rear in most ways, has nice display advantages, especially on high DPI screens. But there’s just something about Chrome. And if Google is able to right its performance and battery life issues, I suspect the next 8 years will be pretty successful for the browser. Just like the first 8.


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Comments (33)

33 responses to “Google Seeks to Restore Chrome’s Lost Luster”

  1. 412

    I mainly use Chrome for cross platform browsing history and password remembering. I had to move on to Android last October when Verizon didn't get the 950xl (new Pixel XL on its way) and it helps make it a little seamless to go between Windows and Android when using Chrome. 

  2. 5234

    "For people like me who OSes (Android, iOS)"


    So you're over Windows 10 Mobile then?

  3. 5234

    "[Chrome] was the first major browser to merge search functionality with the address bar"


    No it wasn't.  IE3 did that.

  4. 1753

    I never got on with Chrome. I've mainly used Firefox since it was called Phoenix and was in beta.

    The biggest minus point for Chrome is the lack of NoScript. It has all of the other add-ons, but NoScript does not (and according to the author cannot) exist on Chrome. There are very poor script blockers on Chrome (I look every now and then, to see if the situation has changed), but nothing that comes close to do what NoScript allows.

    That is one of the reasons that, although I like Edge and used it regularly for a while, it won't become my primary browser.

  5. 5496

    they have been saying for years that they are going to fix the memory, but it seems like they never have.

    I still have to close down chrome to free up ram. Especially for videos, it slows up after a while.

  6. 1043

    I use Chrome on my main PC and Firefox on the others. My experience is that Firefox, or rather Mozilla, can't make up their mind about what they want to do with it. Every few months something is canceled, changed, re-designed, un-canceled, re-canceled, meanwhile bugs are left unresolved. Their lack of confidence in their own product makes it difficult to invest my time into utilizing what they have to offer. I just don't want to toss all my chips into a single pile and rely on Google for everything I do.

    Chrome for that matter is far from perfect. As someone that plays the occasional flash game from Kongregate while watching Youtube/Twitch in another window, my experience has been that after an hour or so of 2 tabs in 2 windows running heavy flash/Java process the browser will become unstable and crash taking every tab and Chrome window with it. The recent news about Microsoft moving towards virtualizing Edge interests me in this regard, I just can't stand so much wasted white space in their UI design. 

    Maybe I should try Opera again, it has been the usual 5 years since my last attempt?

    As for mobile I just use the built-in browser, Safari in my case, but rather than use the app icon to open the browser I create a bookmark in the dock for so that whenever I open the browser it always takes me straight to Google's search page regardless of what was open the last time I had used the app.

  7. 5539

    In reply to Waethorn: He's over a phone running Win 10 Mobile for sure. The OS itself he seems less dismissive of. 


  8. 5184

    I still find text rendering in Chrome to be blurry.  It seems to be worse on systems like my SP3 when using both the Surface screen and a connected external monitor.  I know this is a Windows problem as much as an app problem.  I'd just like it fixed. 

    In the meantime, I use Edge unless there is some issue that requires Chrome.  An example of needing Chrome is trying to manage a large number of Azure SQL databases through the Azure portal.  Unbelievably, the portal is almost unuseable in Edge--very slow.  Works beautifully in Chrome.

  9. 5530

    Firefox just put out their multi-process implementation of their browser (Electrolysis) into the stable wild, and from what I can tell, the browser's responsiveness has improved greatly. It all sounds good on paper, but the Firefox UI is still not written in native code, but rather, they still do that thing where the browser's UI is rendered as part of a webpage, which explains the sluggishness. Firefox needs to get around to that problem but of course we all know Firefox's developent process is as slow as Edge, if not worse.

  10. 907

    One feature of Edge I would like to see on Chrome involves the bookmarks toolbar. On Edge it can display icons only instead of the site name therefore allowing all of my bookmarked sites visible. I like that feature and wish Chrome had it.

  11. 996

    On my laptop I have the OS at 125% display scaling and the new version 54 of Chrome finally adapts the Top Layer UI to the OS Display scaling, so it renders properly now. The menu is still tiny but the rest finally adapts correctly. But for me personally, I still prefer Edge over Chrome but like many, have 2 or 3 browsers installed.

  12. 114

    MS (well Intel + MS) has driven me to Chrome.  My SP4 has been pretty much unusable since I got it, improving briefly here and there but then becoming a mess again with every driver update these clowns try to fix skylake with.  IE gets the worst of it - crashing multiple times daily.  I finally gave up and, while I like Edge, I mainly run LTSB so it isn't even an option and I went with Chrome.  It was a rough 48 hours, but I'm adjusting.

  13. 5027

    I use Chrome every day as my main browser, but I really hate it, because it is slow, crash a lot , eats memory...but it does sync favorites most of the time..  It is just stuck in my workflow so that becomes the browser I start without thinking.   But it is a true memory hog, if you monitor the memory usage, and just start Chrome you can see it rights badly .. start anther tab it goes even higher  by a lot.. it is crazy how badly it manages memory, so if this gets fixed in 55 it is not a day to soon. :) 

    I do try to use Edge more and more, but when you need to do something fast, and you do it without thinkning, so far it becomes Chrome I start  ... 

  14. 217

    The only way this will happen successfully will be if Google forks Chrome between Chrome OS devices and everything else. Chrome has become bloated because of what it needs for Chrome OS.

  15. 5508

    Zzzzzzzzzz... What? What?!




  16. 473

    Until Google patched the vulnerability in their implementation of Flash I warned all my clients to steer clear of Chrome. Another reason was its ability to gobble up pretty much all the resources of their PCs when running 5 or more tabs at one time.  I still think Edge since the 1607 update is a better browser for light touch and overall speed.  There may be more features but for the "normals" that are most of my non-business clients Edge is a safer proposition, especially with Ad Block Plus installed and the avoid malicious sites switch trned on.

  17. 4370

    I use both Chrome and Firefox on all my Windows devices (plus Edge on those with windows 10), only Chrome in Android, and Chrome and Safary on IOS. I don't care about RAM usage in most of my PCs as I have 16 GB of RAM in my 4 main devices (32 in one of them), but I care in my Surface pro 3, with only 4, where I tend to use Edge and Firefox most of the time, and in an atom tablet with only 2GB where I don't use Chrome at all.... So I would say this RAM problem only affects devices with low RAM (less than 8GB).

  18. 907

    I've recently moved from Firefox to Chrome on my desktop and laptop both running W10. I like it a lot especially the sync between these devices and my Android phone. I had resisted moving to the Google monster for years but now that I have I am left wondering why I waited so long. I'm also very keen to see what Andromeda brings next year.

  19. 241

    I use browsers heavily but I don't use Chrome anymore (FireFox, Edge, IE, Opera).  I don't really see much of a difference in browswers but the memory and performance and battery issues for Chrome caused me to remove Chrome from my browser rotation.

  20. 403

    I've tried Chrome on Windows many times over the years - but I always return to Firefox for one over-arching reason - Firefox allows me to permanently display a column of Favourites down the left side of my screen.

    I've never found a way of doing this properly in Chrome. Ive tried extensions which try to do it, but they always come up short.

    Or, have I missed something?

  21. 4524

    Keep in mind that Chrome on iOS is forced to use Apple's rendering engine, so I don't think it will benefit from any of these changes.  Then again, as a result, it probably doesn't suffer from any of these problems!  ;-)

  22. 442

    "That first Chrome release was minimalistic in every way imaginable"    Sounds like what Edge was last year... ;)

  23. 604

    Edge works well for me as my daily driver....that said I really only surf on the surface book and not on the mobile

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